Korowicz Human Systems

The Transformation of Risk

The interaction of increasingly vulnerable human systems, with rising ecological and internal stressors - and the implication for human security.

Orientation

We have entered an age where the risks societies face are becoming more extreme in their impacts, more probable in their likelihood, and potentially irreversible in their duration.

The conditions that underpin the casual expectations of our normal lives — that there is food in the supermarket, that businesses can operate, that electricity, water and healthcare are available, that we can communicate, money works, and government functions — depends upon the coherent operation of an increasing complex, interdependent, high-speed and integrated global system. Mostly we don’t notice it because it works so effectively.

However, this complexity that underpins our welfare has become a source of growing vulnerability. Distant stresses and shocks can be transmitted across the world through financial system and supply-chain contagion, through transport and communications networks, supply/ demand drops, and human movements.

Further, it means that if the ‘right’ part of a socio-economic system is sufficiently compromised (by a financial collapse, major pandemic, natural or environmental disaster, cyber/ hybrid- attack on critical infrastructure, state failure, or synchronous events), critical interdependent societal systems can fail collectively. In a time of always-on economies, of rapid financial flows and Just-In-Time logistics, the process may be rapid. Under certain conditions, this could be global and irreversible.

At the same time we can expect growing stresses —including from oil and food constraints; from the impacts of climate change; credit over-expansion; demographics, declining global trust/ legitimacy-that can propagate through these global networks. It is the interactions of increasing societal vulnerability, and the rising scale and impact of stressors that is being referred to as The Transformation of Risk.

This transformation is likely to be experienced as growing societal stress- social, political, economic, environmental and infrastructural; and an increase in the frequency and intensity of shocks. There will be more surprises, the future will look more and more uncertain, while society’s expectations and expert models (wether for the economy or greenhouse gas emissions, for example) diverge further from reality. Instability will become de-stabilising. In this context, the resilience and adaptive capacity of societies are likely to be further undermined. This increases the likelihood of large-scale systemic failure - from localised and reversible, to global and irreversible become more likely.

This is the context in which Korowicz Human Systems operates. Firstly, it aims to develop and express a perspective on Globally Integrated Systemic Risk that is scientifically credible. Secondly, it aims to translate this into an actionable Risk Posture that can guide societal responses. Finally, it is endeavouring to support and encourage societal preparedness and contingency planning through work with governments, institutions, and civil society.

We do not know what the future will bring, but as a society we are overwhelming invested in a future that assumes continued socio-economic integration. But the growing likelihood of societal stress and the potential for irreversible systemic failure, coupled with the potentially catastrophic impacts means there is a strong risk management argument for putting more effort into engaging with the consequences of severe down-side risks.