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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 23 May 2019

Submitted as: research article | 23 May 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).

Societal breakdown as an emergent property of large-scale behavioural models of land use change

Calum Brown1, Bumsuk Seo1, and Mark Rounsevell1,2 Calum Brown et al.
  • 1Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Kreuzeckbahnstraße 19, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 2School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK

Abstract. Human land use has placed enormous pressure on natural resources and ecosystems worldwide, and may even prompt socio-ecological collapses under some circumstances. Efforts to avoid such collapses are hampered by a lack of knowledge about when they may occur and how they may be prevented. Computational models that illuminate potential future developments in the land system are invaluable tools in this context. While such models are widely used to project biophysical changes, they are currently less able to explore the social dynamics that will be key aspects of future global change. As a result, strategies for navigating a hazardous future may suffer from blind spots at which individual, social and political behaviours divert the land system away from predicted pathways.

We apply CRAFTY-EU, an agent-based model of the European land system, in order to investigate the effects of human-behavioural aspects of land management at the continental-scale. We explore a range of potential futures using climatic and socio-economic scenarios, and present a coherent set of cross-sectoral projections without imposed equilibria or optimisation. These projections include various behavioural responses to scenarios including non-economic motivations, aversion to change, and heterogeneity in decision-making. We find that social factors and behavioural responses have dramatic impacts on simulated dynamics, and can contribute to a breakdown of the land system's essential functions in which shortfalls in food production of up to 56 % emerge. These impacts are largely distinct from, and at least as large as, those of projected climatic change. We conclude that the socio-economic aspects of future scenarios require far more detailed and varied treatment. In particular, the extent of economic irrationality at individual and aggregate scales may determine the nature of land system development, with established pathways being highly vulnerable to deviation from this theoretical optimum.

Calum Brown et al.
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Calum Brown et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Concerns are growing that human activity will lead to social and environmental breakdown, but it is hard to anticipate when and where such breakdowns might occur. We developed a new model of land management decisions in Europe to explore possible future changes, and found that decision-making that takes account of environmental conditions as well as profit can produce very different outcomes, but that it is unlikely to avoid social and environmental breakdown in challenging conditions.
Concerns are growing that human activity will lead to social and environmental breakdown, but it...