British Columbia

B.C. university launches institute to study effects of global 'tipping events' like COVID-19 pandemic

Royal Roads University's Cascade Institute will research and analyze the political ramifications and ripple effects associated with global challenges like the pandemic, climate change and economic inequality.

Victoria's Royal Roads University has plans to operate the institute for a decade

The new institute will be led by Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor in political science. He says society is at a tipping point because of COVID-19, and it's unlikely we'll go back to things exactly as they were before. (Royal Roads University)

The director of a new academic research institute at British Columbia's Royal Roads University says the COVID-19 crisis has the world at a tipping point.

Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, a political scientist and author, was introduced Monday as the director of the Victoria university's new Cascade Institute, which will research and analyze the political ramifications and ripple effects associated with global challenges like the pandemic, climate change and economic inequality.

"The point of the Cascade Institute is to find ways of reducing the impacts of harmful tipping events and create more positive tipping events that push us in the right direction in our society and globally," Homer-Dixon told host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West.

He says the world right now is at "a cusp moment."

"Some are using this as an opportunity to create division and to create more fear and anger and even seen it as a way to seize power," Homer-Dixon said.

"Other countries … have seen this as an opportunity to pull together." 

Royal Roads University as seen in 2016. The school has created a new institute to study global events and challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

University president Philip Steenkamp said the institute will bring together research leaders to address challenging and connected issues facing the world.

He said the university has plans to operate the institute for a decade, which will challenge researchers to study, develop and propose solutions to society at large as opposed to focus primarily on academic pursuits.

The institute will have an advisory board of 30 to 40 researchers who specialize in "complexity science" to guide its work.

Complexity science, Homer-Dixon explains, includes tools and theories that give a better understanding of how interconnected societies and systems work. 

The COVID-19 crisis, he says, has had many different effects, both good and bad.

"The pandemic has caused us all to reflect a little bit on the way we were living our lives," he said. 

"I think most of us have noticed there are some benefits to rushing around less. Maybe we don't need to travel quite as much as we have done ... A lot of us have enjoyed having more time and checking in on friends and relatives, whether they're OK. I expect some of it will endure."

But the economic impact — particularly to industries and businesses that rely on group interaction — has been devastating.

"We can accentuate some of the good things and de-emphasize some of the bad ... I think things will be very different after this. They're not going to go back to where they were before," Homer-Dixon said.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca

With files from All Points West, the Canadian Press

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