“Everything is interrelated” essentially means that mono-causal explanations are less than helpful. In most cases, processes are deeply interwoven with a variety of other processes. The earth's complex climate system is a good example, but the description applies equally for the impact of natural climate variability or anthropogenic climate change on social systems. Faust says that, in many cases, these can only be understood by allowing for a “multifaceted concept comprising different stressors”, or by finding multidimensional explanations. And it is no coincidence that this is the general approach taken in the recently published Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5), co-authored by many different experts, one of whom was Eberhard Faust. He cites the example of farmers in the dry subtropics, who increasingly have to cope with drought, and compete with other users for scarce water resources. For such people, climate change is just one more stress factor that exacerbates others. These include biophysical factors, such as soil erosion, or socioeconomic stressors like the absence of institutions, insurance options, inadequate economic diversification and widespread poverty.
Climate change is simply the final link in an already critical chain. But Faust is no prophet of doom and gloom. “If society is properly prepared, it will be able to cope with these challenges more effectively,” he says. For example, the chapter of the IPCC Assessment Report entitled “Key economic sectors and services”, which Faust co-authored, outlines the role that the development of the insurance market can play in low- and middle-income countries. Having insurance systems in place can provide a boost for agricultural development and reduce the financing shortfall that occurs after major natural catastrophes. At the same time, newly developed markets like these help increase the potential for diversification within the globally intertwined insurance industry.