Synchronous failure: The emerging causal architecture of global crisis


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.


Publication info: Homer-Dixon, T., B. Walker, R. Biggs, A.-S. Crépin, C. Folke, E.F. Lambin, G.D. Peterson, J. Rockström, M. Scheffer, W. Steffen, M. Troell. 2015. Synchronous failure: The emerging causal architecture of global crisis. Ecology and Society 20(3): 6

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