|The Price of Progress - Lunch with Thomas Homer-Dixon, 31 August 2007|
|In Melbourne on Friday 31 August the Per Capita circle had lunch with Thomas Homer-Dixon. We were joined by our friends from Futureye (www.futureye.com), including Managing Director Katherine Teh-White. |
Thomas outlined the thesis of his book “The Upside of Down – Catastrophe, creativity and the renewal of civilisation”. He described what he calls five “tectonic stresses” of population, energy, environmental, climate and inequality all accumulating underneath the surface of our societies. In his view, these combine with the growth of connectivity and the concentrative of enormous destructive power in a few individual hands.
Thomas challenged us to reimagine the modern economic challenge as one of resilience, rather than growth. In particular, he spoke of the patterns of gain in, and loss of, complexity and connectivity – patterns which are common to biological and social systems.
We are used to the idea of securing against catastrophe, but Thomas frames the creative challenge inherent in cycles of breakdown, reorganisation and renewal as “catagenesis”.
Risk contrasted with uncertainty – and even Rumsfeldian “unknown unknowns” – featured in our conversation which followed. How can organizations, business and other, drive change within to meet these challenges? Where is public opinion in all this? Is there a role for political parties?
And in the end, we didn’t even have time to quiz him on the real causes of the end of the Roman empire and the energy economy that it relied upon – although he told us Adelaide’s heat and dust had left him real pause for thought about the path ahead “down under”. We were left wanting more.