Making Environments Matter: Dynamic Couplings in Complex Social-Ecological Systems

This project brings together expertise from the Faculties of Science, Business & Economics, Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Engineering, and the Climate & Energy College, with external partners from the Climate and Health Alliance, Pollination Group and the University of Canberra.


Over the next century global warming will destabilize many social-ecological systems required for human life: government; trade; transport; agriculture; housing; communities and social groups; healthcare; employment; and water distribution. In Australia alone the costs of climate inaction may exceed $5 trillion by 2100, with key harms to infrastructure, agricultural and labour productivity, and biodiversity and human health. However, researchers have had difficulty translating these predictions into a narrative depicting how such whole-of-system consequences are connected to daily life and concerns that exist across the political spectrum, such as crime, cardiac events, and unemployment. Hence, there is an urgent need to generate new forms of discourse offering insight into how a warming climate will have critical system-wide effects.

To address this, new datasets and analysis methods are needed to offer academics, policymakers, and the public a whole-of-system narrative clarifying how global warming and its downstream consequences will cause widespread disruption over a broad range of social-ecological systems that matter for daily life. This requires adopting a novel complex-systems view of the nonlinear dynamics that define social-ecological systems across disciplines.

This project has three key aims:

  • Develop a proof-of-concept Australian dataset capturing variables that define critical social-ecological systems and outcomes at the finest temporal/geographic scales possible across disciplines.
  • Use ‘manifold learning’ methods to determine nonlinear associations across geographic and temporal scales.
  • Interpret results with partners and disseminate results through engagement and press, as well as peer-reviewed publications and workshops to promote the new open-access dataset and policy implications.

Project lead: Michael Zyphur