wildlife

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Don’t Fence Me In: Exnovation for Degrowth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/07/2022 - 11:56pm in
by Gregory Mikkelson

A fence post in the foreground holding barbed wire stretched in either directions and midwest plains in the background.

Rewilding means tearing down the fences that disconnect biotic communities.

During recent visits to my family’s woods in northern Wisconsin, I have methodically snipped, pulled out, and recycled a half-mile of long-abandoned barbed wire. By doing so, I hope to help the biotic communities on either side of the old fence line to reconnect. The work is great exercise, and deeply satisfying.

I have not yet figured out who installed the wire or when, but the stuff was invented by Lucien Smith in 1867, and perfected by Joseph Glidden in 1874. This innovation spurred much economic growth. For example, it made “intensive animal husbandry… practical on a much larger scale” and became “a major feature of the fortifications in trench warfare.”

The ecological consequences proved devastating. By the early 21st century, the livestock industry had become the number one driver of terrestrial habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and freshwater depletion and pollution. Meanwhile, barbed wire itself maims wild animals the world over. For all these reasons, we now face the daunting task of undoing this deeply entrenched invention.

Exnovation for a Steady-State Economy

Management scholars use the term “exnovation” for the process of undoing harmful inventions. In growing economies, new marketable inventions replace most of those that get exnovated. In order to stop economic growth, it is crucial to prevent most exnovated devices from being replaced, or at least fully replaced, in this way. This certainly applies to fencing and other instruments of the livestock industry that must shrink substantially to forestall mass extinction, mitigate climate chaos, and protect rivers and streams. But it also applies to internal combustion engines, plastic bags, big box stores, pesticides, artificial fertilizer, fossil fuels, etc.

When these items get phased out as they must, our capitalist bosses will strive mightily to replace them with products that create even more opportunities for growth, and thus do even more harm to the biosphere. For example, several decades ago a federal ban exnovated DDT from the USA. This allowed various wildlife species poisoned by DDT, such as bald eagles, to recover. However, newer pesticides replaced DDT, to the point of decimating even more wildlife populations, such as bees. How much better it would have been—and will be—to cut down rather than continuing to build up overall use of artificial pesticides.

In the transportation sector, the electric car will not make a better-enough replacement for the gas guzzler. Electric cars, just like non-electric, use up too much material and space, not to mention that they inflict too much death and disability through “accidents,” obesity and other health problems from lack of exercise, political dysfunction festering out of isolation from fellow citizens “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes,” etc. The only truly green option is to hack down use of private automobiles. Public transportation and bicycles will take up part of the slack, but having stores, workplaces, schools, and other public spaces within walking distance of home for most people will reduce the overall need/desire for transportation.

Making Room for Innovation in Nature and Culture

Talk of exnovation might seem to imply a focus on the negative. But it’s really about giving nature and culture a break to facilitate normal tendencies toward innovation in both realms. Over billions of years, natural innovation (or, the evolution of new species) outpaced natural exnovation (or, the extinction of old ones). Over tens if not hundreds of millennia, cultural innovation (indicated by the appearance of new languages) outpaced cultural exnovation (or, the disappearance of old ones). Our capitalist growth economy has now wrought mass extinctions of species and languages. It has thereby stifled biological and cultural innovation, each of which builds upon existing diversity. Conversely then, constraining the economy just might liberate society and nature.

1955 black and white image of fort tri-motor spraying DDT in Oregon.

Harmful inventions like DDT have damaged ecosystems. Exnovation is a promising remedy.

More broadly, we must bring the economy into harmony with the global ecosystem that contains and sustains humanity, along with our 10 million fellow species. This means weakening and/or breaking many of the commercial ties that have come to dominate our lives. This, in turn, will permit the strengthening, reestablishment, and/or establishment anew, of social and ecological ties now preempted by economic growth.

