Earth systems science is concerned with the relationships between the various components that comprise the Earth as a system, notably environmental and biosphere interactions. Over the years, a wide spectrum of views has been expressed by scholars. At one extreme, the environment is the dominant influence, driving evolution within the biosphere (which is interpreted as being largely moulded by environmental forces). As an example, many have considered that changes in seawater chemistry and atmospheric oxygen levels triggered the Cambrian Explosion. At the other extreme, the Earth’s environment can be perceived as the product of the biosphere. This is the position of Nicholas Butterfield, who has written a paradigm-shifting essay saying: “it is clear that animals figure disproportionately in the maintenance of the modern Earth System, not least because they invented it.”
Earth systems thinking has a bearing on our approach to the environment. Is the Earth unstable, easily nudged to ‘tipping point’ and environmental melt-down? Alternatively, is it resilient, with negative feedback mechanisms operating to restore ecosystems to equilibrium?
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So will this new paradigm open people’s eyes to the reality of Anthropogenic Global Warming?