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Journal Article

Evolution of the polycrisis: Anthropocene traps that challenge global sustainability


Søgaard Jørgensen,  Peter
External Organizations;

Jansen,  Raf E. V.
External Organizations;

Avila Ortega,  Daniel I.
External Organizations;


Wang-Erlandsson,  Lan
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Donges,  Jonathan Friedemann
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Österblom,  Henrik
External Organizations;

Olsson,  Per
External Organizations;

Nyström,  Magnus
External Organizations;

Lade,  Steven J.
External Organizations;

Hahn,  Thomas
External Organizations;

Folke,  Carl
External Organizations;

Peterson,  Garry D.
External Organizations;

Crépin,  Anne-Sophie
External Organizations;

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Søgaard Jørgensen, P., Jansen, R. E. V., Avila Ortega, D. I., Wang-Erlandsson, L., Donges, J. F., Österblom, H., Olsson, P., Nyström, M., Lade, S. J., Hahn, T., Folke, C., Peterson, G. D., Crépin, A.-S. (2024): Evolution of the polycrisis: Anthropocene traps that challenge global sustainability. - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences, 379, 1893, 20220261.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_29011
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.