The Upside of Down : Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilisation, Paperback

The Upside of Down : Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilisation Paperback

5 out of 5 (1 rating)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 448 pages, black & white photographs, drawings, diagrams, cartoons
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Political science & theory
  • ISBN: 9780285637948



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For me this is an important book at an important time. The author uses the analogy of the Roman empire's collapse to show the warning signs facing global civilisation by explaining how, like an ecological system, a complex civilisation is dependent on energy flows. And the more complex it becomes, the more energy it requires to maintain that complexity, but with diminishing returns. He uses Buzz Holling's "adaptive cycle" model, developed through study of forest ecology, to explain how a system increases its complexity and potential over time and eventually loses its resilience, its ability to withstand shocks. At this phase in the cycle the system is vulnerable and either catastrophically collapses into lower states of complexity - like the Roman empire - or deliberately does so in a more controlled manner in order to increase resilience. The latter path is the author's advice to us.He lists the following "tectonic stresses" that he believes are building inexorably below the foundations of our societies: 1) population stress - not only growth but differing rates of growth between rich and poor societies; 2) energy stress - above all "peak oil" which seems to be almost upon us now; 3) environmental stress; 4) climate stress; and 5) economic stress resulting from instabilities in the global economic system and ever-widening wealth disparities within and between societies. Homer-Dixon's argument is that our global societies, tightly coupled and interdependent as they are and testing the limits of the ecosphere as they are, are vulnerable to synchronous shocks along any of the five fault lines outlined above.The last chapters' posture is optimistic, but the project to restore resilience that he proposes is daunting, requiring global co-operation on an unprecedented level. Example: "...a value system that makes endless growth the primary source of our social stability and spiritual well-being will destroy us", but "growth, even in already obscenely rich societies, is sacrosanct." Can you envisage our political and economic elites willingly leading our societies into a different paradigm? I can't.

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