Michael Gerst is an Assistant Research Professor at the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. His research focuses on decision tools and models for the assessment of sustainability and socio-technical-environmental systems. Past projects include the development of an agent-based model that couples international climate policy negotiation and domestic economy/energy systems, using the PoleStar model and the Planetary Boundaries framework to develop scenarios for the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability and risk-based analyses of long-term climate change. Prior to coming to UMD, he was an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College and an Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from Yale University.
Contours of a Resilient Global Future
Humanity confronts a daunting double challenge in the twenty-first century: meeting widely-held aspirations for equitable human development while preserving the biophysical integrity of Earth systems. Extant scientific attempts to quantify futures that address these sustainability challenges are often not comprehensive across environmental and social drivers of global change, or rely on quantification methods that largely exclude deep social, cultural, economic, and technological shifts, leading to a constrained set of possibilities. This article combines three previously separate streams of inquiry—scenario analysis, planetary boundaries, and targets for human development—to show that there are plausible, diverse scenarios that remain within Earth’s safe bio-physical operating space and achieve a variety of development targets. However, dramatic social and technological changes are required to avert the social-ecological risks of a conventional development trajectory.