Global polycrisis: The causal mechanisms of crisis entanglement

31 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2023 Last revised: 12 Jul 2023

See all articles by Michael Lawrence

Michael Lawrence

Cascade Institute

Thomas Homer-Dixon

Cascade Institute

Scott Janzwood

Cascade Institute

Johan Rockstrom

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center

Ortwin Renn

Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)

Jonathan F. Donges

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

Date Written: June 18, 2023

Abstract

Multiple global crises—including the pandemic, climate change, and Russia’s war on Ukraine—have recently linked together in ways that are significant in scope, devastating in effect, but poorly understood. A growing number of scholars and policymakers characterize the situation as a “polycrisis.” Yet this neologism remains poorly defined. We provide the concept with a substantive definition, highlight its value-added in comparison to related concepts, and provide a theoretical framework to explain the causal mechanisms currently entangling many of the world’s crises. In this framework, a global crisis arises when one or more fast-moving trigger events combines with slow-moving stresses to push a global system out of its established equilibrium and into a volatile and harmful state of disequilibrium. We then identify three causal pathways—common stresses, domino effects, and inter-systemic feedbacks—that can connect multiple global systems to produce synchronized crises. Drawing on current examples, we show that the polycrisis concept is a valuable tool for understanding unfolding crises, generating actionable insights, and opening avenues for future research.

Keywords: polycrisis, systemic risk, crisis, stress, trigger, global systems

Suggested Citation

Lawrence, Michael and Homer-Dixon, Thomas and Janzwood, Scott and Rockstrom, Johan and Renn, Ortwin and Donges, Jonathan F., Global polycrisis: The causal mechanisms of crisis entanglement (June 18, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4483556 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4483556

Michael Lawrence (Contact Author)

Cascade Institute ( email )

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

Thomas Homer-Dixon

Cascade Institute ( email )

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

Scott Janzwood

Cascade Institute ( email )

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

Johan Rockstrom

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center ( email )

Kräftriket 2B
Stockholm, SE-114 19
Sweden

Ortwin Renn

Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) ( email )

Berlinerstrasse 130
Potsdam
Germany

Jonathan F. Donges

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

Telegrafenberg 31
Potsdam, Brandenburg 14473
Germany

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