Going back to the example of automobiles—one of the greatest drivers of economic growth—the more traffic suffered by a neighborhood, the less social interaction occurs within it. Conversely, reducing car traffic increases social interaction. And reducing the infrastructure devoted to cars—i.e., road lanes and parking spaces—allows for restoration of green space. The Plateau borough of Montréal, where I live, has melded these ideas into practice, through the social innovation of the car-free green alley. Today birds, berries, dogs, children, flowers, pedestrians, and other beings interact to create a much richer place than monotonous—and far more dangerous—car traffic once did in our alley.

More than a century of explosive economic growth has overfilled our world with harmful inventions like DDT, private automobiles, and barbed wire. This has impoverished us ecologically and socially. By exnovating these devices, and preventing their full replacement by other commodities, we will help to free nature and culture to resume the kinds of innovation we now need most.

Greg MikkelsonGregory Mikkelson is an independent scientist and activist.

The post Don’t Fence Me In: Exnovation for Degrowth appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Is This the World’s Most Eco-Friendly Landfill?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/05/2022 - 10:55pm in

On a Sunday in early May, thousands of people from all over Vienna gathered in the city’s northeastern corner for a day in the sun, enjoying music performances, candy floss, guided walks around the verdant surroundings, and the chance to spot a mountain goat called Hellgirl. The location? Austria’s largest landfill.

Rautenweg has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a gravel pit filled with untreated waste. While other places struggle with overflowing, environmentally destructive landfills, Vienna has created one that is in many respects a net-positive for the environment: It supports biodiversity, has helped endangered species rebound, heats hundreds of thousands of surrounding homes, and offers free educational tours of its lush location to boot.

Its most famous residents are a herd of Pinzgau goats such as Hellgirl, a species of mountain goat from the Salzburg region of Austria that was critically endangered as recently as the early 1990s. When four of them were settled at Rautenweg’s “trash mountain” (or “Beag aus Mist” in Viennese) in 1994 to serve as eco-friendly lawnmowers, only around 200 such animals were left in Austria. Since then, however, around as many kids have been born at the landfill alone, most of which have subsequently been reintroduced to the wild.

Pinzgau goats at the Rautenweg landfillRautenweg’s dry, steppe-like terrain has attracted rare species including Pinzgau goats, the crested lark and the locally endangered bur medick plant. Credit: PID/Schaub Waltz.

Barring regular health checks and the introduction of a buck at breeding season, the goats are left to their own devices, free to roam the 150-acre landfill at their leisure. 

“They’re self-sufficient,” says Herbert Diesenreiter, head of landfill construction at Rautenweg, and now, the landfill’s unofficial goat herder. “We just occasionally give them treats and I do a sight-check every day to make sure they’re all there and uninjured.” 

If one of the vehicles at work on the landfill finds its way blocked by a goat, adds Diesenreiter, there’s no question about what happens next: “The goats always have right of way.” 

While nature isn’t hard to come by in Vienna — half the city is covered by green areas — the landfill’s steppe-like terrain, kept in check by the goats’ voracious appetites, attracts species that prefer its dry, grassy environment, something that has otherwise been all but lost in the region. 

The make-up of Rautenweg’s unique landscape has been determined in large part by decades of urban waste policy. In response to steep increases in waste volumes in the 1960s, Vienna started incinerating its trash, channeling the heat generated into the city’s district heating system. Waste separation was introduced in the 1980s. Today, the controlled burning process in the city’s four incinerators reduces Vienna’s waste to about 10 percent of its original volume, providing heating and hot water to up to 400,000 Viennese households in the process, depending on seasonal demands.

Rautenweg's lush surroundingsRautenweg’s lush surroundings. Credit: Christian Houdek/PID.

In part thanks to this comprehensive waste-to-energy system, Vienna is the only major city in the world that treats and deposits its residual waste entirely within city limits. 

Since 2009, only ash and slag from non-recyclable waste can be deposited on Rautenweg. Once metals are removed from the material after incineration, sand, water and cement are added to the mix and the resulting concrete — up to 200,000 tonnes each year — is deposited on Rautenweg’s landfill in terraces. Three meters of soil are added on top, allowing nature to take its course, and the upshot is a green 40-meter-high hill — the highest in the district — that is slated to grow another 35 meters by 2065. 

