Enter Zoom Meeting


Navigating the Anthropocene: Human agency in global society-environment interaction assessments and modelling approaches

The pressure of human activities on the Earth System has reached a scale where abrupt global environmental changes can no longer be excluded and gradual changes are accelerating at alarming rates. Simply continuing established political efforts to “decouple” GDP from resource use and GHG emissions will not suffice to achieve the absolute reductions required to avoid catastrophic climate change and reduce rising pressures on ecosystems. Hence, a socioecological transformation of resource use patterns is required that will imply significant non-linear deviations from past trajectories.
The question then arises, to what extent and how societies actually have agency to actively shape, accelerate and steer such a required transformation? Human agency refers to the ability to shape one’s life, or the collective ability to change the course of social action. Individual agency is reflected in individual choices and the ability to influence one’s life conditions and chances. Collective agency refers to situations in which individuals pool their knowledge, skills, and resources, and act in concert to shape their future.
Complex systems, such as our planet and human societies, cannot be fully controlled and their behaviour cannot be predicted. Nevertheless, some authors argue it possible to imperfectly navigate such systems. The questions that we are going to discuss in the session include:
i. How to navigate the humanity in the Anthropocene?
ii. What are the relevant dimensions of human agency to study human-environment system interactions?
iii. Which concepts and research methods are relevant for the research on human agency?
iv. How to operationalize human agency in global human-environmental system modelling efforts?
We are in particular interested in new approaches that would go beyond the rational choice and equilibrium paradigms. Such approaches should be able to explain and demonstrate system evolution pathways, system transitions, tipping points, and tipping interventions. They should be able to include human agents who operate under the conditions of resource scarcity and conflicting interests, and take decisions in the presence of high risk and uncertainty.

Public information:
The second part of the session (16:00 - 17:00 CEST) will be run as a panel discussion.

Co-organized by CL3.2
Convener: Ilona M. Otto | Co-conveners: Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Helmut Haberl, Wolfgang Lucht, Dominik WiedenhoferECSECS
Welcome to this vPICO session. All conveners, speakers, and attendees join the Zoom Meeting for the live presentations through the green button to the top right. On this page, you will find a list of presentations, their abstracts linked, and you can use the handshake to start spontaneous chats with others.

Activation of the text chat sets a cookie in your browser that is automatically deleted at the end of the conference.

A chat user is typing ...
SHIFT+ENTER for line break
We are sorry but we encountered a problem while running the chat ITS3.7/ERE1.6 . Please reload this browser window. In case this message is shown again after reloading, please contact us at: egu21@copernicus.org. We are sorry for this inconvenience.

Fri, 30 Apr, 15:30–17:00

Chairpersons: Ilona M. Otto, Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Dominik Wiedenhofer

Helmut Haberl et al.

Societies use material and energy resources to build up, maintain and utilize long-lasting structures such as buildings, infrastructures or machinery, and in the process release huge amounts of wastes and emissions. While in 1900 less than a quarter of all material use served to build up new material stocks, this fraction is now ~60% globally. Nexus approaches provide useful heuristics for interdisciplinary analyses of (un)sustainable resource use and the potentials and limitations of societal agency for interventions. Such a nexus can be conceptualized between different resources (e.g. land, materials, energy, or water), between biophysical stocks and flows involved in social metabolism, and the services and contributions to human well-being they provide. The novel concept of a stock-flow-service nexus explicitly recognizes the diverse and potentially conflicting purposes of resource use (e.g. products, services), thereby enriching concepts of “eco-efficiency”. At the same time, its applicability is in some contexts reduced by its dependence on the valuation of services, which has been subject to controversy and debate. Focusing on relationships between stocks, flows and practices, e.g. linkages between the routines of everyday life and the consumption of resources such as materials and energy, the complementary approach of a “stock-flow-practice” nexus avoids some of these challenges. Building on prominent theories of practice, especially those that have gained traction in consumption research, it offers a new conceptual basis for engaging with human agency and its implications for resource use. Both nexus approaches emphasize the key role of patterns of material stocks (e.g., settlement patterns, transport or production infrastructures, machinery) in shaping the (un)sustainability of resource use and the importance of services- and practice-oriented efforts to reshape these patterns when aiming to tackle the present sustainability crisis. In this presentation, we discuss how these two complementary nexus approaches can serve as heuristic models for interdisciplinary sustainability research, sketch the different conceptual and empirical research directions each of these two approaches inspires, and reflect on their importance for conceptualizing agency.

How to cite: Haberl, H., Schmid, M., Haas, W., Wiedenhofer, D., Rau, H., and Winiwarter, V.: Nexus approaches to foster sustainable resource use: relations between stocks and flows of materials, services, and practices, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-16, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-16, 2020.

Michele Graziano Ceddia et al.

The Gran Chaco represents an important habitat that is undergoing significant changes, as a result of the expansion of the agricultural frontier, with a range of negative social and environmental consequences. Such a change is the result of a “bad transition” from an extensive/subsistence agricultural system towards a capital-intensive one, to which corresponds a completely different level of anthropization. The largest part of the Gran Chaco is located in Argentina. Partially as a response to the rapid loss of natural habitat in the region, Argentina passed a federal forest law in 2007. The law requires the different provinces to introduce a set of implementing regulations and adopt a territorial classification of native forests (TCNF), denoting different conservation values (high, medium and low). Although referring to the same federal law, the TCNFs developed by the various provinces in the Argentinian Chaco ecoregion differ significantly. We first develop a theoretical framework, which combines historical materialism with the theory of socio-ecological systems, to explain the emergence of institutional configurations. Through this framework, we hypothesise that the heterogeneity in the TCNFs results from the combination of contextual factors (i.e., differences in the physical environment among the provinces), material/economic conditions (i.e., production processes, social relationships and reproduction processes) and different forms of agency. We test the hypothesis by developing thick case-studies on the various Argentinian provinces in the Gran Chaco region via qualitative comparative analysis. The results allow determining which configurations co-occur with certain outcomes in terms of TCNFs. The results shed light on the process of emergence of differentiated environmental institutions in the region from the interactions of different conditions, contexts and forms of agency. This knowledge, in turn, could be extremely useful in navigating the Anthropocene while promoting a “good transition” towards sustainability.

How to cite: Ceddia, M. G., Christopoulos, D., Frey, S., Inguaggiato, C., Mioni, W., Montani, R., Tschopp, M., and Zepharovich, E.: Unpacking the role of agency in the emergence of differentiated environmental institutions: the case of the territorial classification of native forests in the Argentinian Chaco, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-324, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-324, 2020.

Andrew H. MacDougall et al.

Global agriculture is the second largest contributor to anthropogenic climate change after the burning of fossil fuels. However the potential to mitigate the agricultural contribution is limited by the imperative to supply food for the global population. Advances in microbial biomass cultivation technology have recently opened a pathway to growing substantial amounts of food for humans or livestock, by fuelling microbial growth with hydrogen produced from electrolysis powered by renewable energy. This method of food production would use a small fraction of the land presently used for agriculture. Here we investigate the potential climate change impacts of the end of agriculture as the primary human food production system. We find that microbial biomass cultivation technology has both the potential to exacerbate climate change by outcompeting economic decarbonization for renewable energy and the potential to mitigate climate change if deployed following economic decarbonization. A duality which originates from the contrast between the reversibility of agricultural driven climate change and the irreversibility of fossil-fuel CO2 driven climate change. The range of reduced warming from the replacement of agriculture ranges from -0.22 [-0.29 to -0.04]oC for Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) 1-1.9 to -0.85 [-0.99 to -0.39]oC for SSP4-6.0. For limited temperature target overshoot scenarios, replacement of agriculture could thus eliminate or reduce the need for active atmospheric CO2 removal to achieve the necessary peak and decline in global warming. Given current societal barriers to switching to a microbial-based diet, deep near-term emissions reductions in CO2 and agricultural emissions remain necessary steps to keep warming within the bounds set by the Paris Agreement.

How to cite: MacDougall, A. H., Rogelj, J., and Withey, P.: Estimated climate impact of the end of agriculture as the primary food production system, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-874, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-874, 2021.

Claudia Wieners et al.

It is widely assumed in climate economics that a uniform, gradually increasing carbon tax mirroring the “social cost of carbon” (SCC) leads to cost-optimal emission reduction. The underlying idea is that emitters switch to carbon-saving technologies as soon as the tax becomes so high that this switch saves money. If we let the tax equal the SCC, i.e. the extra damage caused by emitting one extra ton of CO2, then everybody who can save carbon at a lower price than the damage caused by this emission will do so, whereas those for whom the emission-saving costs more than the associated damage will not. Models like Nordhaus’ famous DICE model find a roughly exponentially increasing SCC, corresponding to an exponentially increasing carbon tax.

We implemented such an exponentially increasing carbon tax in a simple agent-based model, the Dystopian Schumpeter-Keynes (DSK) model. Agent-based models dispense with restrictive perfect rationality and market equilibrium assumptions and are able to describe non-equilibrium dynamics and tipping as emergent properties of collective behaviour. They are not yet widely used in climate economics.

The DSK model contains two types of firms which manufacture machines or a consumption good, respectively, using labour and energy (electricity and/or fuel). Electricity is provided by a monopolist using green (carbon neutral) or brown (fuel-based) plants.

In DSK, the DICE-based carbon tax is far from satisfying as climate policy. In the first ≈30 years, the tax is too low to trigger a green transition in the electricity sector. When green plants finally do become competitive, it still takes decades until the transition is completed, because power plants have a long lifetime and are replaced only gradually. Higher taxes can speed up the process somewhat, but even modest increases in the transition rate require big increases in the tax (and hence considerable side effects on the economy, including unemployment). The exponentially increasing carbon tax is thus low at the beginning of the transition, where higher taxes would be most needed, but becomes high (with associated side effects) at later stages, when the transition is already gaining momentum by positive feedbacks, most notably innovation reducing the price of green plants. It would be preferable to implement a constant (or even slightly decreasing) tax which is sufficiently high from the beginning.

Apart from green electricity, decarbonisation also requires fuel-using firms to switch to electricity. However, the carbon tax does not incentivise this switch initially, as the tax increases not only fuel price, but also electricity price. Again, the switch takes time, while rapid decarbonisation requires a swift start of electrification. One way around it is to levy a higher carbon tax on manufacturing firms than on the electricity sector (to make electricity use more attractive); alternatively, one could simply impose regulations.

Our results suggest that a carbon tax should not be gradually increasing and uniform, but high from the beginning and sector-dependent. We also find that tax-free policies, such as green subsidies or regulations, can bring about a green transition with possibly less side effects.

How to cite: Wieners, C., Lamperti, F., Roventini, A., and Buizza, R.: No time to tax! Can a gradually increasing carbon tax really provide a cost-efficient green transition?, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-1347, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-1347, 2021.

Jonathan F. Donges et al.

Analysis of Earth system dynamics in the Anthropocene requires explicitly taking into account the increasing magnitude of processes operating in human societies, their cultures, economies and technosphere and their growing feedback entanglement with those in the physical, chemical and biological systems of the planet. However, current state-of-the-art Earth system models do not represent dynamic human societies and their feedback interactions with the biogeophysical Earth system and macroeconomic integrated assessment models typically do so only with limited scope. This paper (i) proposes design principles for constructing world–Earth models (WEMs) for Earth system analysis of the Anthropocene, i.e., models of social (world)–ecological (Earth) coevolution on up to planetary scales, and (ii) presents the copan:CORE open simulation modeling framework for developing, composing and analyzing such WEMs based on the proposed principles. The framework provides a modular structure to flexibly construct and study WEMs. These can contain biophysical (e.g., carbon cycle dynamics), socio-metabolic or economic (e.g., economic growth or energy system changes), and sociocultural processes (e.g., voting on climate policies or changing social norms) and their feedback interactions, and they are based on elementary entity types, e.g., grid cells and social systems. Thereby, copan:CORE enables the epistemic flexibility needed for contributions towards Earth system analysis of the Anthropocene given the large diversity of competing theories and methodologies used for describing socio-metabolic or economic and sociocultural processes in the Earth system by various fields and schools of thought. To illustrate the capabilities of the framework, we present an exemplary and highly stylized WEM implemented in copan:CORE that illustrates how endogenizing sociocultural processes and feedbacks such as voting on climate policies based on socially learned environmental awareness could fundamentally change macroscopic model outcomes.


Donges, J.F. et al.: Taxonomies for structuring models for World-Earth system analysis of the Anthropocene: subsystems, their interactions and social-ecological feedback loops, Earth Syst. Dynam. Disc., in review (2021), DOI: 10.5194/esd-2018-27.

Donges, J. F. and Heitzig,et al..: Earth system modeling with endogenous and dynamic human societies: the copan:CORE open World–Earth modeling framework, Earth Syst. Dynam., 11, 395–413, 2020.

How to cite: Donges, J. F., Heitzig, J., Lucht, W., Barfuss, W., Cornell, S. E., Kassel, J., Kittel, T., Kolb, J. J., Kolster, T., Lade, S. J., Müller-Hansen, F., Otto, I. M., Schlüter, M., Wiedermann, M., and Zimmerer, K. B.: Process taxonomies and copan:CORE modelling framework for studying human-Earth system interaction dynamics in the Anthropocene, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-2337, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-2337, 2021.

Antonia Schuster and Ilona M. Otto

The Earth’s population of seven billion consume varying amounts of planetary resources with varying impacts on the environment.  We combine the analytical tools offered by the socio-ecological metabolism and class theory and propose a novel social stratification theory to identify the differences and hot spots in individual resource and energy use. The theory is applied to German society and we use per capita greenhouse gas emissions as a proxy for resource and energy use. We use socio-metabolic profiles of individuals from an economic, social and cultural perspective to investigate resource intensive lifestyles. The results show large disparities and inequalities in emission patterns in German society. For example, the greenhouse gas emissions in the lowest and highest emission classes can differ by a magnitude of ten. Income, education, age, gender and regional differences (FRG vs. GDR) result in distinct emission profiles. Class differentiation is also noted as economic, cultural and social factors influence individual carbon footprints. We also analyze the role of digital technologies, regarding resource and energy consumption, as a proxy for cultural capital. Highlighting inequalities within societies is a step towards downscaling carbon emission reduction targets that are key to avoid transgressing climate change planetary boundary. We discuss the results in the context of climate policy implications as well as behavioral changes that are needed to meet climate policy objectives.

How to cite: Schuster, A. and Otto, I. M.: Socio-metabolic class conflicts in the Anthropocene: Developing a novel class theory based on German population data, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-2880, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-2880, 2021.

Ilona M. Otto

The role of humans significantly altering natural systems is undisputed and human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century. If components of the Earth System are pushed beyond critical states, further large-scale impacts on human and ecological systems are likely. However, In the Anthropocene, humans are also seen as a force able to facilitate a global sustainability transformation. In other words, the individual becomes a focal point and, applying its inherent human agency, understood as the ability to shape life circumstances, opens up an analytical level incorporating choices and future action plans. The paper systematically reviews approaches that are relevant for operationalizing human agency in global human-environmental interaction models. The key aspects include representing inequalities in the resource and energy that are used to support lifestyles of different social groups, developing a hierarchical networked representation of social structure layers and rules for agent operation at the different levels, and finally building feedback and learning mechanisms that are used by agents to respond to changing environmental conditions and the behaviour of other agents.

How to cite: Otto, I. M.: Operationalizing Human Agency in World-Earth System Models, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-3546, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-3546, 2021.

Julia Steinberger

This talk will report on the multiple research streams resulting from the Living Well Within Limits project. The Living Well Within Limits project investigates the energy requirements of well-being, from quantitative, participatory and provisioning systems perspectives. In this presentation, I will communicate individual and cross-cutting findings from the project, and their implications for the engineering research community. In particular, I will share our most recent results on global energy footprint inequality, implications of redistribution, as well as modelling the minimum energy demand that would provide decent living standards for everyone on earth by 2050. I will show that achieving low-carbon well-being, both from the beneficiary (“consumer”) and supply-chain (producer) sides, involves strong distributional and political elements. Simply researching this area from a technical, social or economic lens is insufficient to draw out the reasons for poor outcomes and most promising avenues for positive change. I thus argue for the active engagement of the research community.

How to cite: Steinberger, J.: Living Well Within Planetary Limits: is it possible? And what will it take?, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-8137, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-8137, 2021.

Ricarda Winkelmann et al.

Societal transformations are necessary to address critical global challenges, such as mitigation of anthropogenic climate change and reaching UN sustainable development goals. Recently, social tipping processes have received increased attention, as they present a form of social change whereby a small change can shift a sensitive social system into a qualitatively different state due to strongly self-amplifying (mathematically positive) feedback mechanisms. Social tipping processes have been suggested as key drivers of sustainability transitions emerging in the fields of technological and energy systems, political mobilization, financial markets and sociocultural norms and behaviors.

Drawing from expert elicitation and comprehensive literature review, we develop a framework to identify and characterize social tipping processes critical to facilitating rapid social transformations. We find that social tipping processes are distinguishable from those of already more widely studied climate and ecological tipping dynamics. In particular, we identify human agency, social-institutional network structures, different spatial and temporal scales and increased complexity as key distinctive features underlying social tipping processes. Building on these characteristics, we propose a formal definition for social tipping processes and filtering criteria for those processes that could be decisive for future trajectories to global sustainability in the Anthropocene. We illustrate this definition with the European political system as an example of potential social tipping processes, highlighting the potential role of the FridaysForFuture movement. Accordingly, this analytical framework for social tipping processes can be utilized to illuminate mechanisms for necessary transformative climate change mitigation policies and actions. 

How to cite: Winkelmann, R., Donges, J. F., Smith, E. K., Milkoreit, M., Eder, C., Heitzig, J., Katsanidou, A., Wiedermann, M., Wunderling, N., and Lenton, T. M.: Social tipping processes for sustainability: An analytical framework, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9161, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-9161, 2021.

Adam Izdebski

The breakdowns of big empires have attracted the attention of historians for generations. Massive processes of social and political change, taking place over several generations and often several continents, they constantly invite new questions and ideas, and thus have often been studied in incredible detail. If we already know so much about them, is there potentially a lesson to be learnt for our times? Can we look at the historical examples to understand how the process of social collapse takes place, what are its key determinants and how – if at all – human agency can steer this process, with different human actors achieving their goals despite the overall unpredictability and decomposition of the existing structures.

In my talk, I will look at one of the best-studied instances of social collapse – that of the Roman Empire, or, more precisely, the Eastern part of it, which took place in the 7th c. AD – in order to look at the moments when human agency was able to steer the process of disintegration/collapse. I will focus on the different interventions of the imperial government (the emperor and the central administrative and military apparatus), the ideological innovations, elite transformation and other processes, which created a smaller, yet surprisingly resilient, social-economic system. Moreover, while environmental factors, such as climate or disease – as things stand now – do not seem to have been the primary causes of the collapse, a profound environmental change was taking place in parallel to the social transformation, underpinning the new emerging system in terms of its resource base. Overall, the seventh-century collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire could be seen as a successful transformation, largely due to human agency, or, more specifically, thanks to fortunate interventions and innovations of different human actors.

How to cite: Izdebski, A.: The place for agency in social collapse: the case of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 7th c. AD, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9192, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-9192, 2021.

Marta Baltruszewicz et al.

The link between energy use, social and environmental well-being is at the root of critical synergies between clean and affordable energy (SDG7) and other SDGs. Household-level quantitative energy analyses enable better understanding regarding interconnections between the level and composition of energy use, and SDG achievement. This study examines the household-level energy footprints in Nepal, Vietnam, and Zambia. We calculate the footprints using multi-regional input-output (MRIO) with energy extensions based on International Energy Agency (IEA) data. We propose an original perspective on the links between household final energy use and well-being, measured through access to safe water, health, education, sustenance, and modern fuels. In all three countries, households with high well-being show much lower housing energy use, due to a transition from inefficient
biomass-based traditional fuels to efficient modern fuels, such as gas and electricity. We find that households achieving wellbeing have 60-80% lower energy footprint of residential fuel use compared to average across the countries. We observe that collective provisioning systems in form of access to health centres, public transport, markets, and garbage disposal and characteristics linked to having solid shelter, access to sanitation, and minimum floor area are more important for the attainment of wellbeing than changes in income or total energy consumption. This is an important finding,  contradicting the narrative that basic wellbeing outcomes require increased income and individual consumption of energy. Substantial synergies exist between the achievement of well-being at a low level of energy use and other SDGs linked to poverty reduction (encompassed in SDG1), health (SDG3), sanitation (SDG6), gender equality (SDG5), climate action and reduced deforestation (SDG 13 and SDG15) and inequalities (SDG10). 

How to cite: Baltruszewicz, M., Steinberger, J., Ivanova, D., Brand-Correa, L., Paavola, J., and Owen, A.: Household final energy footprints in Nepal, Vietnam and Zambia: composition, inequality and links to well-being, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9658, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-9658, 2021.

Jefim Vogel et al.

Meeting human needs at low levels of energy use is fundamental for avoiding catastrophic climate change and securing the well-being of all people. In the current international political-economic regime, no country does so.

Here, we assess which socio-economic conditions might enable societies to satisfy human needs at sustainable levels of energy use, and thus reconcile human well-being with ambitious climate mitigation. Applying a novel analytical framework and a novel regression-based moderation approach to data from 106 countries, we analyse how the relationship between energy use and six dimensions of human need satisfaction varies with a wide range of socio-economic factors relevant to the provisioning of goods and services (‘provisioning factors’).

We find that higher achievements in provisioning factors such as income equality, public service quality, democracy and electricity access are associated with greater need satisfaction and lower energy dependence of need satisfaction. Conversely, higher levels of economic growth and extractivism are associated with lower need satisfaction and greater energy dependence of need satisfaction. Our analysis suggests that countries with beneficial configurations of key provisioning factors are much more likely to reach high levels of need satisfaction at low(er) levels of energy use. Based on our statistical models, countries with highly beneficial configurations of several key provisioning factors could likely achieve sufficient need satisfaction within levels of energy use found compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 °C without negative emissions technologies. Achieving this would be very unlikely for countries with detrimental provisioning configurations.

Improvements in relevant provisioning factors may thus be crucial for ending human deprivation in currently underproviding countries without exacerbating climate and ecological crises, and for tackling the ecological overshoot of currently needs-satisfying countries without compromising sufficient need satisfaction. However, as key pillars of the suggested changes in provisioning run contrary to the dominant political-economic regime, a broader political-economic transformation may be required to organise provisioning for the satisfaction of human needs within sustainable levels of energy use.

Our findings have important implications for climate mitigation, poverty eradication, development discourses, and efforts towards Sustainable Development Goals and socio-ecological transformation.

How to cite: Vogel, J., Steinberger, J. K., O'Neill, D. W., Lamb, W. F., and Krishnakumar, J.: Socio-economic conditions for satisfying human needs at low energy use: an international analysis of provisioning factors, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-13703, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-13703, 2021.

Yury Fedorov et al.

The majority of researches of the Working group on the ‘Anthropocene’ of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) voted for the recognition of the Anthropocene as a formal chrono-stratigraphic unit characterized by profound alterations of several conditions and processes on Earth by human impact. It is also proposed to place its beginning and the end of the Holocene epoch in the mid-20th century, coinciding with the launch of nuclear weapon tests [1]. In contemporary sediment cores of the Sea of ​​Azov, the Don and the Kuban rivers, we will distinguish a "layer of anthropogenic impact", meaning the layer containing considerable quantities of technogenic material and (or) pollutants [2]. To reveal the chronology of its formation, its thickness, and boundaries, it is proposed to use the results of layer-by-layer determining of the Cs-137 and Am-241 specific activities, as well as the content of oil components, lead and mercury in the bottom sediments of the water bodies. The upper Cs-137 peak formed due to the Chernobyl accident and sometimes the lower Cs-137 and Am-241 peaks related to the global radioactive fallout in the 1950s and 1960s have been detected [3]. The decrease of mercury, lead, and oil components concentrations from the upper to the lower parts of sediment cores has also been observed. The results of analysis of technogenic radionuclides and priority pollutants distribution have proved that since the 1950s and 1960s in the bottom sediments of the Sea of ​​Azov and water bodies of its basin the “layer of anthropogenic impact" has been being formed. Its thickness varies from 20 to 50 cm and may even exceed 50 cm in areas characterized by high sedimentation rates. It has been found out that in the mid-20th century the ecosystem of the Sea of ​​Azov began to suffer from intense anthropogenic pressure, which reached its maximum in the 1970s and 1980s. It is proposed to consider the studied pollutants (technogenic radionuclides, mercury, lead, and oil components) as a possible set of priority markers of the Anthropocene epoch. The Holocene - Anthropocene boundary should be placed at the base of the identified “layer of anthropogenic impact”.


The research was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, project no. 19-05-50097.



[1] Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’. Results of binding vote by AWG. http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/working-groups/anthropocene/ (last accessed 17 January 2021).

[2] Kuznetsov A.N., Fedorov Yu.A., and Yaroslavtsev V.M. (2018) Technogenic and natural radionuclides in the bottom sediments of the Sea of Azov: regularities of distribution and application to the study of pollutants accumulation chronology. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 107, 012063.

[3] Fedorov Yu.A., Kuznetsov A.N., and Trofimov M.E. (2008) Sedimentation rates in the Sea of Azov inferred from Cs-137 and Am-241 specific activity. Doklady Earth Sciences, vol. 423, no. 1, pp. 1333-1334.

How to cite: Fedorov, Y., Kuznetsov, A., Dotsenko, I., and Mikhailenko, A.: Artificial radionuclides, mercury, lead, and oil components in sediment cores as markers of the Anthropocene Epoch, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-14484, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-14484, 2021.

Daniel Hausknost

I propose an analytical distinction between four different modes of human agency: decision, choice, solution and routine. These modes are distinct through their respective combination of two basic criteria: one is the question, if the options the agentic mode is dealing with are commensurable or incommensurable; the other concerns the question whether the agentic mode is eliminating or retaining options. That way, the four modes of agency do very different things to the reality they are applied to. I suggest that purposive interventions into socio-ecological reality follow patterns that are typical to the respective political-economic order they are part of. For example, contemporary liberal democratic orders tend to favor combinations of solution (typically: technological innovation) and choice (typically: individual market behavior), while avoiding decisions (the collectively binding selection between incommensurable options) for their disruptive potential. At the same time, the establishing of new niche routines in terms of more sustainable social practices is encouraged or at least tolerated. I argue that the resulting agentic regime of liberal democratic orders (i.e. their constitutive pattern of agency) is only very weakly transformative, as it shuns decisions and individualizes the selection of incommensurable options (e.g. ‘ideological’ choices between different production standards, forms of mobility or models of infrastructure). It tends to institute an agentic regime resulting in ‘evolutionary’ patterns of change (the combination of technological variation and market selection) rather than opting for willful, political and (therefore) conflictive forms of change.

A purposive steering of human-environment interactions under time pressure towards radical system transformation, however, requires a different type of agentic regime: a new combination of agentic modes with a much stronger weighting of (collective) decisions. Indeed, the paper argues, any purposively ‘transformative’ agentic regime would have to institute patterns of agency that combine solutions, choices, routines and decisions in a novel, and much more disruptive, way. For example, solutions (technological innovations) and new routines (social innovations) that are proven to have a highly transformative impact when rolled out would need to be subject to collective decisions rather than individual choice. The result would be a new pattern of agency leading to a different rhythm and pattern of change, but also to new political-economic challenges and conflicts. Therefore, shifting the patterns of agency is at the same time a necessity and a massive institutional and political challenge for complex societies.

The paper concludes by outlining some suggestions as to how the proposed distinction of agentic modes can be operationalized for empirical investigations into the transformative capacities of human agency in different political-economic settings. 

How to cite: Hausknost, D.: Shifting the patterns of agency: identifying some requirements for transformative change, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-15137, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-15137, 2021.

Andrew Ringsmuth et al.

A pressing challenge in the Anthropocene is sustainable and just management of large-scale common-pool resources (CPRs) including the atmosphere, biodiversity and public services. This poses a difficult collective action problem because such resources may not show signs that usage restraint is needed until tragedy is almost inevitable. To solve this problem, a sufficient level of cooperation with a pro-conservation behavioural norm must be achieved, within the prevailing sociopolitical environment, in time for the action taken to be effective. In this work, we investigate the transient, nonequilibrium dynamics of behavioural change in an agent-based model on structured networks that are also exposed to a global external influence. Our model combines elements of rational choice theory with psychology-based opinion dynamics to reflect that individuals who promote collective action to conserve a large CPR are rationally motivated and also face psychosocial constraints. We find that social polarisation emerges naturally, even without assuming bounded confidence, but that for rationally motivated agents, it is temporary. The speed of convergence to a final consensus is controlled by the rate at which the polarised clusters are dissolved. This depends strongly on the combination of external influences and the network topology. Both high connectivity and a favourable environment are needed to rapidly obtain final consensus. Our findings expand the evidence that designing systems to encourage constructive engagement between disagreeing groups could be a powerful promoter of large-scale collective action.

How to cite: Ringsmuth, A., Andersson, D., Bratsberg, S., and de Wijn, A.: Dynamics of collective action to conserve a large common-pool resource, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-15823, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-15823, 2021.

Meet the authors in their breakout text chats

A chat user is typing ...