A Future of Change

By David Miron-Wapner

Even as the empirical evidence mounts of an ever more uncertain climate future, we stubbornly hold on to a business as usual attitude. Our capacity to cope with new climate realities is perhaps the greatest global challenge, especially since our civilization has flourished over the last 7000 years of relative climate stability. Rather than rise to the challenge, the modern global economy continues to heap abuse on the Earth’s natural systems that sustain us.

I just finished reading Storms of My Grandchildren, The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, by Dr. James Hansen, America’s foremost climate scientist.  At 70, he writes a first book to spur us to take the actions that Governments, almost universally, not just yours or mine, at all levels are failing to take. The facts are hard to face, but make no mistake – storm clouds are on the horizon – it is not a question of if, just when, where and how intense. We will be challenged as individuals, communities, businesses, nations, to adapt, to survive, to thrive; many will prosper, many may perish. We will be faced with brutally tough choices. Are you prepared?

earthI am optimistic that a new consciousness will emerge from the climate crises; an advanced, technologically progressive and sustainable civilization will thrive. We will learn to be part of, not separate from the earth on which we rely for our life’s basic needs of clean air, water and food. We have all the tools we need to create a more just, balanced world. Our power of innovation and creativity are enormous.

Mitigation technologies, from solar electricity generation to electric vehicles to carbon sequestration are being embraced by the investment and business communities and their rapid deployment are important in order to achieve climate stability. With externalities still not properly accounted for the playing field remains skewed and renewables struggle to provide sufficient energy supplies to support our comfortable urban, global lifestyles.

As individuals, communities, businesses and nations, attempt to plan for a better, more prosperous future, we cannot rely on climate stability; rather we must recognize that unplanned and unwanted intervening extreme climate events could be wild cards in any and all processes of realizing optimal visions for the future and all our scenario planning must account for potential disruptions.

Paralleling the climate crisis, we witness persistent strains on the global economy. It should come as no surprise that an economy still rooted in the use of fossil fuels and focused on short-term profit is utterly failing to contend with the full costs we impose on future generations to clean up the environmental pollution we produce today.

Efforts to encourage corporate responsibility may offer a glimpse towards a necessary significant re-alignment of the “how” we will do business in the future. Corporations will be called upon to serve the common good and inter-generational justice, alongside being responsible to delivering value to their shareholders. Companies will do their part in redefining our currently exploitative relationship with the Earth’s resources towards one that is sustainable and in balance with the natural systems that support life. In making the necessary changes, businesses that are innovative, agile and prepared will survive and flourish even in the face of potential, unforeseen obstacles and disruptions.

Perhaps a biblical story can also help us see a way forward. In ancient Egypt, Joseph demonstrates courageous leadership in ordering grain raised in times of plenty to be stored for the hard times to come. It is a classic parable of adaptation to a new extreme reality that no one could sense was on the way. Today, we have no leaders like Joseph to interpret our collective dreams or to mandate action today to solve future problems. Ours is an advanced civilization, not one centered on just the narrow habitable strip along the Nile River; it is global. We are more numerous, so much more interconnected and interdependent. Impacts on one area will affect others. Local events, such as the floods in Pakistan or the wildfires around Moscow, will have global effects.

The planet will survive, but what of our magnificent modern civilization? Will we experience a new dark age of disease and pestilence, clans, tribes, and nations warring over limited resources? Or will we succeed in preserving ethical values, knowledge and advanced technology that will allow humanity to continue to progress, while adapting to a stabilized, but hotter world? While it may still be about growing and storing enough food, it will also be about preserving accumulated scientific and technical knowledge and our continued ability to innovate for the improvement of the human condition.