Scream Crash Boom 2 - the Great Disruption
Sunday, 27 July 2008 03:35
Paul Gilding has written a paper called "Scream Crash Boom 2 - the Great Disruption"
It makes for interesting reading, and I agree with most of both the premises and conclusions.
Paul describes a system which is both Complex and Chaotic. Complex in that the density of connections between the components is high - everything depends on lots of other things - and Chaotic in that a small change in one place can have a big change in the final outcome. Paul alludes to this when he describes the drought -> food supply drop -> price rise -> political instability pathway on page 3.
However, what I think Paul misses, and what gives me a glimmer of hope is the essence of a Complex and Chaotic system, i.e. the difficulty of predicting the outcome. In nature you see two kinds of systems - systems which when perturbed move around and then settle down to an essentially similar state, and those which collapse, i.e. move to a significantly different state.
Paul describes the pessimists view of this, i.e. that the systems will collapse - this was essentially the view put out strongly at Y2K when supposedly a small problem in one place would cause an endless flow-on, with ultimate collapse of the whole systems. As we all know, we woke up on 1st Jan 2000 with the lights still on.
The optimistic view suggests that our complex systems adjust to failures, some entities fail. but others exploit the niches left by failures, and so on. We've seen that over the last decade in the changes brought on by the internet in every aspect of business and life.
I don't believe its an either/or choice. Whether you view things pessimistically or optimistically depends I believe on which bits of the status-quo you care about. From a self-interest perspect, I think this makes it a good time to look at both the resilience of your self (family, business, etc) and what niches to take advantage of as the system changes. While I'm far from a believer in the market solving everything I think many of those choices - will benefit the overall system, i.e. make the system as a whole more resilient, and better adapted to a low-CO2, low-Oil world.
The big question when I look at what benefits, and what loses is asking how much each element in the system is tied to that stability, and whether the risk-analysis takes into account the outlying possibilities - for example in interest rates, oil prices, government stability, inflation.
I don't necessarily think that a move to a more chaotic world (and I agree with Paul that a chaotic world is likely) would be a bad thing - our current world stability serves some of us, but it doesn't seem to serve the poor, nor the environment. Maybe a more chaotic world would settle down into a better paradigm, or maybe a worse one.
So for me the challenges are:
1: How do we convince governments and other powerful entities of the need to take action of a speed and scale commensurate with the problem.
2: How do we ensure that out of the state of chaos as many actors as possible are looking for outcomes that benefit the planet as well as the actor.
3: How do we create incentives to the actions we want - rather than the actions we don't - as Amory Lovins puts it - Tax Bads, not Goods.
For example .... if we look at recent government choices - funding Clean Coal tries to perpetuate and keep the system stable, but is ultimately futile - Carbon Capture and Sequestration is unlikely to work at a cost that makes it a sensible choice, and will never capture enough of the emissions - while funding renewables moves us towards a lower-emission solution.
If you haven't already seen it, read Gore's call for the US to get off all carbon-based fuels in 10 years. I blogged about it on http://www.mitra.biz/blog while its been criticised from both sides, I think as a bold goal it sets a target for how much, and how fast we need to do things, and that the disruptions from doing so are going to be much lower, and with a better final outcome, than the disruptions from insufficient action.
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