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. Here we argue that information from the past has a valuable role to play in enhancing the sustainability and resilience of our societies. We highlight the ways that 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, we 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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We thank M. O’Reilly for figure production. N.B. is supported by the Max Planck Society.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Torben Rick, Sandra Nogue, and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Boivin, N., Crowther, A. Mobilizing the past to shape a better Anthropocene. Nat Ecol Evol 5, 273–284 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-01361-4
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