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The University of Southampton
Interdisciplinary Research Excellence

Are we doomed or are we safe? Earth system analysis for sustainability Event

16 March 2016
Building 44, Lecture Theatre B Highfield Campus University of Southampton

Event details

The next Open SESAME talk will be given by Prof Wolfgang Lucht, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on Wed 16th March, 4pm, B44, Lecture B.


Only a few generations ago, Earth was thought to be more or less immutable. Since then, the modern sciences have revealed that we live on a complex dynamic planet that has seen glacial cycles, extinctions and major transitions. Now that humankind has collectively become a planetary force, what does the future hold in terms of planetary development and human societies in the no-analogue Anthropocene?Such questions are at the centre of Earth system analysis, a direction of research looking at the co-evolutionary dynamics of social and environmental processes at the global scale. Issues of emergence and transition, of bifurcation and adaptive elasticity, of network dynamics, social agency and preference structures play an important role.

The lecture will briefly look at the emergence of our understanding of Earth as a complex planet, and sketch how humankind’s material language, its social metabolism, is at the very core of the sustainability challenge of our century. It will explore how classical impact research is linked to co-evolutionary dynamics and outline needs for new approaches to modelling the global systems. The objective is to try and answer a critical question: under which preconditions do co-evolutionary pathways exist that safeguard planetary boundaries while allowing for tolerable social conditions?

Despite substantial narratives on this question that are in the mainstream today, for example in the debate about greening the economy or achieving no-regrets sustainable development, and not least about a potential success of the Paris climate accords, the lecture will argue that the issue remains wide open and a challenge to research. Along the way, a few of the most exciting recent research results from our work at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research will be incorporated.


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