Mobilizing the past to shape a better Anthropocene

As our planet emerges into a new epoch in which humans dominate the Earth system, it is imperative that societies initiate a new phase of responsible environmental stewardship. In this review, Nicole Boivin and Alison Crowther from Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany argue that information from the past has a valuable role to play in enhancing the sustainability and resilience of our societies. They highlighted the ways in which past data can be mobilized for a variety of efforts, from supporting conservation to increasing agricultural sustainability and food security. At a practical level, solutions from the past often do not require fossil fuels, can be locally run and managed, and have been tested over the long term. Past failures reveal non-viable solutions and expose vulnerabilities. To more effectively leverage increasing knowledge about the past, they advocate greater cross-disciplinary collaboration, systematic engagement with stakeholders and policymakers, and approaches that bring together the best of the past with the cutting-edge technologies and solutions of tomorrow.

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