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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2020-65
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2020-65
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  04 Sep 2020

04 Sep 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal ESD.

Earth System Economics: a bio-physical approach to the human component of the Earth System

Eric Galbraith1,2,3 Eric Galbraith
  • 1Department of Earth and Planetary Science, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
  • 2Institucio de Ciencies i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA-UAB), Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain
  • 3Institucio Catalan de Recerca i Estudis Avancats, Barcelona, Spain

Abstract. The study of humans has largely been carried out in isolation from the study of the non-human Earth system. This isolation has encouraged the development of incompatible philosphical, aspirational, and methodological approaches that have proven very difficult to integrate with those used for the non-human remainder of the Earth system. Here, an approach is laid out for the scientific study of humans that is intended to facilitate integration with non-human processes by striving for a consistent physical basis, for which the name Earth System Economics is proposed. The approach is typified by a foundation on bio-physical state variables, quantification of time allocation amongst available activities at the population level, and an orientation towards measuring human experience. A suitable framework is elaborated, which parses the Earth system into four classes of state variables, including a neural class that would underpin many societal features. A working example of the framework is then illustrated with a simple numerical model, considering a global population that is engaged in one of two waking activities: provisioning food, or doing something else. The two activities are differentiated by their motivational factors, outcomes on state variables, and associated subjective experience. Although the illustrative model is a gross simplification of reality, the results suggest a simple relationship to predict first order changes in the human population size, and how neural characteristics and subjective experience can robustly emerge from model dynamics, including transient golden ages. The approach is intended to provide a flexible and widely-applicable strategy for understanding the human-Earth system, appropriate for physically-based assessments of the past and present, as well as long-term model projections that are oriented towards improving human well-being.

Eric Galbraith

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Short summary
Scientific tradition has left a gap between the study of humans and the rest of the Earth system. Here, a new approach to the global human system is proposed, that addresses key features of humanity using a quantitative, natural science perspective. At the core, this focuses on what humans are doing with their time, what are the bio-physical outcomes of those activities, and what is the lived experience. The approach can facilitate data analysis as well as integrated human-Earth system modeling.
Scientific tradition has left a gap between the study of humans and the rest of the Earth...
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