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Synchronous failure: the emerging causal architecture of global crisis

Thomas Homer-Dixon, Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo, Canada
Brian Walker, CSIRO Land and Water, Australia
Reinette Biggs, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; Centre for Studies in Complexity, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Anne-Sophie Crépin, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Carl Folke, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden
Eric F. Lambin, Earth and Life Institute, University of Louvain, Belgium; School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, United States
Garry D. Peterson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Marten Scheffer, Environmental Sciences, Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management, Wageningen Agricultural University, Netherlands
Will Steffen, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Australia
Max Troell, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07681-200306

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Abstract

Recent global crises reveal an emerging pattern of causation that could increasingly characterize the birth and progress of future global crises. A conceptual framework identifies this pattern’s deep causes, intermediate processes, and ultimate outcomes. The framework shows how multiple stresses can interact within a single social-ecological system to cause a shift in that system’s behavior, how simultaneous shifts of this kind in several largely discrete social-ecological systems can interact to cause a far larger intersystemic crisis, and how such a larger crisis can then rapidly propagate across multiple system boundaries to the global scale. Case studies of the 2008-2009 financial-energy and food-energy crises illustrate the framework. Suggestions are offered for future research to explore further the framework’s propositions.

Key words

climate change; conventional oil; financial system; global crisis; grain supply; social-ecological system

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087