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AHIA 2020-21 Demonstrating dependencies between humanity and nature for a sustainable future: A nitrogen case-study

c.washbourne1 September 2020

STEaPP’s Dr Carla Washbourne is part of a new project supported by the ALTER-Net High Impact Action (AHIA)-fund. This blog is also published at on ALTER-Net website

Through this project we want to explore how past and current research on the nitrogen cycle can be used to generate new insights on the dependence of humans on non-human-nature. Insights from this project will provide a new way to view humanity’s place in nature and could help to shape the development of more equitable and sustainable environmental decision-making and management.

Team photo

Team photo

The nitrogen (N) cycle is a familiar concept. Many of us first encountered it at school, where it was used to illustrate the scale and importance of global cycles that link air, water, rocks and living things. Humans are often presented as the end recipient of natural processes like the nitrogen cycle, and sometimes are not shown as part of the cycle at all! However, humanity is part of the cycle, being both a direct beneficiary (of  food) and direct contributor (fertiliser use) and is impacted by effects of nitrogen on air and water quality. This AHIA-funded project questions what the nitrogen cycle would look like if we rebuild it to more clearly include humans and to show the true scale of our dependence on non-human nature. The project is driven by a desire to provide a different narrative of the relationship between people and nature, that better represents our place in the biosphere.

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