The Project: One of IIER's more ambitious research projects began in Q4/2011, where we attempt to model a human ecosystem from cradle to grave. Our objective is to model entire economies (towns, regions, countries and ultimately, the world) based on actual physical flows of inputs and outputs in an agent based model, in order to yield insights into the realities of our human ecosystem(s).

At present business and government use many individual tools for decision support, both at the level of issues like water management and electricity supply, and for testing aggregate economic and/or environmental change. Our goal is to bring decision support to the next level by creating a tool which can do both, yielding economy wide insights on any combination of events and their risks, resource usage development, technological change, and a wide range of policy decisions. We intend to do so by providing the user a "policy cockpit to compare interventions in the human ecosystem and their consequences. While no one can predict the future, a range of potential outcomes and their likelihood on multiple fronts will be calculated, including the evolution of bottom-up resource flows, and environmental, social, and economic wealth.

The project is undertaken together with the Center of Process Systems Engineering at Imperial College London.

Model Features: The model will allow for a detailed reconstruction of the physical landscape of an economy, based on input data of all natural and human mass and energy conversion processes. The site specific identification of such processes onto a spatial map gives a baseline reconstruction of the human ecosystem.

To enable dynamic physical behaviour a number of underlying models will be connected to simulate flows such as weather and climate, electricity generation and load, and internal ecosystem exchanges. Also new mass and energy conversion processes can be incorporated to allow simulation of technological change, using a technology database taking in new and expected inventions, which are assessed on the basis of physical laws.

The human ecosystem will come to life in a temporal manner by adding the behaviour of agents (humans, households, firms etc.) who interact with the physical environment, following supply and demand rules for labour, property, skills, goods and service exchange, and investment. The simulation will unify a number of features into these markets model to enrich their explanatory power:

• Calculation of demand not only based on utility preferences and purchasing power (rooted in the agents’ present day), but also on expectations and knowledge (rooted in the agents’ future);

• Use of a time based currency qualitatively expressed in labour hours instead of a monetary currency;

• Inclusion of detailed physical factors of production to construct supply in form of labour, material inputs, and energy cost;

• Incorporation of dynamic cost rules for the extraction and processing of resources based on their quality;

• Creation of a multi-value based supply for each good and service incorporating resource inputs across their life cycle, enabling dynamic environmental and economic policy simulations.

The different markets are to be embedded in a policy decision framework, such that it becomes possible to test the outcomes of various policies on the wellbeing of the entire human ecosystem.

Output: The human ecosystem model has the goal to yield broad insights into the range of societal outcomes, both on the mechanisms, constraints, and enablers of its functioning. Moreover, it is to provide feedbacks on the effects of introducing specific policies, technologies, events and combinations thereof.

The model itself and findings derived from it will be put into the public domain in an open-source fashion, making it possible for everybody to access and improve it over time. It is our hope that, a truly collaborative effort will emerge once the model is put in the public domain.

Current status: The conceptual specifications of the model have been constructed, a pre-prototype was built in 2013, a first version of socio-economic model algorithms have been documented. We are starting the construction of a first complete prototype in Sept/Oct 2014 together with Imperial College Centre for Process Systems Engineering. 

More information: The scope document below provides more details on the model components and our approach. Any feedback on the document is welcome from all readers, as any input will help to make our effort more successful.

Contact: Any inquiries or expressions of interest on this specific project can be made through our contact form. Please include in the subject of the message “Human Ecosystem Model”.

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