Sleepwalking into The Upside of Down

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“Our societies’ rising connectivity and speed have a final disturbing effect. In the past, cascading failures usually occurred within single systems—like electrical grids or banking systems—but now these failures are more likely to jump system boundaries. If, for example, terrorists use a new genetically engineered organism to contaminate a Western country’s food supply, the disruption will spread in a flash beyond the food system to our larger economic and political systems. Because today’s communication technologies vastly multiply our emotional reaction to shocking events—something we saw in full force in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and anthrax letters—this kind of terrorism could easily cause a financial panic and even civil disorder, despite the fact that the threat posed to any one person from the attack might be very small. The scale, connectivity, and speed of our modern food-supply system could also spread a new bio-terror organism far and wide before authorities have figured out what’s going on, increasing the chances that it would jump from the food system to affect ecological systems in nature.”

Excerpt From: Thomas Homer-Dixon. “The Upside of Down.” Knopf Canada, 2006. iBooks.

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