Navigating Polycrisis: long-run socio-cultural factors shape response to changing climate

Daniel Hoyer, James S Bennett, Jenny Reddish, Samantha Holder, Robert Howard, Majid Benam, Jill Levine, Francis Ludlow, Gary Feinman, Peter Turchin
SocArXiv Preprint April 1, 2023 Journal Link


Climate variability and natural hazards like floodsandearthquakescan act as environmental shocksor socioecological stressors leading toinstabilityand suffering throughout human history.Yet, societies experience a wide range of outcomes when facingsuch challenges: some suffer from social unrest, civil violence, or complete collapse; others prove more resilient and maintain key social functions. Wecurrently lack a clear, generally agreed-upon conceptual framework and evidentiary base to explore what causes these divergent outcomes.Here, we discuss efforts to develop such a framework through theCrisis Database (CrisisDB) programme. We illustrate that the impact of environmental stressors ismediated through extant cultural, political, and economic structuresthatevolve over extendedtimescales (decades to centuries). These structures cangenerate high resilience tomajor shocks, facilitate positive adaptation, or, alternatively,undermine collective action and lead to unrest,violence, and even societal collapse. By exposing the ways that different societieshavereacted to crisesover their lifetime, this frameworkcan help identify the factors and complex social-ecological interactions that either bolster or undermine resilience to contemporary climate shocks.
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