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Thomas Homer-Dixon

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Thomas Homer-Dixon
Homer-Dixon in 2007
Alma materCarleton University (BA)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD)

Thomas Homer-Dixon (born 1956) is a Canadian political scientist and author who researches threats to global security. He is the founder and Executive Director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia.[1][2] He is the author of seven books, the most recent being Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril.

Early life and education


Homer-Dixon was born and raised in a rural area outside Victoria, British Columbia.[3] In his late teens and early twenties, he worked on oil rigs and in forestry.[4]

In 1980, he received a B.A. in political science from Carleton University in Ottawa.[5] He then established the Canadian Student Pugwash organization, a forum for discussion of the relationships between science, ethics, and public policy.[6][7] He completed his Ph.D. in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1989, specializing in international relations and conflict theory under the supervision of Hayward Alker.[8]

Academic career


Homer-Dixon began his academic career at the University of Toronto in 1990 where he led several research projects examining links between environmental stress and violence in poor countries.[9] In 1993, he joined the faculty of University College and the Department of Political Science, progressing to full professor status in 2006. Meanwhile, he was director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, University College, before he moved on to be the Director of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies until 2007.[10][11]

In 2008, Homer-Dixon moved to the University of Waterloo, Ontario, to assume the role as the Centre for International Governance Innovation Chair of Global Systems at the newly created Balsillie School of International Affairs.[12][13]

He was the founding director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation at the University of Waterloo between 2009 and 2014.[14][3]

In 2019, Homer-Dixon was appointed a University Research Chair at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario.[15] In 2020[16] he became the executive director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University.[17]

Academic work


Environmental stress and violent conflict


In the early 1990s, at the University of Toronto, Homer-Dixon led a team of researchers that pioneered study of the links between environmental stress and violent conflict.[18][19] Two of his articles in the Harvard journal International Security identified underlying mechanisms by which scarcities of natural resources like cropland and fresh water could contribute to insurgency, ethnic clashes, terrorism, and genocide in poor countries.[6][9] This research culminated in his book Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, which won the Caldwell Prize of the American Political Science Association.[20]

Social innovation and the ‘ingenuity gap’


In the mid-1990s, Homer-Dixon worked on the determinants of successful social innovation in response to key threats and challenges like climate change.[21][22] He coined the term “ingenuity gap,” [23][24] and his work resulted in the book The Ingenuity Gap. The book was published in six countries and won the 2001 Governor General's Award for English-language non-fiction in Canada.[25]

Societal breakdown and renewal


In the 2000s, Homer-Dixon studied the links between major crisis and societal renewal—a phenomenon he called “catagenesis.” Using the Roman Empire as a case study, he focused especially on the relationship between energy inputs, social complexity, and social crisis.[26][27] This work led to the book The Upside of Down (book) which won the 2007 National Business Book Award.[28] The book introduced the concept of “synchronous failure,” which was further developed in a co-authored 2015 article in Ecology and Society.[29]

The role of hope


After 2010, Homer-Dixon’s work became more prescriptive, focusing on how humanity might address its crises, and in particular on the essential role of the emotion hope. These ideas were brought together in the book Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril.[30][31][32]



In an opinion piece published in The New York Times in April 2013, Homer-Dixon stated that Alberta's oil sands industry "is undermining Canadian democracy" and that "tar sands influence reaches deep into the federal cabinet." Homer-Dixon also said that "Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic and political characteristics of a petro-state" and that the oil sands industry "is relentlessly twisting our society into something we don't like."[33][34][35]

In 2022, Homer-Dixon expressed the belief that the United States could be ruled by a right-wing dictator before 2030.[36]


  • Environmental Scarcity and Global Security. New York: Foreign Policy Association. 1993. ISBN 0-87124-152-8.
  • Population and Conflict. Liège: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population. 1994. ISBN 2-87108-032-1.
  • Environment, Scarcity, and Violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1999. ISBN 0-691-02794-3.
  • The Ingenuity Gap. New York: Knopf. 2000. ISBN 0-375-40186-5.
  • The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization. Toronto: Knopf. 2006. ISBN 0-676-97722-7.
  • Carbon Shift: How Peak Oil and the Climate Crisis Will Change Canada (and Our Lives). Toronto: Vintage Canada. 2010. ISBN 978-0-307-35719-9.
  • Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril. Toronto: Knopf Canada. 2020. ISBN 978-0307363169.