Goats aside, these conditions have attracted the crested lark, which is protected in Vienna, as well as dozens of other animal species, including rabbits, the occasional deer, and a wide variety of insects and butterflies. Especially dry areas are home to the locally endangered bur medick plant, as well as buckthorn, various species of thistle and rose, mullein, delphinium, and countless other plants that turn Rautenweg into a riot of color every summer.  

There are also a couple of sheep that were recently introduced on a trial basis. “We have to see how they get along with the goats,” explains Ingrid Pirgmayer, who is guiding me and a dozen others on a walking tour of Rautenweg as she points out its flora and fauna. The tour takes us past an enclosure housing a dozen or so chickens that provide the occasional omelet for the landfill’s employees.

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“[Rautenweg] is certainly an unusual sight on the edge of a large metropolis,” says Dr. Konrad Fiedler, head of botany and biodiversity research at the University of Vienna. “The moment such areas are given over to nature and only lightly managed … a space is created. And space that isn’t in intensive use is what’s most lacking in terms of biodiversity in urban areas. Plants and animals can settle and create ecosystems that are of course not comparable to the diversity of Austrian conservation hotspots, but are certainly rare for a city with almost two million inhabitants.” 

While the novelty of a green landfill and the possibility of spotting the Pinzgau goats is what attracts families and tourists to Rautenweg when it opens for visitors between May and October each year, the site’s tranquil appearance belies the complex and innovative technical work that goes into creating and maintaining it. 

Easy to spot among the grass, some 140 bright yellow gas wells are still harvesting methane created by waste disposed before 2009. The gas is turned into electricity and sent into the city’s grid, providing power for around 1,000 households, while the heat created by the process is sent directly to TierQuarTier, the city’s animal shelter across the street. 

A tour of Rautenweg landfillFree tours of Vienna’s landfill and incineration plants encourage residents to trash less. Credit: MA 48/Matern.

Then there’s the placid stream that the ducks are lazily swimming in, which is noticeably lower than the water level beyond the landfill boundaries. In the 1980s, contamination of surrounding groundwater from the landfill prompted the development of an innovation known as the Viennese Chamber System. The landfill was surrounded by two rings of leak-proof walls extending 40 meters into the ground and separated into 49 chambers with water pumps, so the water level inside the landfill is kept below the local water table and cannot spill into the surroundings. 

Despite world-class innovations in the field of waste management, waste generation remains a problem in Austria. While 58 percent of waste is recycled or composted, and 38 percent processed in waste-to-energy systems, with 585 kilograms of municipal waste per capita Austrians continue to score above the EU average.

To address this issue, MA48, the municipal department for waste management in Vienna, has a number of community outreach programs, including free tours of the city’s landfill and incineration plants, a popular second-hand store, a hotline for any waste-related conundrums, and educational events for children orchestrated by Pirgmayer’s team.

“We’re not the only ones responsible for the cleanliness of this city, we need the help of every person living in Vienna,” stresses Nicole Puzsar, head of public relations for the department. 

The outreach seems to be paying off. Despite being the country’s capital and largest city, Vienna was ranked Austria’s cleanest region in 2017. The Vienna waste management system already saves more carbon dioxide than it produces, and its emissions are further reduced by the fact that recycling waste is not shipped beyond Austria. To ensure continued progress, the city’s Smart City framework is setting ambitious goals in the area of waste reduction and circular economy as part of an effort to reach carbon neutrality by 2040.

In the meantime, Rautenweg continues to grow and the goats are doubtless looking forward to their hill someday becoming a real mountain.

The post Is This the World’s Most Eco-Friendly Landfill? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

New Zealand’s Urban Forests Welcome a Birdlife Boom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 2:43am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Urban sanctuary

You might think that once a species is gone from a region it’s gone forever. Think again.

Last year, a titipounamu nest was found in a patch of urban forest just a few kilometers from parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. The return of the species, which had been missing from the city for more than 100 years, is due in part to Zealandia, an eco-sanctuary established in 1999 just 10 minutes from the urban core. 

