Annual Reviews

African Environmental Change from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene

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Abstract

This review explores what past environmental change in Africa—and African people's response to it—can teach us about how to cope with life in the Anthropocene. Organized around four drivers of change—climate; agriculture and pastoralism; megafauna; and imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism (ICC)—our review zooms in on key regions and debates, including desertification; rangeland degradation; megafauna loss; and land grabbing. Multiscale climate change is a recurring theme in the continent's history, interacting with increasingly intense human activities from several million years onward, leading to oscillating, contingent environmental changes and societally adaptive responses. With high levels of poverty, fast population growth, and potentially dramatic impacts expected from future climate change, Africa is emblematic of the kinds of social and ecological precariousness many fear will characterize the future globally. African people's innovation and adaptation to contingency may place them among the avant-garde with respect to thinking about Anthropocene conditions, strategies, and possibilities.

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