Mary A Moore Originally Published June 25th 2011
‘When the USSR dissolved from history, many of us simply felt that this was the West in triumph. However, now that the west has begun to hit the cusp of a radical transformation of our own, we may begin to ask – ‘what is really going on here?’ There are a few conceptual frameworks to see these changes, perhaps best described by one of the original futurologist Alvin Toffler, in his trilogy of books ‘Future Shock‘,(1970) ‘Third Wave‘,(1980) and ‘Powershift‘(1990). One conceptual theory called Panarchy would call this the Omega or release phase going towards the Alpha or re-organization / renewal phase, where we have shifted towards another level or regime, in an evolutionary viewpoint. An article by Thomas Homer-Dixon (photo left) reviews panarchy theory and what it tells us, in Our ‘Panarchic Future
In societies that once were heavily industrialized, unions lament the loss of their industry to China or other newly industrialized countries, and economists lament the damage we have done to the value of our currency and economy. If this global financial collapse is simply a developmental change process to a new information age and a restructuring of our global currency and the meaning of money, are we really dealing with the issues in a forward looking manner? Interestingly enough, the man who coined the term ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ and who unleashed the change forces pent up in his own country and allowed it’s transformation to occur Mikhail Gorbachev, was well acquainted with the Toffler’s. Whether we are speaking of ‘ecological phases’, or ‘waves’, we are speaking of transformative change.
We are facing the emergence of two major macro collapses. First, and already in process-the global financial collapse and eventual re-organization, and secondly, the recent emergence of what will be large scale changes in the global climate. We have been delaying real transformation for a long time. As Toffler put it, many in the ‘second wave’ even long to go back to the ‘first wave’. The ‘third wave’ is upon us and many institutions are still trying to stop real transformation, as once the ‘first wave’ tried to stop the changes representative of our ‘second wave’. Humans unfortunately, are often loath to change. We are at a point where if we do not chose change fast enough, a monstrous change will chose us, but perhaps not in the way we envisioned. We will be driven to change but will it be the ‘Golden Age’ or will it be the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, or somewhere in-between. Our problems are quite large and require more than just our grid locked governments and agencies to act on our behalf. We must begin to act for ourselves and our children as a collective group in a positive manner, with focus, persistence, and calmness. Eminent scientists such as James Lovelock speak of utter devastation, the loss of billions of lives, and there are many books naming various end of the roads we face whether it be the end of cheap energy, ecological collapse, or other calamity. The ‘third wave’ is upon us, but must be engaged fully and utilized in a manner that allows us to optimize a bad situation.’
The world has seen several major events that have impacted on how it functions as a whole. In many ways change has been coming for some time, but has been held back by the usual dynamics that stabilize ongoing patterns. Dynamic ending drivers include increasing debt management and political issues in Europe, debt ceilings and stimulus limits in the USA, trending inflation in China, currency imbalances, and mounting social unrest in high risk areas such as the Middle East, Pakistan & Afghanistan, North Korea and China, along with increased weather instability impacting food supplies. The world is reaching a tipping point of change in fundamental dynamics, just as new conceptualizations emerge with our new world.
One of the leading drivers of change include the internet increasing the connectivity and organization of our world, which in turn is changing the geographical topology of our world. The debate of whether China or the U.S. will be the dominant player in the next century, is a discussion extrapolating from our history, and not applicable to our future. We will go much further beyond being a unipolar, or bipolar world, to a multipolar, multilinked global world, connected by technology. Other leading drivers include the increasing rate of technological change, globalization, and the switch in generational maturation away from the Baby Boomer to Gen X and Gen Y. We can examine our new world with network theory, hair balls and hive plots.
There is both an increase in convergence, and of radical transformational adaption in a very complex, rapidly changing world. As Toffler (The Third Wave) points out, the rapid change in technology cannot help but change our social structures and the very essence of how we traditionally see ourselves. The potential for social unrest is great at this time, although as our understanding increases, we may be able to mediate the transition from the collapse of our old world into the new forms that are beginning to emerge. We will need to build upon further, and develop applications of these new theories to allow us to prevent catastrophic collapse of multiple sectors, envision our global economy, and organize ourselves to face new technological challenges such as geo-engineering, DNA manipulation, and ecosystem regrowth.The importance of developing technologies we will require in the near future, is paramount, or as a species we will be left to scramble to survive. We need technologies that can model and predict with much more accuracy, that are conceptually different from what we have now. Globally strategic issues such as critical trends need more monitoring and input, from cross-discipline viewpoints. Critical issues such as climate change and global warming can be broken down into simplified overviews, to transmit ideas and urgency. Very simplified the sun, and our world’s ability to self-regulate or the ‘Gaia’ principle, can be 2 key forces that shift the earth from our current stable state, to a hotter stable state, that the earth has been in the past. As we destroy our environment,we destroy the earth’s ability to regulate our internal atmosphere, and as we add gases that intensify the effect of the sun such as CO2 and methane and others, we create a situation that that introduces more energy into a system that has less and less ability to regulate the effects. The change will not be linear, but trending up and chaotic. We are lighting a fuse, in effect.
Some feel it is too late already, while others feel we have forever, and similarly with geo-engineering some feel this is possible salvation while other’s view it as Pandora’s box to open. Technologies such as putting solar panels in space that are dual purpose-that can stop solar energy from reaching our earth, and harvest some of the energy for our use, to replace environmental destruction and degradation, could be mankind’s redemption. We would also have to try and regrow our environment, and change a huge part of our lifestyle. Could we do it, would we do it? We are only at the beginning.
Much has been written about 2012 in the media. Perhaps at some fundamental level we could sense that a large change was to start somewhere near this window of time. We can see the Middle East transform in various degrees, and watch the economic fallout from a collapsing Eurozone, if only on the periphery for now. Russia senses danger and decides to rearm more intensely, as if its leaders realize turbulence is on its way. China, a current stabilizer on the worlds economy, is having difficulties of its own. In Panarchy the transition from various states are described as a series of stages that are proceeded through, as if physics and ecology had melded, and where energy, growth, peak growth, collapse, and restructure occur in a cyclical fashion.
“Panarchy, and by extension this website, is not a normative model; it is a descriptive one. Panarchy is not a utopian vision, or an attempt to describe a rational or just world order. Panarchy may not be good or bad, but it is coherent and consistent. Like the Industrial Era, Panarchy demonstrates certain ways of perceiving and interacting with the world throughout its breadth and depth. Panarchy emerges from the analysis of broad patterns of change in the world, which leads to an understanding the dynamics of systems and holarchies. By applying those understandings across all strata of society, we arrive at a description of where civilization is heading,…”
Panarchy theory also describes “… in K, resilience decreases while the other values increase. Eventually, some internal or external event triggers the W phase, in which potential crashes; finally, in a, resilience and potential grow, connectedness falls, unpredictability peaks, and new system entrants can establish themselves. Holling and Gunderson (2002) stress that the adaptive cycle is a metaphor that can be used to generate specific hypotheses; exact interpretations of resilience, potential, and connectedness are system dependent.”
Holling, one of the great minds in Panarchy had the following to say in an article from http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss1/art24/main.html#WORLD-SYSTEMSANALYSIS11:
“Holling (2004) assesses the possibility of using the ideas that are central to panarchy, developed on a regional scale, to help explain the changes that are being brought about on a global scale by the Internet and by climate, economic, and geopolitical changes. He suggests that the “international world of nations” entered the backloop Ω and α phases of an adaptive cycle with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the subsequent years have seen continued economic growth, technical intensification, growth of transnational corporations, and primacy of the United States; all these date at latest from 1945 and appeared most threatened during the 1970s with the American defeat in Indo-China, the oil shocks, and “stagflation.” Holling identifies the Internet as a backloop phenomenon and regards the “global interconnected communications-driven revolution” as a third major transformation after the agricultural and industrial revolutions. However, this has been a very long revolution, under way, in successive waves, for more than two centuries when we consider the telegraph (first visual, then electric), telephone, radio, and television.
It seems impossible to assign the planetary social-ecological system convincingly to any phase of the adaptive cycle. Connectedness and certain kinds of potential are rising, and resilience is probably falling, suggesting that we are in a K phase. At the same time, continuing rapid innovation suggests an r phase, whereas the growing release of stored energy from fossil fuels, plus soil erosion, extinctions, and deforestation would seem to indicate Ω. In contrast, although they disagree on much else, Berry (2000), Devezas et al. (2005), and the world-systems analyst Goldstein (2006) agree that the Kondratieff cycle should produce rising growth and inflation, and technological diffusion rather than radical innovation, over the next decade or more.
Whether through war, full-scale ecological collapse, or a technological and/or socio-political revolution, it seems certain, as Holling (2004) notes, that radical global change is coming in this century, but this is evident even without the panarchical perspective. We urgently need the scientific tools to understand the range of possibilities open to us. Combining the panarchical perspective’s strengths at the regional scale and its key concept of resilience with the insights of world-systems theory could yield an understanding neither can provide alone.”
In examining how current megatrends are unfolding, we can examine the interplay of the financial collapse particularly in Europe and its ripple effects both socially and economically, the increasingly interconnected youth protests across the globe, the increasing recognition of climate change, and the direct effects of same on our global weather system and ecology. Some writers have felt that the destruction of forces that have held us together, is required, while others see us going forward into a period of relative anarchy. The purpose of analyzing megatrends is to give us the option to build a repertoire of responses from which can chose to effectively change the course of our future, but reality often prevents a successful implementation.
