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Title: Modeling Sustainability: Population, Inequality, Consumption, and Bidirectional Coupling of the Earth and Human Systems

Over the last two centuries, the impact of the Human System has grown dramatically, becoming strongly dominant within the Earth System in many different ways. Consumption, inequality, and population have increased extremely fast, especially since about 1950, threatening to overwhelm the many critical functions and ecosystems of the Earth System. Changes in the Earth System, in turn, have important feedback effects on the Human System, with costly and potentially serious consequences. However, current models do not incorporate these critical feedbacks. Here, we argue that in order to understand the dynamics of either system, Earth System Models must be coupled with Human System Models through bidirectional couplings representing the positive, negative, and delayed feedbacks that exist in the real systems. In particular, key Human System variables, such as demographics, inequality, economic growth, and migration, are not coupled with the Earth System but are instead driven by exogenous estimates, such as United Nations population projections.This makes current models likely to miss important feedbacks in the real Earth–Human system, especially those that may result in unexpected or counterintuitive outcomes, and thus requiring different policy interventions from current models. Lastly, the importance and imminence of sustainability challenges, the dominant role of the Human Systemmore » in the Earth System, and the essential roles the Earth System plays for the Human System, all call for collaboration of natural scientists, social scientists, and engineers in multidisciplinary research and modeling to develop coupled Earth–Human system models for devising effective science-based policies and measures to benefit current and future generations.« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [1] ;  [3] ;  [4] ;  [5] ;  [6] ;  [1] ;  [1] ;  [7] ;  [1] ;  [8] ;  [9] ;  [10] ;  [1] ;  [1] ;  [11] ;  [1] ;  [1] ;  [1]
  1. Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD (United States)
  2. Inst. for Global Environment and Society, Rockville, MD (United States)
  3. Joint Global Change Research Inst., College Park, MD (United States)
  4. Univ. Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO (United States)
  5. Johns Hopkins Univ., Laurel, MD (United States). Applied Physics Lab.; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Greenbelt, MD (United States)
  6. Columbia Univ., Palisades, NY (United States). Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
  7. Brown Univ., Providence, RI (United States). Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences / Population Studies and Training Center
  8. Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD (United States); Joint Global Change Research Inst., College Park, MD (United States)
  9. Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD (United States); RIKEN Advanced Inst. for Computational Science, Kobe (Japan)
  10. Northeastern Univ., Boston, MA (United States). School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  11. George Mason Univ., Fairfax, VA (United States). Dept. of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Earth Sciences
Publication Date:
Report Number(s):
Journal ID: ISSN 2095-5138
Grant/Contract Number:
AC05-76RL01830; MURI N00014-12-1-0911; CBET-1541642; DBI-1052875; 1357928
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
National Science Review
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 3; Journal Issue: 4; Journal ID: ISSN 2095-5138
China Science Publishing
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program; National Science Foundation (NSF); US Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research (ONR)
Country of Publication:
United States
58 GEOSCIENCES; 32 ENERGY CONSERVATION, CONSUMPTION, AND UTILIZATION; 54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; Earth and Human System Models; population; migration; inequality; data assimilation; bidirectional couplings and feedbacks; sustainability
OSTI Identifier: