POLITIQUE & INSTITUTIONS — Monde

débat public

“Monocultures become a real threat”



Increasing complexity and growing uncertainty push our governance and operating models towards more diversity & redundancy, says economist Sylvain Cottong. (Photo: Andrés Lejona/Maison Moderne)

Increasing complexity and growing uncertainty push our governance and operating models towards more diversity & redundancy, says economist Sylvain Cottong. (Photo: Andrés Lejona/Maison Moderne)

Among many other issues that human civilisation is facing at the beginning of the 21st century – and that have been made visible through a magnifying glass during the pandemic – so-called monocultures are being deeply challenged in many respects.

Among many other issues that human civilisation is facing at the beginning of the 21st century – and that have been made visible through a magnifying glass during the pandemic – so-called monocultures are being deeply challenged in many respects.

The industrial era has been characterised by seeking ever more efficiency through streamlining our economic, social and natural systems. The result is that we built multilevel intertwined monocultures that proved to be very efficient by boosting productivity in the short run. But a condition for that short-run optimisation to last is that nothing substantially changes in the environment we operate in and that we can comfortably make predictions based on our (biased) linear understanding of evolution.

In reality, however, we already know for some time that in many areas such monocultures, in the constant sake for the extra penny to be saved, also present some substantial pitfalls: in the long run, they are much more vulnerable to exogenous shocks like the pandemic than so-called permacultures, a concept originating from agriculture. In fact, monocultures don’t integrate complexity and uncertainty into their planning philosophy and don’t take into account all possible, known and unknown interactions of all elements of a system over time.

There are many examples of this vulnerability of monocultures: globalised and specialised just-in-time supply chains have been considerably hit by the pandemic; the large dependence on cross-border workers of the Luxembourg economy and especially the health sector have put Luxembourg in a very delicate position during the pandemic; shrinking biodiversity is one of the major reasons for the potential increase of zoonoses and the resulting pandemics; in agriculture, permaculture is certainly less yielding, but therefore self-regenerative without needing the tons of chemicals and integral yearly replanting/reseeding (and watering) like in traditional agriculture; economies that rely only on a few sectors may benefit in the short run from high yields but are highly vulnerable if the environment changes; in IT, distributed mesh networks are less vulnerable to disruption than traditional client-server infrastructure; mammals naturally seek genetic mixing in their reproduction behaviour to make their descendants more resistant to natural, biological and social threats.

The main learning: in times of increased complexity and uncertainty, where the unexpected is happening at an ever-higher pace, monocultures become a real threat to our civilisation by weakening our resilience against this increasing number of systemic shocks and challenges.

Cet article a été rédigé pour l’édition magazine de   Paperjam datée de février   qui est parue le 27 janvier 2021.

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