Sustainability or collapse: What can we learn from integrating the history of humans and the rest of nature?

Robert Costanza, Lisa J. Graumlich, Will Steffen, Carole Crumley, John Dearing, Kathy A. Hibbard, Rik Leemans, Charles Redman, David Schimel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

255 Scopus citations


Understanding the history of how humans have interacted with the rest of nature can help clarify the options for managing our increasingly interconnected global system. Simple, deterministic relationships between environmental stress and social change are inadequate. Extreme drought, for instance, triggered both social collapse and ingenious management of water through irrigation. Human responses to change, in turn, feed into climate and ecological systems, producing a complex web of multidirectional connections in time and space. Integrated records of the co-evolving human-environment system over millennia are needed to provide a basis for a deeper understanding of the present and for forecasting the future. This requires the major task of assembling and integrating regional and global historical, archaeological, and paleoenvironmental records. Humans cannot predict the future. But, if we can adequately understand the past, we can use that understanding to influence our decisions and to create a better, more sustainable and desirable future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-527
Number of pages6
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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