A titipounamuA titipounamu. Credit: Shutterstock.

Zealandia’s success backs up new research that shows restoring urban forests is a vital first step to restoring native bird communities in cities, even those that have been absent for generations. Today, Wellington teems with birds once rarely seen, from the melodious tūī to the charismatic ​​kākā. Since 2011, the number of native birds in the city has risen by 50 percent, and bird communities in the city’s parks are increasingly made up of mostly native species.

“We’re becoming disconnected from our natural environments and the native species that make up those environments,” said Elizabeth Elliot Noe, lead author of the new study. “There’s a lot of research that shows that … having daily experience of [nature] is good for our mental health, wellbeing and physical health.”

Read more at The Guardian

Score! 

Even in 2022, gender inequality in sport — as in so many walks of life — is still a big issue, not least when it comes to what athletes get paid. So it is that, in what’s being hailed a “truly historic moment,” U.S. Soccer has guaranteed it will pay players from its men’s and women’s national teams the same.

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The women’s team has long fought for parity with the men’s team, including a six-year legal battle over equal pay and working conditions. Yet until now, the teams were compensated differently, with the women’s team receiving less money from U.S. Soccer for everything from broadcast profits to performance payments. Perhaps nowhere was this unfairness more stark than in World Cup prize money: in 2014, the men’s U.S. Soccer team received $9 million from FIFA for reaching round 16 in the World Cup. Five years later, the women’s team received just $4 million for winning their World Cup. Going forward, all FIFA World Cup winnings will be pooled and divided equally among the teams.

“These agreements have changed the game forever here in the United States and have the potential to change the game around the world,” said U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former U.S. women’s national soccer team player.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Ol’au Palau 

Palau relies heavily on tourism, making the last two years economically hard for the West Pacific archipelago of lush islands and wildlife-rich dive spots. Now, as the country opens back up to visitors, it wants to make sure they tread lightly on its precious terrain. 

PalauPalau archipelago. Credit: Palau Legacy Project.

Enter Ol’au Palau, a world-first initiative to gameify responsible tourism via a soon-to-launch app that awards points to users who treat the island chain with respect. Here’s how it works: Travelers who take steps to protect the ecosystem — for instance, by using reef-safe sunscreen or eating sustainably sourced food — can earn points that can be spent on experiences normally reserved for locals, such as swimming at a secret cave or sharing a meal with elders.

“Ol’au is an informal way for us to call out to someone we know such as a friend or family to grab their attention,” explained Jennifer Koskelin-Gibbons, one of the system’s developers. “We may use it to call you to join in on a barbecue, or if we’re on a beach and you are coming by on your boat, I can call out to invite you over to join in on our family fun.”

Read more at the BBC

The post New Zealand’s Urban Forests Welcome a Birdlife Boom appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Women-Only Rangers Are Changing the Way Zimbabwe Fights Poachers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 2:38am in

Ranger ready

The Akashinga unit is Zimbabwe’s first all-women anti-poaching unit: 200 heavily armed rangers who patrol eight reserves in the Lower Zambezi Valley. Akashinga isn’t just about promoting gender equality in the workplace (the workplace being, in this case, the wild), it’s about women changing Zimbabwe’s anti-poaching efforts for the better.

Poachers have decimated wildlife in Zimbabwe, home to about one-fifth of Africa’s elephants. But the areas patrolled by the Akashinga rangers have seen improvements. The unit has made more than 300 arrests without firing a shot, and are partially credited with the Zambezi Valley’s 80 percent decrease in elephant poaching since 2017. Their strategy is unusual: they focus on preventing poaching by engaging communities, creating jobs and improving the lives of local villagers. 

Akashinga rangers during a training at their training camp in Phundundu Wildlife Park in Hurungwe, Zimbabwe. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Farai Shawn Matiashe

The job benefits them, too. Many of the rangers are survivors of abusive relationships and child marriages, and the job offers them stability and a good salary. “The opportunity of becoming a ranger came when I needed it the most,” said one member of the unit. “I am now able to look after my mother, my child and my community.”

