Navigating Polycrisis: Long-Run Socio-Cultural Factors Shape Response to Changing Climate


Societies throughout history have faced polycrises, but the outcomes range widely from collapse to positive adaptation. The authors have developed a Crisis Database of 150 past societal crises and find that three pressures make societies especially vulnerable to environmental stresses (and consequent polycrises) by impeding collective action: popular immiseration, elite overproduction and conflict, and state fiscal distress and declining state function. The article uses case studies of the Qing Dynasty in China, the Ottoman Empire, and the Monte Alban settlement in Mexico’s Oaxaca Valley to illustrate the analysis. The authors ultimately conclude “that a science of climate resilience and adaptation requires a science of cultural evolution” (p. 3) to understand how societal vulnerabilities grow.


Daniel Hoyer, James S. Bennett, Jenny Reddish, Samantha Holder, Robert Howard, Majid Benam, Jill Levine, Francis Ludlow, Gary Feinman, and Peter Turchin

Publication Date

29 March 2023


Philosophical Transactions B



Resource Type

Academic Journal Article

Systems Addressed

Climate • Social Order and Governance

Resource Theme

Disaster Prevention and Response • Societal Collapse • Sustainability and Transition

Uses the term polycrisis

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