Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

UT Professor Awarded Grant to Investigate Cultural Transformations in Response to Climate Change

UTK Distinguished Professor Sergey GavriletsSergey Gavrilets, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is part of a team that has received a grant through the Minerva Research Initiative to investigate how societies around the world are affected by climate “shocks”—events that exceed a community’s capacity to manage it effectively.

Around the world, shocks can disrupt supply chains, create food insecurity, and even threaten the lives of people affected by them. With increased severity, frequency and even unpredictability of global climate-related hazards, it is essential to understand how economically and demographically diverse groups establish governmental and societal practices that enhance resilience to shocks.

The goal of this research is to better understand how communities respond to severe climate events. Mathematical models will be created using research from almost 150 societies, combined with novel techniques from game theory and cultural evolution theory. The goal of these models will be to predict the effects of external shocks on group dynamics and assess the group’s ability to successfully engage in collective actions.  A society’s resilience will be assessed by combining data about the frequency, predictability, severity and the speed of onset of the climate events with information about the affected group’s ability to recover from those events. Resilience will be evaluated using wellbeing markers such as hunger, community cohesion, and resource loss.

This research is being sponsored by the Minerva Research Initiative, which was developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to better understand how national security is affected by global societal and political forces. By bringing together researchers from the social sciences with experts from the DoD, this effort seeks to help DoD prepare for future challenges, including National Defense Strategy priorities.

This is Gavrilets’s second award from the Minerva Research Initiative. His previous work with them centers on societal resilience using evolutionary models and theories of social revolutions. The goal of that work is to develop new and improved modeling tools that will allow for the assessment, and possibly prediction, of potential societal unrest.