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Time and terrain:  Life on planet Earth in the century of complexities – and the inescapable role  of the Earth and environmental sciences
  • Umberto Fracassi
Umberto Fracassi

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“Pressure and time.” A momentous quote in a compelling movie from a few decades ago interestingly pointed at some of the ingredients that contributed to shaping the Earth. The movie set off from how to seep through masses that appeared just too vast to be shakable or vulnerable – if not by deciphering their inner core.
 The planetary size and time frame of the Earth may have elicited a perception of a durable, unbuckling living environment – just because “pressure and time” to really affect it would have been out of human reach – supposedly. However, the Earth and environmental sciences have long striven to alert contemporary societies that this is just not the case, as humans have been well exerting scattered yet ubiquitous, planetary-scale pressure over a relatively brief time – with consequential, durable effects.
 Rising global population, long-term migration shifts of continental extents – due to risks, climate, resources – and unpredicted factors – from vulnerabilities to instabilities – pressure on the environment (natural and built) in unprecedented scale throughout human history. The Earth sciences were born out of deciphering ancient life forms teeming in an aboriginal environment, unfolding on a planet that could be explained only by looking at the Solar system – and at the inception of the Universe.
Cross-disciplinary by nature, the Earth and environmental sciences offer crucial tools to gauge location, economic turnout, and societal costs of those very resources and fragilities. They also are pivotal co-actors of intellectual stewardship bridging the gulf with sister disciplines well beyond the remits of the physical sciences. From economics to philosophy, and from history to literature, multiple, diverse and concurring threats call for resourceful, multi-faceted mind- and skill-sets where no single hazard may be really treated apart – not on societal terms.
Adapting a famous statement from the 20th century, evolution in a time of poly-crises, multiple hazards, and accrued vulnerabilities is not going to be a dinner party for contemporary societies – especially as they dwell a world perceived as increasingly richer in risks and poorer in resources, with a growing population and across instabilities. Human Earth sciences offer a bridge towards our collective future – as societies, continents, planets.
08 Jan 2024Submitted to ESS Open Archive
15 Jan 2024Published in ESS Open Archive