Thomas Homer-Dixon: Innovation, Adaptation, and Resilience in a new world

Always challenging being an “after-dinner” speaker – especially when the Jasper Innovation Forum audience has been up and at ‘em since 7am that day and it is now approaching 9pm.    The main thesis of Professor Homer-Dixon’s talk was that communities will need to be innovative and adaptive into the future.  He endorses the commitment to resilience and drawing upon local resources.

Highlights include:

  • The Age of Nature – economic challenges of the 21st century will be driven by material forces – demographic change, resource scarcities, environmental stress, environmental shifts and technological change.  Notice all the “change-related” words.
  • Population imbalance will be a big issues – the serious imbalance between rich and poor – again stress and overload.
  • Challenges:  population, food, energy – shifting from a world of high Energy Return on Investment (EROI) to one of scarce/mixed EROI
  • Moving from a world of risk to a world of uncertainty
  • Unknown unknowns (unk-unks) will abound
  • Concepts of Sustainability and Management are outdated – from management to COMPLEX ADAPTATION
  • Need to build into communities the capacity to increase resilience, cope with change and exploit crisis – crisis can create opportunity.
  • Resilient people, institutions and societies have capability to withstand shock without catastrophic failure – loosen coupling, increase redundancy, increase diversity, decentralize, implement safe-fail experimentation, maximize flexibility
  • As energy prices rise – people and materials need to travel less, production needs to be closer to consumption, populations will concentrate.

Implications?

  1. A cost difference between local goods and those produced far away will decline and may reverse.
  2. Stores will be smaller and embedded in communities – within walking and biking distance.
  3. Work will be diverse because communities will have to supply a larger fraction of all their needs.

De-centralized response involves:

  • Multiple “agents” with diverse strategies;
  • Loose information network;
  • Willing to learn from failure; and
  • Autonomy.

Shifts:

Systems: from Mechanistic Systems to Complex Systems

Self: from Consumers to Problem Solvers

Values: from utilitarian to moral and existential

Knowledge: from disciplinary to integrated

Community: from National or Ethnic to Culture or Global

Was a good background reminder to those who had read Homer-Dixon’s books or heard him speak before – and provided a useful context for the next day at the Jasper Innovation Forum.

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