3. Syndromes of Global Change

Syndromes of global change allow themselves to be identified as functional examples of natural and civil trends world wide. They embody highly complex natural and anthropological processes and are also considered to be globally meaningful clinical images of the earth.

Systemic Approach

In the 1996 annual report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), the central problem fields of world wide future change were described as syndromes of global change.

With integrated research of global change, a systemic approach follows which regards humanity as an active factor of planetary importance. Only a linked and interdisciplinary approach can cope with the high complexity of the dynamic correlation, and at the same time meaningfully present the concept of lasting change. The most important evolutions of global change are used as qualitative elements as trends or syndromes of global change. This compounds into a qualitative system, the global network (WBGU 1996).

1. Explain to your classmates the syndrome concept.
2. How is this concept different from other research on global change?
3. Click on the images and links in the table below and inform yourself about the chosen syndrome.

The underlying Thesis of the Syndrome Concept is:
"The complex global environmental and developmental difficulties have been restored in a manageable number of environmentally degrading patterns." (WBGU 1996).

Characteristics of the syndromes of global change are theirs trans-sectoral character (they spread across different sectors such as economy, environment, social community, etc.), their direct and indirect relation to environment, as well as their appearance in different places in the world. In this cross-section's problem, the aberration of human-environment relations and significant environmental degradation should be explained.

In order for the problems to be resolved, a global resolution approach is necessary. Every syndrome/clinical picture is an independent basic pattern of civilly induced environmental degradation, partially with strong self-strengthening mechanisms. Furthermore, passive overlaying and or active mutual reactions between individual syndromes can be observed (WBGU 1996).

Three groups of syndromes can be distinguished:

  • A syndrome as an effect of unadjusted use of natural resources (for example, the deforestation of tropical rain forests).
  • Human-environmental problems which result out of temporary development processes (for example, suburbanisation)
  • Environmental degradation through unadjusted civil disposal (for example waste disposal sites/land fills)

Syndrome Groups




  Sahel-Syndrome agricultural over use of marginal habitats Sahel Zone
Depletion-Syndrome depletion of natural ecosystems deforestation of tropical rain forests, for example, in Brasil
  Migration-Syndrome environmental degradation through the abandonment of traditional land use forms rural areas, z. B. in Northern Pakistan
  Dust-Bowl-Syndrome temporary industrial cultivation of soil and water Mid-West of the USA
Katanga-Syndrome environmental degradation through destruction of non-renewable resources Raw Material Mining (Diamond Mines), Mining
Mass Tourism -Syndrome development and damage of natural areas for recuperation reasons and tourism Mallorca, Tenerife
  Burned-Earth-Syndrome environmental destruction through military use Vietnam War

Syndrome Groups


Syndrome Explanation Example
Aral Sea-Syndrome environmental damage due to intentional nature-design for large projects Aral Sea, Three-Gorges-Barrage
Green-Revolution-Syndrome environmental degradation through the expansion of habitat-strange agricultural production methods Green Revolution in India, Green Houses
  Small-Tiger-Syndrome neglect of ecological standards in the course of highly dynamic economical growth Cities in South-East-Asia
Favela-Syndrome environmental degradation through unregulated urbanisation Marginal Towns in Mega Cities
Suburbia-Syndrome landscape damage through planned expansions of cities and infrastructures Suburbanisation in North America
  Damage-Syndrome singular, human caused environmental catastrophes with long-term effects Oil Spills, Chernobyl

Syndrome Group


Syndrome Explanation Example
  Higher Chimney-Syndrome environmental degradation through long range diffuse distribution of most durable agents Ozone Layer
  Landfill-Syndrome environmental consumption through regulated and unregulated dumping of human waste Landfills on the Outskirts of Large Cities
  Contaminated Sites -Syndrome local contamination of environment commodities from industrial production facilities Manchester-Liverpool-Birmingham

* The syndrome group disposal has been excluded, it is mentioned here for completeness.