I am posting this without comment. What I did was take a David Korowicz’s 31-page White Paper and distill it down to 7 pages. What I do recommend is you read the paper in its entirety if this is of interest to you. This paper represents the best system science I have seen for the place we are at currently. System science is the proper way to view these diverse macro impacts to your local life. The importance of this view of current events is to place yourself within it. Where are you in relation to a breakdown of this complex system? This will not get you out of it but instead assist your mitigation of its effects. It will help you determine what steps you can take.
This is real folks. This is no longer me crying wolf about collpase. There will be some kind of collpase that will self-organize into 2023 so at least have an understanding of the dynamics. This paper is from 2018 and I would call it the review mirror. 2018 was the peak year of affluence. It is now 2022 post pandemic with a financial, food, and energy crisis emerging. Difficult weather will compound this. I am now in a moderate drought I have not seen since 2013. This current situation is compounded by a very dangerous proxy war in Ukraine. If that was not enough there is an increasing possibility for a war over Taiwan. If this Taiwan war occurs, I would say to you to hunker down immediately for very hard times ahead.
“Beyond Resilience: Global Systemic Risk, Systemic Failure, & Societal Responsiveness”
David Korowicz , Margaret Calantzopoulos 1 2
Axial Stress Phase
“The initial trigger could be a major pandemic, a financial system collapse, a cyber-attack on critical infrastructure, a natural disaster, a protracted environmental catastrophe, a socio-political crisis, or some confluence of stresses and shocks…There is a growing gap between the risk – understood as likelihood times impact – of catastrophic systemic failure in complex society, and societal understanding and preparedness…“Deepening Vulnerability: As the human systems that enable societal functioning (the grid, supply chains, the financial system, telecommunications, behavioral coordination) become ever more globalised, complex, inter-dependent and high-speed, our vulnerability to largescale systemic failure is increasing.”
Growing Drivers of Stress and Shocks
“We have now entered a period that we call an Axial Stress Phase, where societies globally are and will be increasingly exposed to major stressors linked to: resource constraints (e.g. food, oil, water), sink-related constraints (e.g. impacts of climate change, ecosystem collapses) and internal constraints (e.g. credit hyperextension, fraying socio-political trust, declining marginal returns to problem solving, war).”
“there is growing recognition that those complex infrastructures and systems that sustain the normal operation of society, and which are highly resilient to small stresses and shocks, contain severe intrinsic vulnerabilities to large shocks. If the grid is incapacitated (due to a natural disaster or a cyber-attack); or the financial system fails (due to systemic banking collapse), the operations across the whole society can shut down…In a highly interdependent global system, shocks and stresses can propagate through supply chains, financial systems, communications and mass human movement. Further, a major global shock that impacts a region with high centrality – one that contains critical sustaining interdependencies with the rest of the world – can ignite destabilising global contagion.”
“In a similar manner, a failure of a global region or network of high centrality, such as the financial system, or global productivity (from a severe pandemic) can begin to shut down the global flow of goods and services. In such cases the possibility of irreversible global systemic collapse increases. In a high speed, Just-in-Time [JIT] economy, these processes can be very rapid. As societies and economies move along paths that tend toward further economic growth and efficiency, and solve problems by adding further complexity, the vulnerability will increase.”
“The first point here is that the interactions are heterogeneous – one cannot consider the impacts of the financial crisis, climate change, or distant state collapse in isolation because global socio-economic stability is increasingly interwoven. Secondly, stress and shocks are contributing to the generation of new stresses and uncertainties. For example: Brexit and the Trump phenomenon, trade wars, and increasing inter- and intra-state tensions. Thirdly, strained societies can lose resilience, and become more vulnerable to further crises.”
“Compounding events will become more common. For example, synchronous climatic stresses affecting global food supplies; rising socio-political and economic stress amplifying the impact of food price spikes; or a series of major hurricanes in high-centrality regions concurrent with a period of heightened financial tension – can have non-linear impacts – bigger than the sum of individual hazards alone. At the same time, declining resilience means that recovery from a localised systems failure is constrained, while impacts outside the affected region/ network become more susceptible to contagion. In such a context, the paths to global systemic instability and failure multiply, as the likelihood increases.”