See also



  1. ^ "Team". Cascade Institute. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  2. ^ "Faculty Profiles". Royal Roads University. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Thomas Homer-Dixon's official biography". Retrieved December 9, 2022.
  4. ^ Kelly, Cathal (April 19, 2009). "A doomsayer, and a father, with a heart of faint hope". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  5. ^ Carleton Alumni: Thomas Homer-Dixon BAHons (Poli Sci)/80 Archived 2013-02-05 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b "Looking for trouble". Macleans. September 5, 1994. Retrieved December 9, 2022.
  7. ^ "A Professor for peace: Thomas Homer-Dixon". Peace Magazine. June 1, 1993. Retrieved December 9, 2022.
  8. ^ "They and we: an empirical and philosophical study of a theory of social conflict (MIT library listing)". mit.primo.exlibrisgroup.com. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  9. ^ a b Homer-Dixon, Thomas. "Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict: Evidence from Cases." International Security, Vol. 19, No. I, (Summer 1994): 5-40.
  10. ^ "George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies." Peace Magazine (July–August, 1996): 31.
  11. ^ "Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Named for Trudeau." UofT Magazine (Summer 2004).
  12. ^ Davis, Jeff. "New School Aims to Breathe Life into Global Affairs Archived 2013-05-14 at the Wayback Machine." CIGI Online (February 20, 2008).
  13. ^ Reinhart, Anthony (July 3, 2009). "Advantage, Waterloo". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  14. ^ WICI Welcome from the Director Archived 2012-11-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ "University Research Chairs". Provost Office. 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  16. ^ "Royal Roads University launches new institute to study world's COVID-19 response". CTV News. April 27, 2020.
  17. ^ "Leveraging Possibilities for Global Transformation". Doouglas Magazine. April 1, 2021. Retrieved December 9, 2022.
  18. ^ Brauch, Hans Günter. "Four Phases of Research on Environment and Security" (PDF). Retrieved December 11, 2022.
  19. ^ Wilner, Alexandre S. (March 2007). "The Environment-Conflict Nexus". International Journal. 62 (1): 169–188. doi:10.1177/002070200706200114. S2CID 145471194.
  20. ^ Homer-Dixon, Thomas F. (July 22, 2001). Environment, Scarcity, and Violence. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691089799 – via press.princeton.edu.
  21. ^ Homer-Dixon, Thomas (1995). "The Ingenuity Gap: Can Poor Countries Adapt to Resource Scarcity?". Population and Development Review. 21 (3): 587–612. doi:10.2307/2137751. hdl:10535/2612. JSTOR 2137751 – via JSTOR.
  22. ^ Hossenfelder, Sabine (February 13, 2008). "Sabine Hossenfelder: Backreaction: Book Review: The Ingenuity Gap".
  23. ^ Porta, Miquel; Last, John M. (2018). "ingenuity gap". A Dictionary of Public Health. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780191844386.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-516090-1.
  24. ^ Simmons, Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, P. J.; Simmons, Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, P. J. "Ingenuity Gap". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ "Governor General's Literary Awards: Non-fiction: 2001 - Canadian Books & Authors". www.canadianauthors.net.
  26. ^ "Review: The Upside of Down by Thomas Homer-Dixon". the Guardian. July 20, 2007.
  27. ^ "A Society of Seers | The Walrus". December 12, 2006.
  28. ^ "Past Winners". nbbaward.com.
  29. ^ Homer-Dixon, Thomas; Walker, Brian; Biggs, Reinette; Crépin, Anne-Sophie; Folke, Carl; Lambin, Eric; Peterson, Garry; Rockström, Johan; Scheffer, Marten; Steffen, Will; Troell, Max (July 14, 2015). "Synchronous failure: the emerging causal architecture of global crisis". Ecology and Society. 20 (3). doi:10.5751/ES-07681-200306. hdl:1885/98880 – via www.ecologyandsociety.org.
  30. ^ Kopecky, Arno. "There May Yet Be Hope".
  31. ^ "3 Reasons to Hope for the Future | Psychology Today Canada". www.psychologytoday.com.
  32. ^ Bethune, Brian (September 17, 2020). "Don't give up on hope. The world needs it".
  33. ^ Homer-Dixon takes aim at 'tar sands disaster' in New York Times by Jill Mahoney, The Globe and Mail, April 1, 2013.
  34. ^ Thomas Homer-Dixon: "The Tar Sands Disaster" on As It Happens, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, April 3, 2013.
  35. ^ Op-Ed: The Tar Sands Disaster, (full article available at Speaker's Spotlight).
  36. ^ "US could be under rightwing dictator by 2030, Canadian professor warns". the Guardian. 3 January 2022. Retrieved 4 January 2022.