A Framework For Assessing Country-Level Resilience

July 29, 2014

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With the final draft of the “Schizophrenic Society” text now with my editor, I can change focus to other intellectual pursuits. A major interest is to develop an overall conceptual framework with which to assess the resilience of a country or region to the challenges of climate change, peak resources and general ecological destruction. Given that meaningful concerted efforts to place human civilization on a sustainable path will not take place for a significant period, if at all, an understanding of the resilience of individual countries (and regions within countries) will be an extremely valuable tool with which to drive personal, organizational, and government policy decision-making. Such a conceptual framework could also be used to produce a score-card for an individual country, to help assess the impact of policy decisions upon overall resilience.

Some may say “what’s the point we are all f**ked anyway?”, but I disagree with this mode of thinking as there are many avenues for human ingenuity, misadventure and even stupidity to avert human civilization from total destruction. As resource constraints, climate change and other ecological issues intensify it is highly probable that conflicts between, and within, countries will also intensify. These will serve to restrain economic activity, and thus humanity’s impact upon the earth. In addition, many countries possess nuclear arsenals and even a limited nuclear war driven by resource conflicts could produce a short-term “nuclear winter”, as well as removing a significant part of humanity (directly, and indirectly through food shortages) and crashing the global economy. It is also possible that human technology will allow for the conversion of methane into another gas, reducing the probability of sudden rapid warming.

Human societies, and their habitats, are also extremely heterogeneous. This may allow some societies to keep functioning while others collapse and take their emissions of heat trapping gases and energy usage with them. I do accept that in fact human society may be f**cked, but that is nowhere near a certain outcome and therefore there is the need to plan for less globally catastrophic outcomes. We can also not rule out the sociopathic drive of one country to “remove” another’s population as a way of reducing the global human footprint. Such horrific actions cannot be ruled out given desperate and self-serving elites, especially if they have a high level of certainty of lack of reciprocation or blowback. The history of human civilization is replete with examples of such genocidal actions, many times driven by underlying conflicts or avarice over resources. The multi-century, and still ongoing, genocide of the native populations of the Americas being but one example.

Such a framework has to take into account the interplay between factors external to a country’s society, such as peak cheap energy, and the way in which that country’s society is organized (I consider the economy to be a subset of society). For example, a country with a government ready and able to create debt-free money to redirect societal resources towards emergency energy conservation and production efforts may fare much better than one relying on a system of private debt-based money creation which could become rapidly non-viable as energy constraints impact economic growth. The latter may also focus upon short-term profitable opportunities, such as speculation and hoarding, which undermine societal resilience. Taking into account such factors, a country with high social resilience may fare better than one with a greater level of energy security, but lower social resilience.

The ownership of significant natural resources may actually turn out to be a curse as currently strong countries reach out to grasp “their” resources which happen to be under another country’s soil. If desperate measures are taken to limit climate change, having abundant fossil fuel reserves may also provide no benefit, or at worst be a curse bringing sanctions and even military action to curtail their usage. The correlation between a country’s dependence upon resource extraction and the proliferation of self-serving kleptocratic elites could also greatly reduce such countries’ overall level of resilience.

There will also be cross impacts between external factors. Climate-change induced, or enhanced, droughts will reduce precipitation and increase temperatures. These factors will negatively impact food production (food security) and the yields of crops grown for conversion into fuel (energy security). In addition, dams will be impacted by both reductions in water flow into reservoirs and greater levels of evaporation (water and energy security). Also, the output of fossil fuel and nuclear electricity generating plants can be impacted due to a lack of water for cooling and also an increase in the temperature of that water (energy security). Thus, two countries which appear to have similar levels of food, water, and energy security may in fact have very different levels of resilience in the face of climate change. Recent droughts in Brazil and the U.S. Southwest show the possibility of such impacts.

At a very basic and simplified level, the conceptual model will need to include the following factors. In later posts I will flush out each factor, and possibly add new ones if the need for them becomes obvious.

Social inclusiveness, cohesiveness, and government competence

Nature and scale of financial sector, and debt levels (significant enough to treat separately from the above factor)

Manufacturing security and physical infrastructure

Energy, material, food, and water security (natural resources)

Local climate change impacts


Photo credit: Wikipedia/Strebe CC by SA 3.0

Roger Boyd

I have a BSc in Information Systems from Kingstom University U.K., an MBA in Finance from Stern School of Business at New York University, USA, and a MA in Integrated Studies from Athabasca University, Canada. I have worked within the financial industry for the past 25 years, and am also a research member of the B.C. Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA) looking at the linkages between issues of sustainability and models of ownership and finance. Most recently I have completed a book, to be published shortly by Springer, titled “Energy and the Financial System”.

Tags: climate change, Country Resilience, geopolitics, peak resources