PUBLICATION Journal article

Evolution of the polycrisis: Anthropocene traps that challenge global sustainability

The Anthropocene is characterized by accelerating change and global challenges of increasing complexity. Inspired by what some have called a polycrisis, we explore whether the human trajectory of increasing complexity and influence on the Earth system could become a form of trap for humanity. Based on an adaptation of the evolutionary traps concept to a global human context, we present results from a participatory mapping. We identify 14 traps and categorize them as either global, technology or structural traps. An assessment reveals that 12 traps (86%) could be in an advanced phase of trapping with high risk of hard-to-reverse lock-ins and growing risks of negative impacts on human well-being. Ten traps (71%) currently see growing trends in their indicators. Revealing the systemic nature of the polycrisis, we assess that Anthropocene traps often interact reinforcingly (45% of pairwise interactions), and rarely in a dampening fashion (3%). We end by discussing capacities that will be important for navigating these systemic challenges in pursuit of global sustainability. Doing so, we introduce evolvability as a unifying concept for such research between the sustainability and evolutionary sciences.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Evolution and sustainability: gathering the strands for an Anthropocene synthesis’.

Søgaard Jørgensen, P., R. E. V. Jansen, D. I. Avila Ortega, L. Wang-Erlandsson, J. F. Donges, H. Österblom, P. Olsson, M. Nyström, S. J. Lade, T. Hahn, C. Folke, G. D. Peterson, and A.-S. Crépin. 2023. Evolution of the polycrisis: Anthropocene traps that challenge global sustainability. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 379(1893):20220261.