Humans, like any other organism, occupy a niche — a “Goldilocks Zone” for which our biology is suited, relatively to the extreme diversity of habitats on Earth. But to understand the natural habitat of human beings we would first have to perform a comprehensive survey of human settlements throughout history and prehistory, looking for patterns in the climate data. No one did this research until very recently, and what they found surprised them. Human life, especially the outdoor work like farming on which our societies depend, is suited only to a very narrow band of temperature and moisture levels, a tiny area on Earth’s large surface. The implications are severe and ominous when held in light of climate forecasts for the coming decades: a major and unprecedented set of challenges that will test ability to innovate, adapt, and migrate as the world around us changes.
This week guest’s are SFI ecologist Marten Scheffer at Wageningen University and SFI archaeologist Tim Kohler at Washington State University. In this episode, we discuss the past and future human climate niche, how our ability to adapt to climate change is hampered by the psychology of sunk costs, and how a better understanding of social tipping points and collective information processing at the scale of civilization could help prevent the catastrophes ensured by business as usual.
Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and each week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.
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