Modelling the Planetary Boundaries

Modelling the Planetary Boundaries

An imagining of the human-earth system. Reproduced from Moll, Gallis & Millar, ArcNews Winter 2006/2007.

The planetary boundaries framework, and Kate Raworth’s later extension to include social as well as biophysical boundaries, has many strengths, but to a complex systems scientist it has some glaring weaknesses. It is designed to convey the strength of human influence in the highly interdependent phenomenon of global change, but the framework displays a remarkable lack of both dynamics and interconnections.

In late June I was fortunate to take up an invitation to the CSIRO Complex Systems Science group’s workshop on Modelling Planetary Boundaries, which set out to address these challenges. Held in a lovely bush retreat outside Canberra in Australia, the event was a small, intense, ‘mini-Dahlem’ style workshop with some of the best global change and complex systems scientists in Australia. And one science-theatre performer! Warmed into action by cosy wood fireplaces, we made remarkable headway on such a daunting topic.

Although I am a recent newcomer to global dynamics, while working at the Stockholm Resilience Centre I can’t help but learn about planetary boundaries. Combined with my work in social-ecological resilience, my past life as a physicist specialising in nonlinear dynamics and my credentials as a true-blue Aussie, I hope I was able to inject a useful level of reflection and consideration into the workshop.

By the end of the three days we had an exciting conceptualisation of the coupled human-earth system, a framework for exploring connections between processes in the human-earth system, and engaging examples to bring all the theory to life. Watch this space!