“We have no experience of a large-scale systemic failure in a complex society to draw upon”
THE TRANSFORMATION OF RISK
Globally Integrated Systemic Risk
“There is a growing recognition that the risk to human welfare and societal functioning is being transformed , . To understand the implications of this it is necessary to consider risk in 3 4 a holistic sense , . In this characterisation, we bring forth the concept of Globally Integrated 5 6 Systemic risk. It acknowledges the fact that dependencies are indeed globalised and constrained in structure and behaviour, and that a growing number of critical stresses will transmit and interact world-wide . As the system becomes more tightly integrated and 7 stressed, one can no longer deliberate over environmental and socio-economic crises – and specific solutions to them – in isolation, but must consider the emergent behaviour of the system as a whole. Its analytical methodology is rooted in the study of complex systems, and risk analysis. Such a perspective acknowledges collective system constraints, heterogeneity, feedback, path dependence, irreversibility, and the existence of tipping points. Siloed analysis and modelling, which represents the current way of apprehending the issues we face, remains blind to this transforming reality. We have entered a period where the risks we face are becoming more extreme in their impacts, more probable in their likelihood, and potentially irreversible in their duration. This transformation arises from a convergence which can be broadly formulated as follows:”
“Firstly, as the networks that maintain our welfare and the general coherence of civilisation grow in scale and become more integrated, complex, interdependent, delocalised, highspeed, synchronised and efficient vulnerability is increasing The tightening spatial and temporal correlation between the growing complexity of goods and services flowing through civilisation implies a declining volatility through global systems. Those include production processes, supply-chains; infrastructures; behavioural norms, institutional legitimacy, and trust. If interruptions to the flow of production were common, for example, due to political unrest, blackouts, flooding or storms, bank failure or wars, then such tight correlations would not have evolved. One of the defining characteristics of the process of civilisation is volatility suppression, see appendix I.”
“More complexity and interdependence mean that a failure of one part of the system can cause disturbance and disruption in other vital parts and regions across the globe in a manner that may not be obvious. As global systems increase in speed, in the form of maintenance and input turnover times, financial flows, JIT logistics, and human movement – contagion processes can propagate rapidly through and across networks. Delocalisation means that, outside the vanishingly few actually self-sufficient pockets of the world, no country, critical infrastructure, business, community or person can control the conditions of their own operational persistence, and thus be truly resilient.”
“Like the homeostatic regulation of temperature in humans, complex society and its subsystems act to persist and stabilise in the face of stresses and shocks. But the bounds of resilience have narrowed as systemic volatility declined, making the system more brittle to the range, intensity and frequency larger shocks we can expect in a more systemically stressed world (see next section). The coherence and stability of society can be threatened when resilience is undermined, and a shock of sufficient scale hits a high-centrality part of a socio-economic network. In this case, a tipping point can be passed where the stabilising forces are over whelmed, and some contagion processes undermine critical inter-dependent systems in a reinforcing cycle of disintegration. It is the underlying level of complexity and interdependence that determines the collapse depth: it is the speed of civilisational processes that determines the collapse rate. And, it is the complexity, interdependence and scale of the affected region that largely delineates the scope for recovery/ non-recovery.”
“The result is a loss in complexity and the intermediating processes that sustain societal welfare in all its dimensions. It can also be considered as a step-change loss in the capacity to use energy and other resources. From the point of view of societal operations, it would represent a shut-down in the circulation of goods and services.”
“Secondly, there is an array of increasingly pressing, large-scale drivers of stress and shocks that can test such vulnerabilities. These can be described as Axial Stressors since they are persistent and growing, they arise from the operation of civilisation itself and are critical to its operation and stability They include: a) declining marginal returns on the ecosystem-based inputs required to maintain and grow our civilisation – most pressingly: food, oil and water; b) the rising impacts of waste and ecosystem interference arising from it – most prominently climate change; and c) growing stress within the operation of civilisation – especially: credit hyperexpansion, declining marginal returns to complexity and problem solving, and fraying societal trust and cooperation. Collectively, these act to constrain economic activity, increase volatility, raise the cost of sustaining and maintaining existing systems, and make problem-solving more difficult .”
