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Coupled Human and Natural Systems

Humans have always interacted with their biophysical environment, either deliberately (agriculture or water management) or unintentionally (climate change or biodiversity loss). However, the increase of the world population and the industrial revolution have led to a human-dominated planet. In the Anthropocene almost half of the land surface has been changed by humans, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased with 30%, and artificial toxins are found at the most remote places in the world. The role of feedbacks in so-called coupled human-natural systems is increasing as human impacts are becoming larger than the natural resilience, and impacts are no longer local but global. Increasing the understanding of coupled human-natural systems at local and global scales, their feedbacks, thresholds, and nonlinearities, is of utmost importance to cope with the grand challenges mankind is facing. Interventions are required to swap threatening developments into directions of a sustainable future. In order to come up with responsible and effective interventions, we need to take an interdisciplinary ‘holistic’ approach.