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The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity,…
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The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of…

by Thomas Homer-Dixon

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Very often I go into browse mode at libraries and discover books that I might not have heard of when released. This has a 2006 copyright date and apparently was released in 2007, with the actual research and writing occurring perhaps in 2004-2005. James H. Kunstler released 'The Long Emergency' in 2005, and the two books are similar. It is an informative book, but as other readers have said, is more down than up. As government has demonstrated, solutions to myriad problems can't be solved at the speed that we expect. The hope is that we are smart and innovative enough to come through it. ( )
  chilee | Mar 25, 2009 |
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. ( )
  rafe | Nov 11, 2007 |
The author is an expert on energy resources and its relationship to society. He writes about complex systems and their eventual failure being a time of danger and renewal. He compares todays global interconnected civilization to Rome in detail. Well thought out and written though at times too detailed. Definitely thought provoking. ( )
  JBreedlove | May 18, 2007 |
I'm not sure what it says about me to reveal that there wasn't much of the gloom and doom in the early part of the book that I didn't already know about. And having attended a great talk by Homer-Dixon about 8 years ago based on his last book, I had a pretty good idea of his 'take' on things. I'd heard much about the optimistic bent of this book, though (contrasting with Wright's Brief History of Progress, for example, with nary an optimistic note in sight), and so it might have been because of this that I was surprised that the optimistic message that we can see collapse as an opportunity for renewal as a kind of a tack-on. Sure, it's possible that we will come out of the next century in better shape than we are now, but it just doesn't seem likely to me. Still, I liked the book quite a lot. I liked some of the cleverer examples and points of comparison between our civilization and Ancient Rome. And it will be etched in my mind forever that a single tank of gas has the energy equivalent of 2 years of human labour. Kind of puts a new cast on that 20 mile drive for a can of coke that I used to find reasonable years ago when I lived far in the country. ( )
  colinsky | Mar 7, 2007 |
Great overview of challenges to the world based on the fact that we live in a complex, connected world (this is explained in the book, including why this is a bad thing). Discusses the normal cycles of systems and potential hot spots to watch in the future ( )
  mikeyarmo | Nov 27, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0676977227, Hardcover)

From the author of the #1 bestselling and Governor General’s Literary Award-winning The Ingenuity Gap – an essential addition to the bookshelf of every thinking person with a stake in our world and our civilization.

This is a groundbreaking, essential book for our times. Thomas Homer-Dixon brings to bear his formidable understanding of the urgent problems that confront our world to clarify their scope and deep causes. The Upside of Down provides a vivid picture of the immense stresses that are simultaneously converging on our societies and threatening a breakdown that would profoundly shake civilization. It shows, too, how we can choose a better route into the future.

With the immediacy that characterized his award-winning international bestseller, The Ingenuity Gap, Homer-Dixon takes us on a remarkable journey – from the fall of the Roman empire to the devastation of the 9/11 attacks in New York, from Toronto in the 2003 blackout to the ancient temples of Lebanon and the wildfires of California. Incorporating the newest findings from an astonishing array of disciplines, he argues that the great stresses our world is experiencing – global warming, energy scarcity, population imbalances, and widening gaps between rich and poor – can’t be looked at independently. As these stresses combine and converge, the risk of breakdown rises. The first signs are appearing in the wastelands of the Arctic, the mud-clogged streets of Gonaïves, Haiti, and the volatile regions of the Middle East and Asia. But while the consequences of denial in our more perilous world are dire, Homer-Dixon makes clear that we can use our emerging understanding of the complex systems in which we live to avoid catastrophic collapse in a way the Roman empire could not.

This vitally important new book shows how, in the face of breakdown, we can still provide for the renewal of our global civilization. We are creating the conditions for catastrophe, but by understanding the underlying principles that make human and natural systems resilient – and by working together to put those principles into effect – we can still limit the severity of collapse and foster regeneration, innovation, and renewal.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:12 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In Thomas Homer-Dixon's new study of crisis and revival, he argues that the modern world has become increasingly vulnerable to breakdown - whether from terrorist attacks, environmental disasters, energy scarcity, or the widening gap between rich and poor." "But it is also ripe for renewal. Although recent disasters have caused tremendous suffering, they have taught us how we can reinvigorate the economic, political, and social systems that sustain us. Breakdown need not spiral into calamity or total collapse if we think creatively, act boldly, and develop resilient societies in advance." "The Upside of Down takes readers on a mind-stretching tour of events that have shaken the world - from the fall of Rome to the 1998 Asian financial crisis to the blackouts of 2003. And it draws on diverse fields - archeology, poetry, politics, science, and economics - to show how we might survive tomorrow's inevitable shocks. Disaster and social upheaval are always terrifying. Homer-Dixon illustrates how they can also catalyze the renewal of our societies and our lives."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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