Braden R Allenby

Earth systems engineering and management (ESEM) is a new area of study arising from the confluence of several trends in different fields. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, the globalization of the Greco-Judaeo-Christian Eurocentric civilization and its technologies, and explosive growth in human population levels and economic activity, the dynamics of many fundamental natural systems (for example, the carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus and hydrologic cycles; atmospheric and oceanic systems; the biosphere at scales from the genetic to the species and community levels) are now dominated by the activities of one species - ours (Turner et al. 1990; Ayres et al. 1994; Nriagu 1994; Smil 1997; Vitousek et al. 1997). The Earth as it now exists increasingly reflects the perhaps unintended and unconscious, but nonetheless real, design of a single species. Although this process has been accelerated by the Industrial Revolution, 'natural' and human systems on all scales have in fact been affecting each other, and evolving together, for millennia, and they are now more tightly coupled than ever. Copper production in China during the Sung Dynasty, as well as in Athens and the Roman Republic and Empire, are reflected in deposition levels in Greenland ice (Hong et al. 1996). And lead production in ancient Athens, Rome and medieval Europe is reflected in increases in lead concentration in the sediments of Swedish lakes (Renberg et al. 1994). The build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began, not with the post-World War II growth in consumption of fossil fuel, but with the deforestation of Europe, Africa and Asia over the past centuries and millennia (Jager and Barry 1990). Humanity's impacts on biota, both directly through predation and indirectly through the introduction of new species to indigenous habitats and shifts to agricultural and urban technologies and cultural patterns, has been going on for centuries as well (Jablonski 1991; Diamond 1997; Redman 1999).

This observation is neither new nor unique: it was powerfully expressed over a hundred years ago in the classic Man and Nature by George Perkins Marsh (1973 [1864]). See also Thomas (1956a) and Turner et al. 1990. William Clark noted over a decade ago, in a 1989 special issue of Scientific American entitled 'Managing Planet Earth', 'Self-conscious, intelligent management of the earth is one of the great challenges facing humanity as it approaches the 21st century.' Gallagher and Carpenter (1997, p.485) introduced a special issue of Science on human-dominated ecosystems by noting that the cultural construct of 'pristine' or 'natural' ecosystems untouched by human activity is 'collapsing in the wake of scientists' realization that there are no places left on Earth that don't fall under humanity's shadow' (Science 1997).

The evolution of industrial ecology has also played a role in supporting the development of ESEM. Industrial ecology tools such as materials flow analysis (Chapter 8), input-output models (Chapter 10), life cycle assessment (Chapter 12), integrated assessment (Chapter 45) and design for environment (Chapter 35), have all contributed to a greater understanding of the linkages between technology systems, cultural patterns and natural systems (GrĂ¼bler 1998). In fact, the first use of the term 'earth systems engineering' was in the Journal of Industrial Ecology (Allenby 1999b, where the first dialog on the concept also was published; Friedman 1999; Allenby 1999c). And the second Gordon Conference on Industrial Ecology, held in New Hampshire in June 2000, focused on the concept of earth systems engineering and management. Reflecting perhaps the productive ferment in the field of industrial ecology, the question of whether ESEM is properly considered a part of industrial ecology, or a new area of study which is based in important ways on industrial ecology, nevertheless remains open for many industrial ecologists.

An additional important area of study involves the work that has been done over the past decade or so looking at geo-engineering options to mitigate global climate change (Keith and Dowlatabadi 1992; USNAS 1992, especially ch. 28, pp.433-64; Rubin et al. 1992). Proposals in the traditional geo-engineering area revolve primarily around mechanisms for reducing incident solar radiation, including placing mirrors, reflectors or particles in space between the Sun and the Earth (Teller et al. 1997; Govindasamy and Caldeira 2000). Reflecting the nascent state of both areas of study, the line between these geo-engineering proposals and ESEM is not yet clear: recent proposals to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by fertilizing plankton growth in the ocean by applying iron (Kerr 1994; Behrenfeld et al. 1996; Coale et al. 1996) or to dam the Strait of Gibraltar to mitigate shifts in oceanic circulation patterns resulting from climate change (Johnson 1997) appear to lie somewhere in the middle. Current research to prove the validity of systems to capture carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fueled power plants and sequester them in underground geologic formations or aquifers, thus supporting a hydrogen/electric energy system that would not increase global climate change forcing, would appear to be closer to ESEM (Herzog and Drake 1996; Socolow 1997; Allenby 1999b).