“Thirdly is the emergent behavior of the growing Axial Stressors and their interactions through increasingly vulnerable global systems. The fabric of conditions that maintain and coordinate the inputs required for societal function, and that is adaptive to the historical, volatility-suppressed period becomes itself a growing source of risk transmission. This is likely to manifest in growing economic, social and political tension, and an increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of shocks, and compounding events. Many new pathways for stress and shocks are likely to appear, further increasing volatility and intrinsic uncertainty. Societies are likely to find that recovery to the historical trend is more difficult as heterogeneous and repeated shocks have evermore nonlinear impacts, while resilience is compromised. Instability is increasingly destabilising, while resilience and adaptive capacity are lost. Rising volatility, and an undermining of a systems capacity to recover from shocks (called critical slowing down) are common early-warning signals that a given configuration is becoming more susceptible to collapse .”
“Finally, as it is the systems and networks we depend upon that are themselves undermining our dependencies, our trajectory is marked by systemic lock-in. That is, we are locked into crisis-inducing dynamics which we will be largely unable to change. We should bear in mind that we did not design global civilisation, it self-organised. We do not understand it, except in parts; and we do not control it, except within niches. The more unstable the system becomes, and the more radical the surgery we wish to do to avert a crisis, the more we risk compromising the extant systems we depend upon.”
Historic Growth Phase
“This is the phase represented by the exponential growth, complexity, and integration of global civilisation, as represented in figure:1. While this phase always had periods of socioeconomic tensions, and some transmission of shocks, large-scale system integration was maintained, and recovery to trend assumed. The bounds of resilience of the system and its sub-systems was forged in this generally stabilising, low volatility period (appendix: 1). This period shaped our assumptions of the world – from our expectation that we can buy food in the supermarket, and have sanitation and communications, to investments in renewable energy, pensions, critical infrastructure, and education. It also provided the analytical frameworks behind economic growth models (including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections). All take for granted the continuity of systems integration.”
Axial Stress Phase
“This phase, which we argue we have already entered, assumes that the general critical operations of civilisation – the flow of goods and services, critical infrastructures, and sociopolitical stability – are maintained at scale, even though there may be increasing localised disruptions and failures. However, emergent interactions increase the headwinds against economic growth and raise the costs of maintaining the status quo while generating new sources of risk and uncertainty. Populations, industries and countries are exposed to chronic economic, social and political stresses and supply/ demand shocks, supply chain disruptions, environmental crises, oil and food price volatility, recessions, debt defaults and migrant flows. Systems strive to adapt and absorb them. But the persistence of stressors and the rising frequency and scale of shocks makes reversion to trend progressively more difficult, with each new disruption having an increasingly non-linear impact. Net overall resilience and adaptive capacity declines.”
Broadly, in Axial Stress period one could anticipate:
“The divergence between historically adaptive expectations and the emerging realities to deepen. No government, no matter how selfless and astute, will be able to meet those expectations. •Growing tension between the natural response of increasing tribalism (including inter and intra-state conflict) and globalized interdependency, amplifying societal stress. November, 2018 Page 10 of 31 11 •Social discount rates rise – which express itself as more trade-offs between the need to maintain immediate stability at the cost of undermining near-future stability. •Cognitive and institutional paralysis and overload to intensify. In such a context it becomes more and more difficult to mitigate stressors and build resilience at scale as the economic and social costs of maintaining stability rise, while capacities decline”
Systemic Collapse Phase
“This phase is when the general critical operations of society are lost at a large scale. It is when system integration and synchronisation break down as critical inter-dependent subsystems fail, causing other subsystems to fail. The complexity, interdependence, process speed and delocalisation of current, habituated dependency mean such a breakdown can be rapid, deep and potentially irreversible. Localised failure is a feature of the Axial Stress Phase, where the outside region may have a significantly reduced capacity to respond and repair. It is nevertheless possible that with preparedness/contingency planning partial recovery or just amelioration of suffering becomes easier.”