Read more at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Think globally, capture carbon locally

A growing number of cities are pledging to be carbon neutral in the coming years by installing more renewable power, conserving energy and upgrading infrastructure. But those measures alone might not get them there, which is why a small handful of cities are starting to embrace the still-evolving practice of carbon dioxide removal (CDR).

Flagstaff, Arizona. Credit: Darryl Kenyon / Flickr

Grist reports on a coalition of cities in the American West that are banding together to fund CDR projects in their region to meet their climate action goals. For a group of small cities to get in on this game is highly unusual — most CDR projects are still in the moonshot phase, piloted by tech giants and wealthy philanthropists. But two of the coalition leaders — Flagstaff, Arizona and Boulder County, Colorado — believe cities can not only help grow the industry, but give communities a voice in how the projects are implemented.

The coalition is still nascent. Its goal is to raise $1.25 million to pay for the removal of 2,500 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. On a global level, this is a drop in the bucket, but the aim isn’t to solve climate change themselves, but rather to put new stakeholders on the playing field. “I think it’s more of a perception and appearance kind of thing than materially making a difference — for now,” said one climate scientist.

Read more at Grist

Gay guides

Coming out as LGBTQ can be tricky. Shouldn’t there be a manual for that?

In China, now there is. Trueself, a Chinese LGBTQ nonprofit, has put together what it calls “A Journey to Trueself Kit” designed to help people open up about their sexuality to loved ones, colleagues and peers. While attitudes in China have become more tolerant in recent years, it’s often still a tough place to be a sexual minority. A 2016 survey found that only five percent of LGBTQ respondents chose to reveal their sexuality.

The kit costs $15 USD, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit. “If 20 out of 100 people find it useful, the product will have proved its worth,” said Trueself’s founder. “But we will increase that with our efforts.”

Read more at Sixth Tone

The post Women-Only Rangers Are Changing the Way Zimbabwe Fights Poachers appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Welcome Back, Condor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 2:28am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Return flight

The last time California condors soared over the state’s far-north redwood forests, Ellis Island was receiving its first immigrants and Sherlock Holmes was closing his first case. This week, they took to the skies there again — a major milestone in their comeback from virtual extinction.

North America’s largest native bird had nearly vanished by the 1970s due to habitat loss and lead poisoning from ingesting hunters’ buckshot. In the 1980s, the remaining 22 birds were captured and bred in captivity, and in 1992, biologists began rereleasing them in Southern California. This week’s release, however, was the furthest north the condors have been since 1892. “They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” said Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the region’s Yurok tribe.

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The Yurok tribe, which considers the condor sacred, is leading the reintroduction, working in tandem with federal and local fish and wildlife agencies. This is just the latest expansion of the birds’ range — they now number more than 500, and have spread across the central California coast, as well as parts of Mexico, Utah and Arizona. 

Read more at NPR

City of noise

Ahh, Paris. The romance, the mystique, the unmuffled motorbike roaring by at 3 a.m. The storied French capital is one of Europe’s most cacophonous cities. More than 5.5 million residents in and around Paris are exposed to road noise above 55 decibels, defined by the World Health Organization as the threshold for certain health implications.

parisCredit: drburtoni / Flickr

Now Paris is attempting to reign in the noise, as detailed in Bloomberg CityLab by RTBC contributing editor Peter Yeung. Among the most notable of these efforts are the installation of sound radars on certain streets. Equipped with microphones and cameras, the devices can photograph the license plates of loud vehicles, which will soon face fines of 135 euros ($142 USD).

The devices are but one part of a larger plan to reduce the din in a city that formally defined noise as a pollutant in 2019. Other efforts include the installation of sound-baffling barriers, roadside noise checks, housing designs that face residents away from noise, and even cutting-edge low-noise asphalt. Even the police have been asked to turn down their sirens at night. “For a long time, noise was seen more as a quality of life issue, but not a health risk,” said one advocate. “But the reality is that there are massive health consequences, and more and more research is proving this.” 

Read more at Bloomberg CityLab

Cash crop

A proposed California law could tailor the concept of universal basic income to help farm workers hurt by drought in an era of climate change.

