People everywhere now see and feel these changes. They experience directly worsening economic insecurity, increasingly extreme weather, and often clouds of suffocating wildfire smoke that now regularly envelop enormous regions in Europe, North America, and Asia. So dark pessimism has infiltrated many societies. This shift in mood matters: when hundreds of millions if not billions of people become scared and resentful, the basic dynamic of humanity’s politics can shift abruptly, as we saw, for instance, during the Great Depression and its aftermath. Many people turn away from leaders who seem soft, incompetent, and beholden to powerful elite interests, and unable to come to grips with the problems affecting them, and turn towards those who are hard, angry, and decisive (yet often equally or more beholden to elite interests) and who declare they’ll protect families, communities, and nations with whatever means necessary. Authoritarianism gains ground.
These changes are fraying the fabric of norms, treaties, and institutions that people worldwide have laboriously woven since the middle of the 19th century in innovative answer to world wars, genocides, financial crises, famines, pandemics, and environmental calamities. The fabric includes the Geneva Protocol banning the use of poison gas, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Health Organization, and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Threadbare even at its best, it’s now being shredded by neglect, underfunding, the outright hostility of many nations and, most importantly, the impunity enjoyed by those countries and leaders who regularly violate its makeshift moral framework.
Yet almost everywhere in the world, the academy’s response to these converging crises hasn’t matched their scale and urgency. Instead, whether in the natural or social sciences or the humanities, this response has been marked by sclerotic disciplinary divisions, intellectual turf wars, and the almost complete absence of break-the-boundaries imagination and creativity. And most fundamentally, it hasn’t generated the compelling ideas and practical solutions our current emergency demands.
The shortfall is largely a result of our poor understanding of the complex causal mechanisms of the planetary system in which we now live.
The Cascade Institute addresses this shortfall by:
- studying, understanding, and communicating how the various environmental, economic, political, and technological threats confronting humanity interact as a complex system and how they must therefore be addressed systemically, not separately;
- identifying intervention points of maximum leverage in these systems and also practical ways to exploit such intervention points—at all levels, from the local to the global—to achieve rapid, positive change; and,
- generating clear and focused value added—in the form of scientific insights and practical solutions—that are distinct from, yet complementary to, the contributions of other research institutes around the world studying humanity’s crises.