Earth, as it now exists, a human artifact?

By juni 17, 2022 Algemeen

The Earth is increasingly a product of human engineering and up until very recently, however, this has occurred without conscious recognition. A myriad of economic, social, political, technological decisions,  taken and evaluated as if independent, are in reality tightly coupled both to each other and to underlying dynamic natural Earth systems. It reflects the (frequently unintended and unconscious, but nonetheless real) design of a single species. Disconcerting as it is: the Earth, as it now exists, has become a human artifact.

In the geological era of the Anthropocene, our planet is changing at paces never observed before. Pollution, natural resources exploitation, habitat fragmentation, and climate change are only some of the threats our biosphere is facing. Species extinction is happening at faster rates than ever, greatly exceeding the five mass extinctions in the fossil record. Nevertheless, our lives are strongly based on services provided by ecosystems, thus the responses to global change of our natural heritage are of immediate concern.

Understanding the relationship between complexity and stability of the Earth system is of key importance for the maintenance of the balance of human growth and the conservation of all the natural services that ecosystems provide.

The Earth is a highly complex system formed by a large variety of sub-systems (biosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, as well as social and economic systems etc.), which interact by the exchange of matter, energy and information. As the result of these interrelations, the Earth can be interpreted as a complex and evolving network. The Earth’s complexity resides in its causal organization, which is self-referential. Earth is an instance of life and therefore an instance of biological organization at a planetary scale (autopoiesis is a plausible scenario for the instantiation of life organization on a planetary scale).


The resilience and evolution of multifunctional ecosystems across space and time, and in both aquatic and terrestrial environments, depends on the contributions of many species, and their distribution, redundancy, and richness at multitrophic levels performing critical functions in ecosystems and biosphere dynamics. Biodiversity and a resilient biosphere are a reflection of life continuously being confronted with uncertainty and the unknown.

Ecosystems are inherently complex, can change in many ways, exhibiting sudden crashes, startling growth, or stability. Furthermore, ecosystems can be more diverse than would be expected under directional selection, displaying great diversity in life-history or behavioral traits of species.

Ecosystems are living networks, self-generating, continually create, or recreate, themselves by transforming or replacing their components. In this way they undergo continual structural changes while preserving their weblike patterns of organization. These nonequilibrium systems are described mathematically by nonlinear equations; networks are nonlinear, multidirectional, patterns of organization (heterogeneity, hierarchy, self-organization, openness, adaptation, memory (homeostasis?), non-linearity, and uncertainty). The fabric of complexity is made of networks. The interactions and diversity of organisms within and across the planet’s ecosystems play critical roles in the coevolution of the biosphere and the broader Earth system.

Ecosystem integrity arises, as aforementioned, from processes of self-organization derived from thermodynamic mechanisms that operate through the locally existing biota, as well as the energy and materials at their disposal, until attaining optimal operational points which are not fixed, but rather vary according to variations in the physical conditions or changes produced in the biota.

The Earth behaves as an integrated system comprised of geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere as well as biosphere components, with nonlinear interactions and feedback loops between and within them. These components can be also regarded as self-regulating systems in their own right, and further broken down into more specialized subsystems. Nevertheless, the growing understanding of the multi-component interactions between physical, chemical, biological and human processes suggests that one should bring different disciplines together and take into account the Earth system as a whole.


Mathematical, physical, chemical systems, society can be characterized as complex systems. Within biology, interacting neurons, individuals within populations, and species within an ecosystem have all been modeled as complex systems. The accelerating expansion of human activities has eroded biosphere and Earth system resilience and is now challenging human wellbeing, prosperity, and possibly even the persistence of societies and civilizations.

The Anthropocene is characterized by a tightly interconnected world operating at high speeds with hyper-efficiency in several dimensions. These dimensions include the globalized food production and distribution system, extensive trade and transport systems, strong connectivity of financial and capital markets, internationalized supply and value chains, widespread movements of people, social innovations, development and exchange of technology, and widespread communication capacities. In the Anthropocene biosphere, systems of people and nature are not just linked but intertwined, and intertwined across temporal and spatial scales. This expansion has led to hyper-connectivity, homogenization, and vulnerability in times of change, in contrast to modularity, redundancy, and resilience to be able to live with changing circumstances. People and planet are truly interwoven and coevolve, shaping the preconditions for civilizations. Regenerative societies, ecosystems, and ultimately the health of the entire Earth system hinges on supporting, restoring and regenerating diversity in intertwined social and ecological dimensions. When studying or managing an ecosystem, be it temperate or tropical, terrestrial or aquatic, natural or anthropic, a suggested preliminary step is an exhaustive understanding of its overall dynamics.  Transformation in systemic dimensions;

  • shift in human behavior away from degrading the life support foundation of societal development;
  • management and governance of human actions as intertwined and embedded within the biosphere and the broader Earth system;
  • enhancing the capacity to live and develop with change, in the face of complexity and true uncertainty, that is, resilience-building strategies to persist, adapt, and transform.

This is especially important in an era in which the pressure exerted on natural ecosystems is becoming stronger and stronger, influencing their structure and functioning, while the services they provide are vital for a continuously increasing number of people.

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