Evolution of the polycrisis: Anthropocene traps that challenge global sustainability

Earth trajectory

Using expert solicitation, the authors identify 14 “evolutionary traps” (global, technological, and structural) that risk locking humanity into unfavorable (maladaptive) trajectories that seriously restrict its ability to adapt to the Anthropocene. These traps develop over four phases: initiation, scaling, masking (of harmful interactions), and trapping. The fourth phase involves one of five trapping mechanisms: constraints, tipping points, conflict, permanence, and scale mismatch. Nearly half of the 14 traps reinforce one another. Humanity can intentionally evolve culturally to circumvent these traps using five key capacities: “(a) the capacity to recognize traps and set goals for evolving out of them, (b) the capacity to learn about where we are in relation to these goals and what steps are needed to approach them, (c) the capacity to reorganize and innovate, (d) the capacity to be prepared for and respond to surprise, and (e) the capacity to navigate conflict” (p. 11).


Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, Raf E. V. Jansen, Daniel I. Avila Ortega, Lan Wang-Erlandsson, Jonathan F. Donges, Henrik Österblom, Per Olsson, Magnus Nyström, Steven J. Lade, Thomas Hahn, Carl Folke, Garry D. Peterson and Anne-Sophie Crépin

Publication Date

13 November 2023


Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (vol. 379, iss. 1893)


Earth trajectory

Resource Type

Academic Journal Article

Systems Addressed

Economy • Ecosystems • Geopolitics and International Security • Social Order and Governance • Technology

Resource Theme

Sustainability and Transition

Uses the term polycrisis

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