CS Holling’s Four Stages of a System’s Growth and Decline

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Nafeez Ahmed:

"the Geological Survey of Finland report ... concluded that the 2008 financial crash was triggered by a global shift to more expensive sources of fossil fuel energy, due to the depletion of cheaper conventional resources.

As global economic growth is fundamentally dependent on increasing energy and raw material inputs, this shift was compensated for by massive Quantitative Easing (QE) — essentially, the expansion of global debt. This debt-expansion has fuelled GDP growth to the point that debt levels for some years have been higher than they were before the 2008 crash. But such growth is, the Finnish government study says, a “debt fueled mirage”. It warns that within the next five to ten years these dynamics would come to a head, generating a new energy-linked financial crash.

The Geological Survey of Finland study is significant because it brings a massive amount of data that fits extremely well my contention that global industrial civilization is in the last stage of its systemic life cycle, as defined by ecologist CS Holling’s four stages of a system’s growth and decline.

  • The first stage was growth, which took place rapidly over perhaps 200 years or so from the nineteenth century until the late twentieth century.
  • It then went through the second stage of conservation which appeared to stabilize between 1970 and the early 2000s.
  • The third stage, the release phase, appears to have begun around then and escalated to this day. This is a period of uncertainty and chaos as the system begins to decline. During this stage, the uncertainty opens up new possibilities for change, where small perturbations in the system can have deep impacts in a way they could not do during the first and second phases.
  • This is the crucial global ‘phase shift’ point where our actions can determine the fourth stage of reorganization. In this stage, the foundations of new system can be forged, paving the way for the emergence of a new life cycle."


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