We are at a key turning point in our ability to change into a ‘state of organization’ that can help us survive the impending crisis that global climate change will bring in the very near future. We are shifting socially, but without enough awareness of what is required for our collective action. A common reaction in the face of a threat is to retreat to a place of perceived safety and familiarity, while what we may need is the expansion into the new. In some ways our global world is beginning to do both these divergent movements now. The concept of the Eurozone was born out of the not yet forgotten memories of WWII, of hundreds of thousands of French and German soldiers dying on the field of warring nations and of the millions that perished as ‘collateral damage’, that helped to create the idea of a unified Europe, never mind a unified Germany. It was an opportunity of political and economic cooperation and restructuring that was taken. The ‘Fantastic Object’ as George Soros has called it. But now when faced with severe austerity, member states are now looking at retreating into their individual countries, while a few are still standing pat and looking how to reform the current situation. There are no easy ways to understand and predict the dynamics, and we need to develop news ways to understand our global forces in play. Potential exists in new fields such as network theory and analytics applied to our ever growing collection of social data.
Thomas Homer-Dixon speaks about complexity, and the need to develop new ways of viewing and understanding our world.
August 2012 Update
The continuation of the Arab revolution has begun its second wave of influence, and the reassertion of power by previously powerless majorities such as the Sunni Muslim community, has expanded into the realignment of the Syrian-Iran axis, as well as changing geographical demarcations with further regional claims by various subgroups. This power shift is likely to have effects on other middle eastern countries such as Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other African states such as the Sudan. The subtle and not so subtle involvement of major superpowers in this transition, is seen in the relevant politics of China, Russia, and the US, as well as a possible increase in antagonistic behaviours towards Israel in the context of this shift of axis. Implications of unrest in areas so closely tied to the production of oil energy, is likely to ripple into industrial and technical production, and economic patterns.
Sept 2012 Update:
As Syria continues to explode in conflict, and the wholesale slaughter of citizens unleashes a huge refugee wave, gas is thrown onto a volatile middle east situation by a US resident claiming to be Jewish (which is not the case) who distributes an anti-Muslim video, unleashing a fatal American embassy attack on Sept 11th in Libya, and a tirade of anti-Americanism across the Arab world. The Middle East seems poised for war, with tensions between Israel, Iran, Syria, and the West reaching a tipping point. Oil distribution patterns are likely to be greatly affected.The timing coincides with the US electoral cycle. The US economic response has been swift, and a held back QE3 is unleashed into a crisis situation.
Europe and the Eurozone teeters on the brink of financial and political realignment, as Greece struggles with its failure, and the ripples unleash the cascade of financial inter-dependence into the political arena.
In response to the social and real effects of political austerity measures, Europe has begun to swing to the left primarily in it’s political spectrum. With both France and the smaller but hard hit Greece, votes for leftist political parties were enough in France to overthrow President Sarkozy, while in Greece the coalition of the radical left, the ‘Syriza‘ party charged past the scandal tainted Socialist Pasok party, and refused to work with the New Democrats to form a government for Greece, leaving the leadership rudderless and rather precarious.
But the larger question and trend to watch is whether Germany turns left as well, changing its official stance on austerity. Also, if Eurozone Austerity policies are reversed and replaced with growth policies, across France and Germany, will this happen fast enough and be enough to prevent the disintegration of the Eurozone. Key to whether this destructive dynamic can be stabilized is whether countries such as Greece, and other candidate countries, and eastern periphery countries, can be accommodated within the current, or a restructured Eurozone.
There are also larger Eurozone social issues which have to be addressed within the context of improved economics. The high youth employment in various countries has to be targeted, along with coordinated immigration and integration programs to reduce social unrest, and promote social cohesion within the rich diversity of Europe. The extreme right wing parties have been rewarded by playing the nationalistic and xenophobic cards, and represent a clear and present danger to social stability and the Eurozone dream. More planning needs to be done to revive all options of restructuring the Eurozone terms to match the current economic reality, while planning for future growth and rebalancing.
In China a rising revolution re-emerges corresponding with a sputtering economy that has been fuelled by infighting amongst oligarchs and central committee members, a rising exodus of Chinese capital leaving the country, and increasing numbers of unsold production accumulating. The spark for revolution may have been sufficiently lit, with this polarization point, from earlier failures to ignite a larger scale protest. If this occurs, the ramifications of this instability will impact the global economic and political landscape in ways unexpected.
Oct 2012 Update:
The situation in Iran has become fluid, with the failure of their currency, the rial. The Iranian government has begun a campaign of scapegoating causes of these continued economic woes, and civilian protests have emerged despite the authoritarian presence. Beirut has now seen the violence which plagues its northern regions in the country’s capital, with the explosion of a car bomb in the heavily commercial and Christian area of town. The potential for a regional civil war encompassing Iran, Syria and Lebanon increases in risk.
The dynamic shift caused by this potentiality is not fully recognized by the Western world as yet. As discussed in another post about the Global Pension Crisis ( http://wp.me/p1zpYL-k ) a fundamental re-balancing of age demographics is happening now. With China and Iran, two major centrally run countries being hit by the large youth demographic coming of age, a major transition has begun. Meanwhile in the western world we have hit the retirement demographic and our economies have stalled. The world is changing in ways while perhaps not expected, certainly could be foreseen.