2nd Edition

Understanding Human Ecology A Systems Approach to Sustainability

By Robert Dyball, Barry Newell Copyright 2023
    240 Pages 75 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    240 Pages 75 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Understanding Human Ecology offers a coherent conceptual framework for human ecology – a clear approach for understanding the many systems we are part of and for how we frame and understand the problems we face. Blending natural, social, and cognitive sciences with dynamical systems theory, this key text offers systems approaches that are accessible to all, from the undergraduate student to policymakers and practitioners across government, business, and community.

    In the first edition, road-tested and refined over a decade of teaching and workshops, the authors built a clear, inspiring, and important framework for anyone approaching the management of complex problems and the transition to sustainability. Fully updated for the second edition, the book now goes further in using systems-thinking principles to explain fundamental processes of change in social–ecological systems. Revised case examples provide a working application of these principles, whilst a new discussion of the hierarchical structure of complex systems is included to guide practical policymaking.

    This new edition is essential reading for students and scholars of human ecology, environmental ethics, and sustainability studies.



    Prologue: Six impossible things before breakfast

    PART I: The challenge

    Robert Dyball

    1. Human ecology: An evolving perspective

    2. Dynamics of conflict and change in the Snowy Mountains

    PART II: Building shared understanding

    Barry Newell

    3. Thinking together

    4. System dynamics I: Stocks and flows

    5. System dynamics II: Feedback

    6. Systems and sustainability

    7. Toward a shared theoretical framework

    PART III: Living in the Anthropocene

    Robert Dyball

    8. Paradigms: Ideas that change the world

    9. Living well in the Anthropocene

    10. Consumers and global food systems

    11. Stewards of a full Earth

    Epilogue: Six possible things before dinner


    Robert Dyball convenes the 50-year-old Human Ecology Program at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University (ANU), Australia. He is Editor of Human Ecology Review, the journal of the Society for Human Ecology (SHE), Past President of SHE, and the Past Chair of the Human Ecology Section of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), USA.

    Barry Newell is a physicist with a focus on the development of practical methods for integrative research and policymaking in complex social–ecological systems. His work blends operations research, cognitive science, system dynamics, and complexity theory. He is Honorary Associate Professor in the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, and a member of the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions.

    "Human ecology is a critical transdisciplinary approach to creating a better, more sustainable world. We cannot achieve this goal without integrating the study and management of human societies and the rest of nature as tightly interconnected dynamic systems. This valuable book points the way." 

    Robert Costanza, Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London, UK, and Editor in Chief of The Anthropocene Review

    "Understanding Human Ecology by Dyball and Newell is an important book for human ecology and sustainability. The book’s success, from the first to this current edition, is based on a three-fold feature: wide-ranging application of the systems-based transdisciplinary model to critical social–ecological systems of food, health, and livelihoods; far-reaching contexts of cases from the Asia Pacific and Europe; transdisciplinary alignment of theory, concepts and application that makes it accessible not only to academics but also to sustainability and development practitioners including policymakers."

    Jennifer Marie S. Amparo, Associate Professor, College of Human Ecology, University of the Philippines Los Baños, The Philippines

    "A central challenge for enhancing human wellbeing is to establish a sustainable society in harmony with nature across all regions of the world. Integrating rigorous research, education, and policymaking to meet this challenge is urgently needed. Understanding Human Ecology provides an insightful guide to how this might be achieved."

    Kazuhiko Takeuchi, President, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Japan

    "Understanding Human Ecology provides a coherent and lucid discussion of the topic, is user-friendly for university students (a rarity for a textbook), and makes clear connections to key issues such as sustainability, food security, and ethical issues of justice and fairness in environmental planning that are of serious and urgent concern. I consider it a foundational book in the field."

    Annie Booth, Professor Environmental & Sustainability Studies, University of North British Columbia, Canada

    "It is time to move beyond the simplistic approaches of cause–effect logic and the triple bottom line that typify many attempts to meet the sustainability challenge. This timely textbook brings the powerful approach of systems thinking to the most pressing, seemingly intractable problems that face humanity in the twenty-first century." 

    Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

    "From the Prologue to the concluding chapters, this work has resonated with my students in both introductory and graduate-level classes. Dyball and Newell use a mix of anecdotes, historical references, and scientific research to weave a narrative that captivates the reader and addresses why human ecology is needed, what it is, and how it can be applied. A perfect text to help students understand a most complex topic."

    Kenneth E. Hill, Provost, College of the Atlantic, USA

    "Understanding Human Ecology by Dyball and Newell provides a novel and transdisciplinary framework for understanding sustainability. This ‘must-read’ book explains why people have historically made such a mess of the environment and provides a convincing case for why we must and can switch from a paradigm of limitless growth to one of ethical living, content with sufficiency."

    Terry Chapin, University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA, and Past President, Ecological Society of America

    "This important book helps to elucidate the interplay between planetary change and human health, with profound implications for our understanding of the dynamics of contemporary health problems such as the global obesity epidemic and pandemic infectious diseases." 

    Anthony Capon, Director, Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University, Australia

    "Understanding Human Ecology provides a sophisticated yet accessible discussion of the complex systems driving human health and wellbeing in the past, present, and for the future. The authors present methods that can be applied by those interested in the diverse settings of physical, psychosocial, and socioeconomic sectors. Such attempts of analysis and integration often require interdisciplinary skills, however, these authors have paid great attention to the techniques of communication necessary to ensure the effective use of the concepts by a wide-ranging audience from policy workers, researchers, and the public."

    Ivan Hanigan, Senior Lecturer in Climate Change and Health, School of Population Health, Curtin University, Australia

    "Understanding Human Ecology provides an accessible introduction to the field and to the essential tool of systems analysis. It is an invaluable resource for teachers in human ecology and sustainability science as it reveals how individual everyday experiences and dilemmas are rooted in wider human–environment relations, and helps students appreciate the importance of systemic and historical perspectives on ‘how did we get to this?’ – and equally important, ‘where can we go from here?’"

    Ellinor Isgren, Lecturer in Human Ecology, Department of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden