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Are We Entering an Era of Concatenated Global Crises?

Duan Biggs, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville Australia
Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Vasilis Dakos, Department of Aquatic Ecology & Water Quality Management, Wageningen University
Robert J Scholes, CSIR Natural Resources and the Environment, Pretoria, South Africa
Michael Schoon, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

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Abstract

An increase in the frequency and intensity of environmental crises associated with accelerating human-induced global change is of substantial concern to policy makers. The potential impacts, especially on the poor, are exacerbated in an increasingly connected world that enables the emergence of crises that are coupled in time and space. We discuss two factors that can interact to contribute to such an increased concatenation of crises: (1) the increasing strength of global vs. local drivers of change, so that changes become increasingly synchronized; and (2) unprecedented potential for the propagation of crises, and an enhanced risk of management interventions in one region becoming drivers elsewhere, because of increased connectivity. We discuss the oil-food-financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 as an example of a concatenated crisis with origin and ultimate impacts in far removed parts of the globe. The potential for a future of concatenated shocks requires adaptations in science and governance including (a) an increased tolerance of uncertainty and surprise, (b) strengthening capacity for early detection and response to shocks, and (c) flexibility in response to enable adaptation and learning.

Key words

concatenation; connectivity; crisis; disaster; food price crisis; governance; learning; thresholds
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087