Global history, the emergence of chaos and inducing sustainability in networks of socio-ecological systems

Published on 17 November 2023


In this study, we propose a simplified model of a socio-environmental system that accounts for population, resources, and wealth, with a quadratic population contribution in the resource extraction term. Given its structure, an analytical treatment of attractors and bifurcations is possible. In particular, a Hopf bifurcation from a stable fixed point to a limit cycle emerges above a critical value of the extraction rate parameter. The stable fixed-point attractor can be interpreted as a sustainable regime, and a large-amplitude limit cycle as an unsustainable regime. The model is generalized to multiple interacting systems, with chaotic dynamics emerging for small non-uniformities in the interaction matrix. In contrast to systems where a specific parameter choice or high dimensionality is necessary for chaos to emerge, chaotic dynamics here appears as a generic feature of the system. In addition, we show that diffusion can stabilize networks of sustainable and unsustainable societies, and thus, interconnection could be a way of increasing resilience in global networked systems. Overall, the multi-systems model provides a timescale of predictability (300-1000 years) for societal dynamics comparable to results from other studies, while indicating that the emergent dynamics of networks of interacting societies over longer time spans is likely chaotic and hence unpredictable.

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