Complexity 2022:1-14 (2022)

During the COVID-19 epidemic, draconian countermeasures forbidding nonessential human activities have been adopted in several countries worldwide, providing an unprecedented setup for testing and quantifying the current impact of humankind on climate and for driving potential sustainability policies in the postpandemic era from a perspective of complex systems. In this study, we consider heterogeneous sources of environmental and human activity observables, considered as components of a complex socioenvironmental system, and apply information theory, network science, and Bayesian inference to analyze their structural relations and nonlinear dynamics between January 2019 and August 2020 in northern Italy, i.e., before, during, and after the national lockdown. The topological structure of a complex system strongly impacts its collective behavior; therefore, mapping this structure is essential to fully understand the functions of the system as a whole and its fragility to unexpected disruptions or shocks. To this aim, we unravel the causal relationships between the 16 environmental conditions and human activity variables, mapping the backbone of the complex interplay between intervening physical observables—such as NO2 emissions, energy consumption, intervening climate variables, and different flavors of human mobility flows—to a causal network model. To identify a tipping point during the period of observation, denoting the presence of a regime shift between distinct network states, we introduce a novel information-theoretic method based on statistical divergence widely used in statistical physics. We find that despite a measurable decrease in NO2 concentration, due to an overall decrease in human activities, locking down a region as a climate change mitigation is an insufficient remedy to reduce emissions. Our results provide a functional characterization of socioenvironmental interdependent systems, and our analytical framework can be used, more generally, to characterize environmental changes and their interdependencies using statistical physics.
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DOI 10.1155/2022/5677568
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