A Call for An International Research Program on the Risk of a Global Polycrisis

9 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2022 Last revised: 4 Apr 2022

See all articles by Thomas Homer-Dixon

Thomas Homer-Dixon

Cascade Institute

Ortwin Renn

Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)

Johan Rockstrom

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center

Jonathan F. Donges

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

Scott Janzwood

Cascade Institute

Date Written: December 16, 2021

Abstract

Humanity faces an array of grave, long-term challenges, now often labeled “global systemic risks.” While scientific knowledge of the individual risks spawning these crises is deep, our understanding of causal links among risks remains shallow. This observation raises two key questions: What causal processes might be accelerating and amplifying risks within global natural and social systems and synchronizing risks (and their concomitant crises) across these systems? And what might humanity do to mitigate or even reverse these processes? We offer a novel analytical framework to aid identification of hitherto unrecognized, complex teleconnections and self-reinforcing feedbacks among global systems. We argue that the ultimate result of such unrecognized processes could be a global polycrisis—a single, macro-crisis of interconnected, runaway failures of Earth’s vital natural and social systems that irreversibly degrades humanity’s prospects. We therefore call for a global scientific collaboration to discern causal mechanisms that might generate a polycrisis and actionable policies to mitigate this risk.

Keywords: polycrisis, systemic risk, risk synchronization, complexity, feedbacks, substrate

Suggested Citation

Homer-Dixon, Thomas and Renn, Ortwin and Rockstrom, Johan and Donges, Jonathan F. and Janzwood, Scott, A Call for An International Research Program on the Risk of a Global Polycrisis (December 16, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4058592 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4058592

Thomas Homer-Dixon

Cascade Institute ( email )

2005 Sooke Rd.
Victoria, British Columbia V9B 5Y2
Canada

Ortwin Renn

Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) ( email )

Berlinerstrasse 130
Potsdam
Germany

Johan Rockstrom

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center ( email )

Kräftriket 2B
Stockholm, SE-114 19
Sweden

Jonathan F. Donges

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) ( email )

Telegrafenberg 31
Potsdam, Brandenburg 14473
Germany

Scott Janzwood (Contact Author)

Cascade Institute ( email )

2005 Sooke Rd.
Victoria, British Columbia V9B 5Y2
Canada

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