“If the initially affected region (e.g., the United Kingdom, Germany, California) or network (e.g., global financial system, or a production shock from a severe global pandemic) is of high centrality, the suite of contagion processes can collapse the entire civilisation. One potential driver of such a civilisational collapse event, though it may have a diversity of initial triggers, is a global financial collapse . Any credit-based system is inherently a call on 11 future productive capacity, and by implication, assumes the continuity of systems integration and the resource input flows that sustain it. The Axial Stressor-induced volatility and constraints on economic growth will have put continuing strain on an already over-extended financial system. In such a collapse, the suite of monetary system failure, collapsed banks, vanished credit and an inability to ascertain currencies value arrest commercial transactions. This cuts inputs into production processes. In an efficient, highly sophisticated, JIT economy, the loss of critical inputs rapidly cascades through the entirety of societal operations. The effort to re-establish some form of monetary system is undermined as production grinds to a halt, and the future becomes very uncertain – which is the ultimate backing for a currency. Some vital inputs might be commandeered or bartered, but given the current diversity of supporting flows necessary to maintain a society, infrastructure, factory or family, a systemic failure proceeds.”
“Once contagion processes are underway, the transition to a societal arrest can occur in a matter of days. Food, telecommunications, water, sanitation, healthcare, transport, emergency services and governance are severely impacted. Recovery is impossible because coherence has been lost, and societal concerns of necessity focus on survival and adaption. The impacts may include persistent critical infrastructure failure, significant disease and pandemic outbreaks, institutional paralysis, state failure, food shortages and famine. The risks of famine can be intuited from the fact that in industrialized societies the supply of food from farm to warehouse to supermarket can rapidly vanish. Without a financial system and minimal transport, linking food from farms to urban populations is exceedingly hard. Moreover, without industrially produced seeds, fertiliser, pesticides, farm machinery, spare parts, fuels and irrigation – production can catastrophically fail. International food trade almost ceases as countries focus upon their citizens.”
Divergent Localised Adaptation Phase
“The third stage is how different regions – shaped by varying geographical, social, economic and ecological histories – adapt to the enforced localisation and chronic emergencies. In time some international trade might pick up, and some regions stabilise at a much lower standard of living/ socio-economic complexity, but overall the situation remains severely trying. Most complex technologies are lost, including critical infrastructures, military systems, capacities to extract and refine oil, produce synthetic fertilisers, pharmaceuticals etc. It is from this point that we confront the chasm between provisioning our basic needs (e.g. food, water, society) and our profound maladaptation to that task. It is also where we face the implications of our long-term undermining of ecological services that could be ignored as long as civilisational operations were maintained. This includes, for example, depleted soil, compromised bio-diversity and hydrological cycles. Moreover, we have to deal with the ongoing and growing implications of climate change even if the Systemic Collapse Phase has considerably reduced our capacity to emit greenhouse gasses. Our ability to adjust to the direct and indirect impacts is from a position with little adaptive capacity and persistent food insecurity, population decline, large population displacements, physical insecurity, and loss of collective intellectual capital. However, this does not mean that there would not be places and times that people are secure, content, adapting to new realities, and living meaningful lives. Localised outcomes over time become harder to assess as there is potentially a much greater range of conditions and responses with broader path dependency.”
“We are blind to our dependencies, complacent of our vulnerabilities. Our temporal myopia has led us to assume a form of continuity based upon an extraordinary 250-year moment in human history. But the accelerating growth in societal complexity is imperiling the foundations of our welfare, while at the same time we confront growing stresses on multiple fronts. One outcome is that societies will have to face the growing possibility of large-scale systemic failures, from local and reversible, to global and irreversible. There may be other possible futures. We are already overwhelmingly invested, materially, culturally, and emotionally in some variants of systemic continuity. It would surely be prudent given the transformation of risk that, as a society, we engage in some form of preparedness, as a form of insurance, given the scale of potential consequences. It is in the nature of the transformation that the possibility of large-scale systemic failure can emerge with dis-orientating speed. Thus there is an urgency to begin to engage in societal preparedness. Not to avoid what might be inevitable, but to respond in ways that reduce suffering, and build upon what’s best in our human story.”
7 thoughts on “BOUNDARIES’”
Thanks Shoal. I remember reading a report of his sometime back which helped me understand (to an extent) the interrelated complexities of the modern world. I also downloaded the 2018 report that you linked and read parts of it. It’s very good, but at the same time I find it somewhat abstract. It’s very academic and makes complete sense on the surface of it, but I have a feeling his approach suffers from looking at everything through a global and globalized lens (and that’s the case with most analyses from academics or experts, also wrt the environment).
