22 October 2015

Can nature bounce back?

Options Magazine Winter 2015: An alumnus of one of the first IIASA YSSP cohorts makes the case for an optimistic view of environmental change.

© Jesse Ausubel

© Jesse Ausubel

Bears, wolves, eagles—many species which were once declining in the USA have bounced back in recent years. The area of forested land is expanding; and while the overall land used for agriculture has peaked, production continues to grow.

In a new study published earlier this year, Jesse Ausubel, director of the Rockefeller University Program for the Human Environment, argues that such a shift—or “rewilding”—is beginning to occur in a number of places around the world. Ausubel argues that it is likely to spread, as technology makes production and resource use more and more efficient.

“Demand for water, energy, land, and minerals is softening, while demand for information continues to soar. Fortunately, information brings precision in production and consumption and spares other resources. The result is, for example, huge regrowth of forests. The global greening, or net growth of the terrestrial biosphere, allows re-wilding,” explains Ausubel.

The process of regreening stems from both technological advancement and changes in people’s behavior, but Ausubel argues that policy has played only a small role. “High tech tycoons Steve Jobs (Apple) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) popularized tablets and e-readers and did more, together with the innovators in e-mail, to spare forests than all the forest activists and UN targets,” he says.

Ausubel participated in the 1979 Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP), working under Soviet hydrodynamicist Oleg Vasiliev. “IIASA showed me the value of scientific cooperation between nations in conflict, and I have actively supported such cooperation ever since.”

Text by Katherine Leitzell

Further information

Ausubel JH (2015). Nature Rebounds. Long Now Foundation Seminar, San Francisco, 13 January 2015


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Last edited: 22 August 2017

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