As these examples illustrate, the global climate change negotiations taken as a whole are perhaps the classic current case study in ESEM, although the broad, multidisciplinary, systems-based approach which should characterize any ESEM activity (just as it does industrial ecology) is lacking (Allenby 2000b). But there are other examples as well: these include the continuing efforts to manage the Baltic Sea and Everglades, managing regional forests to make them sustainable, exploitation of local and regional fisheries, and, of course, continued challenges from invasive species, especially those introduced during great human migrations such as the Polynesian or European episodes (Gunderson et al. 1995; Diamond 1997; Berkes and Folke 1998; Kaiser 1999; Redman 1999).

With this as background, ESEM may be more formally defined as 'the capacity to rationally engineer and manage human technology systems and related elements of natural systems in such a way as to provide the requisite functionality while facilitating the active management of strongly coupled natural systems' (Allenby, 2000/2001). Important elements of this definition include treating human and natural systems as coherent complexes, to be addressed in a unified manner, and the understanding that requisite functionality includes not just the desired output of the technological system -energy, for example - but respect for, and protection of, the relevant aspects of coupled natural systems: aesthetics, ecosystem services such as flood control and biodiversity as an independent value, and others.

One important difference between 'traditional' engineering disciplines and ESEM is worth emphasis. While virtually all engineering activities to some extent reflect the cultures within which they are embedded, the cultural dimensions of traditional engineering are often not critical to the impacts of the engineering activity. Designing a toaster does indeed reflect some cultural dimensions, but understanding the roots of the western technological discourse is hardly a necessary component of the activity (just as it is not for a design for environment analysis of a particular manufacturing technique, for example). But the scale and scope of ESEM, and the critical existential importance of the systems with which ESEM deals, means that one must comprehend not just the scientific and technological domains, but the social science domains - culture, religion, politics, institutional dynamics - as well. The human systems implicated in ESEM are extraordinarily powerful, with huge inertia and resistance to change built into them, and ESEM will fail as a response to the conditions of our modern world unless these are respected and understood.

The evolution of Eurocentric Judaeo-Christian capitalist and technology systems has swept the globe (Landes 1998; Harvey 1996; Diamond 1997; Noble 1998). Relevant implications of this historical process include commoditization of the world, including nature, which in developed countries is increasingly purchased at stores in up-market malls, in theme parks (reflecting not 'natural' ecological dynamics but late 20th-century ideology, including, of course, corporate sponsorship), and as eco-tour packaged 'experiences' (Marx and Engels, (1998 [1847]); Cronon 1996). The process of commoditization, the globalization of culture through movements such as post-modernism (Harvey 1996; Anderson 1998) and urbanization have had several fundamental effects. First, the cultural concepts of 'nature', 'wilderness' and related terms are changing for many people. Second, the complexity of society, and of the couplings between human and natural systems, is increasing radically (Harvey 1996; Redman 1999; Allenby 2000/2001). Finally, this increased complexity is reflexively affecting the governance structures within which environmental and technological issues have traditionally been addressed: the absolute primacy of the nation-state is being replaced by a far more fluid, and complex, dynamic structure involving a number of stakeholders, including private firms, NGOs and communities of all kinds (Chapter 6).

Another fundamental issue raised by ESEM is the pivotal role of values: ESEM by its nature is a means to an end which can only be defined in ethical terms. Simply put, the question, 'To what end are humans engineering, or should humans engineer, the Earth?' is a moral and religious matter, not a technical one. Moreover, as with ESEM itself, it is not hypothetical: human institutions are implicitly answering that question every day, and thus positing an answer. The climate change negotiations, for example, embed a number of ethical issues, but they tend to be treated implicitly, not explicitly, and thus are both unrecognized and, frequently, substantial unrecognized barriers to progress (Allenby 2000b). In general, failure to recognize the strong coupling between human activity on large scales and the state of environmental systems has to date permitted the engineering process to proceed without explicit consideration of the ethical content of the results. At some point this veil of ignorance will be pierced, perhaps in addressing the complex issues raised by global climate change and possible mitigation. Currently, however, this process is in its early stages.

It is clear that the institutional, ethical and knowledge bases necessary to support

ESEM as an operational field do not yet exist (and may never exist, in the view of skeptics). Nevertheless, experience to date with complex systems engineering projects (Pool 1997; Hughes 1998), international efforts to manage stratospheric ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and global climate change, and 'adaptive management' practices regarding complex natural resource systems such as the Everglades or the Baltic Sea (Gunderson et al. 1995; Berkes and Folke 1998) can be assessed to generate a basic set of ESEM principles. These can be roughly sorted into three categories: theory, governance, and design and engineering.

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