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Converging Crises

Multiple systems supporting human life on earth are threatened. We are running into a number of boundaries in the natural and social worlds. First, natural resources like oil and a stable climate are running low, which holds a crisis in food production and energy supply. Other natural resources like fish, fresh water and minerals are increasingly scarce. Second, social inequality is soaring, bringing many negative consequences. Third, probably as a result of the resource crisis, financials systems partially collapsed.

Before exploring ways of dealing with these phenomenal challenges, in this chapter the converging crises are explored. Both their individual impacts and combined risks are evaluated.

Complex systems theory is used to explore combined risks. Natural and the social systems have equilibria that can be seriously disturbed. Changes that used to come gradually then speed up and the results become utterly unpredictable. What will happen when we cross systemic boundaries? We do not know. But the outcomes for ourselves may depend on the wisdom of the quick decisions we make in the process.

With Jeremy Rifkin we conclude that it is not a financial crisis that leads to higher oil prices, but rather “oil is the crisis”; first oil prices started rising, only after that the housing bubble started bursting. People simply couldn’t pay their mortgage with the cost of gas rising. With the financial crisis a social crisis follows that has been mainly ideologically caused. As Naomi Klein analysed in her Shock Doctrine (2007), financial crises often result in redistribution of wealth favoring the haves. Neo-liberal market ideology resulted in soaring inequality – problematic because of status issues. But the financial crisis, with the crisis in social inequality following in its trail, has been triggered by a resource crisis.

The Big History picture holds that we are simply hitting the boundaries of the fossil fuel economy, that has been uptil recently incredibly succesful. Within decades the fossil fuel based first and second Industrial Revolutions enabled an incredibly fast growth of human population – a growth however that as we will see will stabilize at around 9 billion people in 2050. In the meanwhile however we are reaching the end of abundant oil; the success of the industrial revolutions is reaching limits of the natural resources it is depending on.

Is this a crisis of resources, energy, or ecosystems? Those are intimately related. Energy as fossil fuels was formed by the ecosystem, and burning them influences ecosystems in the form of climate change, ocean acidity and so on. We need ecosystems for breathing, food production, and oil again is needed to produce fertilizer. Meat production produces gasses influencing the climate. It is all related. The current human use of the ecological systems we depend on is unsustainable. Not even we will have to change – our natural resource use will force change upon us eventually.

Change holds opportunities. Possibilities range from mass suffering and death to emergence and establishment of new values, juster societies, secure well-being and unexpectedly rewarding social bonds. This book is dedicated to the latter options.