We live in an era of unprecedented environmental transformation including rapid change in global climate and land cover; increasing pollution and biodiversity loss; and widespread environmental degradation.
While some environmental variability is natural, human activities are causing additional physical, chemical and biological changes, often at scales and speeds never before encountered. The scale of this impact is so great that the modern era can be thought of as a new, humanly-created geological epoch – the ‘Anthropocene’. International organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) highlight the severity of threats to human society from environmental change and biodiversity loss.
The Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions (IMSET) addresses one of the most significant global challenges facing humanity today: how we manage and respond to environmental change. It does this by exploring how past societies were affected by environmental change, how they responded to these challenges and, therefore, what are the most sustainable options available to present-day societies under similar pressures. This will be achieved through the application of bespoke statistical and numerical modelling to archaeological, anthropological and past environmental data.
IPCC special report findings
Learning from the past
We know that many past societies faced environmental change. While some were able to successfully respond and adapt, others were not. While modern societies possess many distinctive features, associated particularly with rapid technological development, they share many characteristics with societies of the past. For example, around two billion people currently survive as 'smallholder' farmers. IMSET will use archaeological, anthropological and past environmental data to understand how societies were affected by environmental change and how they responded to it. By using these techniques, the team will be able to answer questions such as what kinds of land use practices, technological developments, or societal organisation were associated with resilience under scenarios of environmental stress, and which proved less successful. By understanding how human societies responded to climate change in the past, IMSET's research will provide insights into how modern societies can adapt to the challenges facing them.
The Institute is directed by Dr Emma Jenkins of the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology and co-directed by Dr Fiona Coward (Department of Archaeology & Anthropology) and Professor Adrian Newton (Department of Life & Environmental Science).