Basically what we are dealing with in simple terms (which would be my very basic interpretation which puts it all in a nutshell) is too much globalization which is a form of first world empire-building through which the whole world has been ‘taken over’ (in a sense) – and that has caused a loss of resilience almost across the board (but in fact that is not entirely true ( not the whole story), but one would have to do a country-by-country analysis, and this is were most analysts fail). So the irony is that reports that deal with the world’s crisis of complexity lacks detail.
Another factor is that virtually all analyses with few exceptions come out of first world nations – we would rarely if ever read analyses from people in India or Brazil or Argentina or Japan or Malaysia or (name a number of other significant nations) for example. At the very least I would venture that there needs to be regional analyses or perhaps continental analyses. The situation in Africa is not the same as in South America for example, which in turn is not the same as in Europe or Asia – and so on.
My feeling is that people in first world nations (and this is not a judgment) subjectively look at the entire world as if it’s their ‘backyard’ (LOL!) – just an extension of North America or Europe; so the 2nd and 3rd world contexts are (perhaps) not really that interesting to hear. Of course, the fact that I’m not currently based in the first world means it’s hard not to arrive at such a conclusion simply because I’ve become aware that there very little representation of perspectives from around the world – first world perspectives are absolutely dominant.
I have made mention of the lack of specification approach in my updated and fully revised and reworked chapter: ‘Going Beyond Limits to Growth’ (see for example the segment titled; ‘Products Of A Modern Age’). I will also touch on this subject in my next chapter (diplomatically of course).
Thanks for helping me to formulate some ideas on this as I’ve been mulling it over for a while.
Korowicz is abstract and academic I agree. Many of my discussions are too because I just naturally think systematically. I try to make this real with my permaculture farming. I do think it important to use his theoretical systems view as a blueprint for determining where your nation, regions and most importantly local fits into decline.
Experts and academics are the problem now because they have been captured by the elites and administrative state in the rich global regions. There is a ritualization of the climate hysteria and social justice which is a hijacking by the elites for them to push their power and control. Humans can’t fix climate because it is already self-organizing on a planetary basis and any technocratic fixes threaten a worse systematic breakdown.
Flying private jets to environmental get-togethers clearly demonstrates the elite have no interested in their degrowth only ours. Degrowth is called for first by elite as a demonstration of their genuine leadership. Elite humility is what people need to see so they trust their prescriptions. Instead, they are lying and suppressing science, rule of law, and fairness. Woke is a lie to cover lies.
Globalist are pushing homogenous solutions that are abstract and tech based. These revolve around centralization and greater complexity. The great reset and 4th industrial revolution is the opposite of what is needed. Decentralization with focus on family, tribe, and community is the only solution. This means the top getting out of the way. The top needs to be a gate keeper for fairness and security in this very dangerous time of a complex system breaking down. The reason this won’t happen is these actions will result in a loss of control and it is control the globalist technocrats craves.
I am not one for details except in my local. I defer to skilled writers like you for this. I ask that readers know their local. I am middle class and in the rich west. I have traveled and know my solutions do not fit elsewhere except in the abstract basic of less tech and voluntary simplicity. I am also pushing spirituality. I am not pushing my spirituality. I stress that an individual’s spirituality should consider green prepping to enhance their personal spirituality. Green prepping is relative and realistic applications less tech and voluntary simplicity. I recommend this for all spiritualities. In the rich west where I am, proper actions are mainly about embracing less affluence. This allows the all-important embrace of voluntary simplicity. A spiritual humility is required to know why this is needed.
The rich west and north but also increasing the rich north of Asia have created much of the problems with globalism. It was initially a European issue with 19th century colonialism then become a 20th century American empire building effort. What we now have is emerging stakeholder authoritarianism efforts of the global elite. This is not working though because that system is in diminishing returns which means unaffordable and poor applicability. The result is recklessness and incompetence that will breakdown an overextended existing world order.
This will impact vulnerable regions of the south first but eventually strike the rich global regions in all areas most notably the mega urban regions where goods transport is greatest. This is about less goods and services and less transport. It is also about dysfunctional modern connectivity with grid and information systems. These are now ubiquitous with the global rich. The global rich mainly in urban centers have the most to lose from the standpoint of being woefully unprepared.
