Why Societies Rise and Fall: A Discussion With Thomas Homer-Dixon

The Upside of Down at the Wilson Center

Nov 01, 2006

In his new book, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, Thomas Homer-Dixon argues that society is most likely to break down when it suffers from severe pressures simultaneously. He singles out five "tectonic stresses" that threaten today's global order: energy, economics, demographics, environmental degradation, and climate impacts. Coupled with the rising speed of communication, these stresses greatly increase the risk that societies will collapse.

On November 3rd at 10 a.m., Homer-Dixon will discuss his latest book at the Wilson Center. The event will be webcast live. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Drawing parallels between today's challenges and those faced by the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago, Homer-Dixon explores the important roles that energy, money, population, environment, and climate play in shaping the rise—and fall—of societies. Yet collapse, he asserts, is not predestined. Society can use crises to reform institutions, social relations, technologies, and entrenched behaviors. "If we're going to choose a good route through this turbulent future, we need to adopt an attitude toward the world, ourselves in it, and our future that's grounded in the knowledge that constant change and surprise are now inevitable," he writes.

Homer-Dixon is professor of Political Science and director of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and Scientific American. His book The Ingenuity Gap won the 2001 Canadian Governor General Award for Non-Fiction.

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