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.
With easy-to-understand terminology and a mountain of research, Toronto author Homer-Dixon (The Ingenuity Gap) faces down imminent, unavoidable and catastrophic threats to modern civilization, keeping a wary eye on mankind's chances to adapt. Methodically illustrating how the modern world is doomed to suffer a large-scale breakdown, Homer-Dixon enumerates the "tectonic stresses" on civilization-population growth disparities, energy scarcity, environmental damage, and economic instabilities-and the "multipliers"-increasing global connectivity and small groups' ability to enact destruction-that help propel them. Woven throughout are well-illustrated comparisons between the current state of industrialized nations-especially the U.S.-with the unsustainable complexities, and subsequent downfall, of the Roman Empire. With each page, humanity's situation seems more dire, but Homer-Dixon argues that the force of "catagenesis"-the "commonplace occurrence of renewal through breakdown"-means that good will come from the collapse of civilization as we know it. Unfortunately, he offers few practical suggestions as to how we can prepare for civilization's inevitable failure, and little evidence on which to hang hope. As a result, the book takes on a tone of doomsday prophecy directly at odds with its title. Where Homer-Dixon succeeds admirably is in explaining exactly why modern stresses are so worrisome and the outcomes that neglect could cause.