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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Review article
12 Jan 2018
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).
On deeper human dimensions in Earth system analysis and modelling
Dieter Gerten1,2, Martin Schönfeld3, and Bernhard Schauberger1,4 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
2Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 10099 Berlin, Germany
3Philosophy Department, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., FAO 248, Tampa, FL 33620, USA
4Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, Orme des Merisiers, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France
Abstract. While humanity is altering planet Earth at unprecedented magnitude and speed, representation of the cultural driving factors and their dynamics in models of the Earth system is limited. In this review and perspectives paper, we argue that more or less distinct environmental value sets can be assigned to religion – a deeply embedded feature of human cultures, here defined as collectively shared belief in something sacred. This assertion renders religious theories, practices and actors suitable for studying cultural facets of anthropogenic Earth system change, especially regarding deeper, non-materialistic motivations that ask about humans' self-understanding in the Anthropocene epoch. We sketch a modelling landscape and outline some research primers, encompassing the following elements: (i) extensions of existing Earth system models by quantitative relationships between religious practices and biophysical processes, building on databases that allow for (mathematical) formalisation of such knowledge, (ii) design of new model types that specifically represent religious morals, actors and activities as part of coevolutionary human-environment dynamics, and (iii) identification of research questions of humanitarian relevance that are underrepresented in purely economic-technocratic modelling and scenario paradigms. While this analysis is by necessity heuristic and semi-cohesive, we hope that it will act as a stimulus for further, interdisciplinary and systematic research on the immaterial dimension of humanity's imprint on the Earth system, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Citation: Gerten, D., Schönfeld, M., and Schauberger, B.: On deeper human dimensions in Earth system analysis and modelling, Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss.,, in review, 2018.
Dieter Gerten et al.
Dieter Gerten et al.
Dieter Gerten et al.


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Publications Copernicus
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Short summary
Cultural processes are underrepresented in Earth system models although they decisively shape humanity's planetary imprint. We set forth ideas on how Earth system analysis can be enriched by formalising aspects of religion (understood broadly as a collective belief in things held sacred). We sketch possible modelling avenues (extensions of existing Earth system models and new coevolutionary models) and suggest research primers to explicate and quantify mental aspects of the Anthropocene.
Cultural processes are underrepresented in Earth system models although they decisively shape...