I am not able to speak well to urban people. I am not qualified to speak to the poor of the south. I speak to middle class Americans who are rural or would like to go rural. This means my message fits 20% of Americans and maybe 2% of the global population. This means my message is insignificant in the bigger picture. This is not important to me. I am focusing on a few who can use what I do to benefit them in a world in decline.
Americans recently have been the worst with arrogance of empire. Increasingly worse are now the Chinese who are seeking a Han Chinese world domination. At least the Americans are multicultural. For the Chinese there is no assimilation only domination of their neighbors. The Chinese are seeking Han domination of the third world at the same time they seek to infect and destabilize the rich west and their east Asian allies. This east and west oligarchy will soon clash and the result will be a breakdown of global supply chains resulting in the collpase of many regions. A poorer world is near or maybe worse.
This east west clash is when the decline process will accelerate starting in the poor south but propagating into the rich west. Putting blame on the US and west is required but at this point just spilt milk. It was only in the 70s the ideas of limits were formulating and really since the early 2000, the realization of peak oil related carbon trap and path dependencies became mainstream. The honest to science and humble humanism now understand the mistake in globalization. It is now too late and there is a lock-in to consequences. My message is acceptance of these consequences.
I will eagerly read your new work and promote your ideas because they fit very well into my green prepping spirtual permaculture. Your Maya insight has greatly helped me metaphysically because you have made something esoteric understandable. I need simplicity to properly follow my spirtual permaculture.
Thanks – very good reply and comment and I agree with all you say – also with regards to your adience. When I started writing about all these issues I was based in South America after a stint in Europe, so my perspective was more related to the developed world context. It still is, but in the last 2 or 3 years everything has become more centralized (especially media and policy making). The problem I find with mentioning country specifics is that people tune out quite fast – it’s not that interesting really for most people. It leaves me in a kind or precarious somewhat frustrated position, because my audience is neither entirely local, not entrely gobal. I hope to finish all these essay of mine by the end of this year as they are starting to become a bit of a drag in the senses that they take a huge amount of time and effort to research and write. Hopefully I can leave something for other to build one or to research and use further in local contexts.
PS: Multiculturalism itself is centralization. Empires (West and East) support it. All empires (or prospective empires) support multi-culturalism – whether it works or not is not a factor – see here, for example;
It might be that both the Easter empires are not bastions of human rights but their policy positions are that they suppport multi-culturalism (i.e. centralised cultural management).
PPS: In case the page I listed doesn’t load, here’s the original:
JJ, I admire your stamina to face what you have been up against in South Africa. I have had my own internal struggles like you that intellectuals invariably run into in their search for truth but I have not had the external threats you face. That might change because I am now considered a domestic terrorist by this illegitimate regime that took over in 2020 and their efforts may rise to the level of what you have faced.
The deep state is going to lose power here in November if elections are not stopped even with the elaborate cheating they have in place. They are so unpopular cheating will not save them so they may seek to red flag a crisis to prevent this loss of power. We may be under authoritarian control of martial law come November.
The US grassroots development of inclusive nationalism and participatory populism is winning here over tyranny though. Our state federalism may stop the globalist cultural Marxism and corporate fascism from destroying what is left of the rule of law and common sense. The globalist still might self-destruct the world in the meantime with their build back better polices that requires destroying the cultural fabric based upon family and the rule of law. Multiculturalism works here but has been very destructive for your people. These are different animals though.
Don’t weaken with your unique writing. You don’t need to touch a lot of people. You need to reach the few who matter. These are the people in the awakened mode. These people will have an outsize impact once this complex system breaks down. Try to find enjoyment in your work. I too am feeling worn down with my work on the farm. This is different than your intellectual work but a similar challenge. How to keep the creative juices following with so much adversity is an age-old individual drama. Let go in the insecurity of the unknown of losing your intellectual insight and you will find grace.
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Shoal, I’ve left a few comments over at Gail’s OurFiniteWorld on latest article which might be fun to read, some also relate to this discussion in a way. There’s not that many comments on there yet, so should be easy to spot them.