Earth Systems to Anthropocene Systems: An Evolutionary, System-of-Systems, Convergence Paradigm for Interdependent Societal Challenges.

John C. Little, Roope O. Kaaronen, Janne I. Hukkinen, Shuhai Xiao, Tatyana Sharpee, Amro M. Farid, Roshanak Nilchiani, and C. Michael Barton

Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Program Acknowledged Support: No, other Non-DOE EESM source of support


Humans have made profound changes to the Earth. The resulting societal challenges of the Anthropocene (e.g., climate change and impacts, renewable energy, adaptive infrastructure, disasters, pandemics, food insecurity, and biodiversity loss) are complex and systemic, with causes, interactions, and consequences that cascade across a globally connected system of systems. In this Critical Review, we turn to our “origin story” for insight, briefly tracing the formation of the Universe and the Earth, the emergence of life, the evolution of multicellular organisms, mammals, primates, and humans, as well as the more recent societal transitions involving agriculture, urbanization, industrialization, and computerization. Focusing on the evolution of the Earth, genetic evolution, the evolution of the brain, and cultural evolution, which includes technological evolution, we identify a nested evolutionary sequence of geophysical, biophysical, sociocultural, and sociotechnical systems, emphasizing the causal mechanisms that first formed, and then transformed, Earth systems into Anthropocene systems. Describing how the Anthropocene systems coevolved, and briefly illustrating how the ensuing societal challenges became tightly integrated across multiple spatial, temporal, and organizational scales, we conclude by proposing an evolutionary, system-of-systems, convergence paradigm for the entire family of interdependent societal challenges of the Anthropocene.

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