The Anthropocene in Light of Biological Feedback

November 23rd, 2014

Homeostasis, the maintenance of stable conditions in a system, is a key term in the Anthropocene, when the homeostasis of the Earth system is being impacted/threatened by human action. Considering homeostasis as a set of interactions, i.e. biological feedback systems, can help to better understand these mechanisms.

The robustness of most systems relies on homeostasis, which itself largely depends on redundancy and feedback mechanisms. The Anthropocene, both by definition and in the idea it encapsulates, can be considered as the largest feedback system experienced by human beings: the Anthropocene concept emerged when Earth-related issues started to impact humans in a feedback loop. Here, our main aim is to discuss the concept and implications of feedback, a step that we believe is central to a better understanding of the Anthropocene. To do so, we mainly use biological analogies, because concepts such as robustness, homeostasis, and feedback loops have been studied extensively in that field. Following this viewpoint, Earth’s homeostasis is comparable to that of a dynamic biological system experiencing multiple feedback loops. This naturally leads us to the concept of niche construction, through which our larger habitat becomes part of our own ontology. Last, we discuss frameworks that may help us to understand the interactions between humans and Earth’s homeostasis, and even to question our exact relationship to planet Earth.