The bill, introduced in the state senate, would provide unconditional monthly cash payments of $1,000 for three years to farmworkers whose jobs have been affected by drought. It was prompted by the loss of about 8,000 jobs from the state’s agriculture industry due to drought last year, when farmers were forced to leave nearly 400,000 acres of farmland fallow.

If approved, the pilot project would run from 2023 through 2026. “Farmworkers have been long neglected and continue to be neglected,” said State Senator Melissa Hurtado, who introduced the bill. They need “the right policies for them to be successful.”

Read more at CalMatters

The post Welcome Back, Condor appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

‘Bear-dar’ Is Stopping Polar Bear Attacks Before They Happen

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Freeze frame

For most of the world, a polar bear attack isn’t exactly a major concern. But for those who reside in Arctic communities, it’s a very real problem — and an increasingly deadly one. As melting sea ice shrinks and polar bears are pushed closer to towns and villages, a rise in fatal interactions is following. 

To combat this, Polar Bears International (PBI) has developed a form of radar (or “bear-dar,” as they call it) that leverages artificial intelligence. The radars themselves are installed in remote towns, but their alerts can be monitored from anywhere — an alert for a polar bear approaching a small tundra village can be visually confirmed by a biologist operating a remote camera in a city further south.

Built off a military radar system designed to detect drones, the system’s AI is learning the difference between polar bears and other things that move around the Arctic, like people, dogs and caribou. It’s getting better at this all the time, and last fall, it successfully detected 28 polar bears. During this time, there were virtually no instances of polar bears evading detection. “The technology works great,” said a PBI scientist. “We just have to work with partners and find a system that is economically sustainable for communities to actually purchase and maintain.”

Read more at Hakai

Sunny day real estate

A solar surge is taking hold in cities across the U.S, according to a new report. Amazingly, just nine cities now have the capacity to generate more solar power than the entire country did just a decade ago.

A rooftop solar array in Honolulu. Credit: Daniel Ramirez / Flickr

The nine solar superstars are Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Antonio, New York, Phoenix, San Jose and Albuquerque. Los Angeles is the top solar producing city in the nation, but Honolulu, a much smaller city, wins the prize for producing the most solar energy per capita.

Taken together, these cities can generate 3.5 gigawatts of solar power, enough to power over 2.5 million homes. Like many countries, America’s total solar capacity has skyrocketed in a matter of years — the U.S. now has enough solar panels to power more than 23 million homes. “America’s major cities have played a key role in the clean energy revolution and stand to reap tremendous benefits from solar energy,” the study concluded.

Read more at Grist

Shot in the arm

Tchau tchau, malaria! The World Health Organization announced last week that more than a million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have received the first anti-malaria vaccine. The vaccine was pioneered in Malawi in 2019 and has been “life-changing for families across Africa,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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It’s the latest in a string of stunning breakthroughs against one of the world’s deadliest diseases. In December 2019, RTBC reported on how Africa was methodically making progress against malaria, with many countries drastically reducing infection rates and others eradicating it entirely. Another major victory came last year, when China announced it had effectively eradicated malaria after a 70-year effort. 

“It demonstrates the power of science and innovation for health,” said Ghebreyesus. “Even so, there is an urgent need to develop more and better tools to save lives and drive progress towards a malaria-free world.”

Read more at France24

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Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation after Nature

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/05/2015 - 6:43pm in

An interdisciplinary discussion of Jamie Lorimer's book Jamie Lorimer (Associate Professor in Human Geography, University of Oxford) discusses his book with William Beinart (Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, University of Oxford), Daniel Grimley (Professor of Music, University of Oxford) and Nikolaj Lübecker (Associate Professor of French, University of Oxford).

In Wildlife in the Anthropocene, Jamie Lorimer argues that the idea of nature as a pure and timeless place characterized by the absence of humans has come to an end. Offering a thorough appraisal of the Anthropocene—an era in which human actions affect and influence all life and all systems on our planet—Lorimer unpacks its implications for changing definitions of nature and the politics of wildlife conservation.