Our Research Strategy

The Global Systems Institute aims to become a ‘go to’ place for global change researchers from around the world, bringing them together with industry, policymakers, students and other stakeholders to tackle shared problems, and acting as a catalyst that enables translation of this research into applications that deliver tangible and sustainable social and ecological benefit.

Gaia 2.0

The overarching question guiding our endeavour is: How do we achieve a flourishing future for a projected 9-11 billion people as an integral part of a life-sustaining Earth system?

James Lovelock’s much debated Gaia hypothesis proposed that living things form part of a planetary-scale self-regulating system that operated unconsciously to support the flourishing of life for the last 3.8 billion years. We evolved within that system and now our collective activities are disrupting it to the extent that we have started a new geological epoch; the Anthropocene. At the same time we are becoming collectively self-aware of the global consequences of our actions, and are starting to change our actions in response to that information. This introduces a new kind of self-aware feedback into the dynamics of the Earth system, opening up the possibility of deliberate, purposive planetary-scale regulation and creating what we call Gaia 2.0.

Transformative solutions

The Institute’s aim is to identify the novel global processes, structures and goal functions that Gaia 2.0 could embody, to explore the trajectories it could follow, and to map out the tipping points that could take us between trajectories. This must be grounded in a systemic understanding of the drivers, feedbacks and manifestations of global change in both the human and non-human world.

We aim to better predict global changes through understanding the interactions between the climate, natural ecosystems, human social and economic systems, and the built environment. This will require advancing the state of the art in modelling the Earth system and its sub-systems, including social, economic and engineered (social-ecological) systems. It also requires the full range of experimental, observational, engineering and action research across disciplines. Rather than study these systems just to understand the problems they face, we will apply that understanding and modelling capability to identify transformative solutions to the global challenges faced by humankind, providing societies with an appraisal of the options to create a better future together.

A new way of thinking

This requires us to gestate a new field of global systems thinking that is more than the sum of its disciplinary parts. The deep intellectual challenge is to unite several thousand years of global scholarship on what makes for a happy and meaningful human life with the relatively young science of what makes a sustainable Earth system. This means bridging diverse subjects from philosophy, sociology and history, through law, politics and economics, to climate change, Earth system science and the circular economy. To this end we have identified several opportunities to advance the state-of-the-art.