What is Earth Stewardship?
Earth Stewardship is associated with ecologist Terry Chapin. He has developed the concept in a wide range of scientific articles. Now the concept has also begun to spread beyond the academic circles. The goal of Earth Stewardship is not to protect nature from people: rather it is to protect nature for human welfare.
Terry Chapin began his career as a biology instructor with the Peace Corps in Bogota, Columbia. Afterward, he completed his doctorate at Stanford University. He accepted a faculty position at University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1973.
His early research focused on plants and how they adapted to changing conditions in the North. His scope expanded over time as he realized that understanding one part of an ecosystem requires understanding it holistically. From that realization, the focus of his research and teaching shifted.
He began to approach his work from the perspective of what he would eventually call “Earth Stewardship.”
“Earth stewardship is shaping the future relationship between people and nature to the benefit of both,” Chapin says, which is important in the face of global change. “It recognizes that this is a severe problem and we need to do things that will shape a more sustainable future and one where society can flourish.”
In 2001, he founded a new graduate program at University of Alaska — the Resilience and Adaptation Program — which aimed to train future scientists to take an interdisciplinary approach to studying global change.
“Terry Chapin's vision is that training of young ecologists should be across the biological and social sciences and include gaining experience working with communities, their leadership, and government and industry to guide policymaking to be respectful and inclusive of indigenous knowledge and lead to sustainable and resilient economies,” says Brian Barnes, director of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology. “I believe this will be his lasting legacy.”
In addition to training new scientists, Chapin has helped individuals learn what they can do in the face of global change.
“I worry that the current gloom and doom disengages people from wanting to take action,” says Chapin. “What I have tried to do is systematically consider the kinds of things that individual citizens can do to try to turn around the relationship between humans and nature.”
That could be establishing a relationship with nature by spending time outdoors and beginning to think more carefully about how their lifestyle influences things on the planet, he says. Or it could mean talking to friends, family members and neighbors about the future of the planet, engaging politically or taking small steps in your own household. His newest book, “Grassroots Stewardship: Sustainability within Our Reach,” expands on the concept and offers achievable action for the average person. The book will be released in early 2020.
Terry Chapin is Professor Emeritus of Ecology, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks. He was President of the Ecological Society of America 2010 – 2011 and the organization has more material on the concept of Earth Stewardship.