Stanford EE Computer Systems Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, May 21, 2014
HP Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building Room B1

Minimal Models of Human-Nature Interaction
1. HANDY: Human And Nature Dynamics; 2. COWA: A Coupled Human-Climate-Water Model

Safa Motesharrei
National Socio-Environmental Sysnthesis Center (SESYNC), and University of Maryland (UMD)
About the talk:

Over the last two centuries, the Human System went from having a small impact on the Earth System to becoming dominant, because both population and per capita consumption have grown extremely fast, especially since about 1950. We therefore argue that Human System Models must be included into Earth System Models through bidirectional couplings with feedbacks. In particular, population should be modeled endogenously, rather than exogenously as done currently in most Integrated Assessment Models. The growth of the Human System threatens to overwhelm the Carrying Capacity of the Earth System, and may be leading to collapse. Earth Sciences should be involved in the exploration of potential mitigation strategies including education, regulatory policies, and technological advances.

We describe a human population dynamics model developed by adding accumulated wealth and economic inequality to a predator-prey model of humans and nature. The model structure, and simulated scenarios that offer significant implications, are discussed. Four equations describe the evolution of Elites, Commoners, Nature, and Wealth. The model shows Economic Stratification or Ecological Strain can independently lead to collapse, in agreement with the historical record.

The measure ``Carrying Capacity'' is developed and its estimation is shown to be a practical means for early detection of a collapse. Mechanisms leading to two types of collapses are discussed. The new dynamics of this model can also reproduce the irreversible collapses found in history. Collapse can be avoided, and population can reach a steady state at maximum carrying capacity, if the rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed equitably.

Finally we present a Coupled Human-Climate-Water Model (COWA). Policies are introduced as drivers of the model so that the long-term effect of each policy on the system can be seen as we change its level. We have done a case study for the Phoenix AMA Watershed. We show that it is possible to guarantee the freshwater supply and sustain the freshwater sources through a proper set of policy choices.


There is no downloadable version of the slides for this talk available at this time.

About the speaker:

[speaker photo] Dr. Safa Motesharrei is a Systems Scientist at SESYNC, and a PhD candidate in Physics (Econophysics) at the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park. He has Bachelor degrees in Electrical Engineering and Physics, Master degrees in Physics and Mathematics, and a PhD in Applied Mathematics/Public Policy from UMD. The focus of his work is on integration of the Human System and Population into the Earth System Models. He works with a cross-disciplinary team of renowned scientists including Eugenia Kalnay (Atmospheric Science), James Yorke (Mathematics), Matthias Ruth (Public Policy), Victor Yakovenko (Econophysics), Klaus Hubacek (Geography/Economics), Jelena Srebric (Engineering/Energy Sustainability), Robert Cahalan (Climate Physics), and Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm (Hydrology).

Together with Jorge Rivas (Institute of Global Environment and Society) and Prof. Kalnay, Safa has developed a minimal dynamical model of Human and Nature, HANDY, which is the first mathematical model of this kind that shows not only ecological strain, but also economic stratification, can lead to a societal collapse. The paper on HANDY was published in the Journal Ecological Economics, and received widespread attention from media around the world, including The Guardian, The Huffington Post, IFLScience, and NPR. Safa plays a leading role in the development of the five-sector Human-Earth System model, which includes Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy. This project has received support from NASA.

Safa’s studies were supported by doctoral fellowships from the School of Public Policy and the Department of Mathematics at UMD. In summer 2013, he was named the first recipient of the Lev Gandin Fellowship, awarded by Dr. Genia Brin.

Contact information:

Safa Motesharrei