Refugees or Nomads: Responding to Climate Change

Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 9.02.56 PMBritish catalyst/writer/speaker, Graham Brown-Martin frequently posts provocative points of view that I respond to. Here’s our most recent conversation triggered by his Jan 14, 2018 essay titled:

Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

I recommend you read it (follow the link above) and respond to it directly. I commented on his statement that:

Combined with climate change and rapid global population growth this century is the most challenging that our species has ever faced.

with:

Perhaps. Or perhaps prehistoric humanity has faced equal challenges many times before but without leaving a record we know how to read yet. Large segments of the human population and many cultures have been wiped out before. Seeing our current dilemmas as unique in scope feeds pessimism. I prefer to think we’re still here because we are so good at adapting to potentially disasterous occurances.

Graham replied:

True, although we’ve never had over 7 billion souls living on the planet at the same time — this number is greater than all of the people who have ever walked on this planet.

The impact of climate change and continued population growth this century suggests that the number of refugees will grow from circa 40 million today to over 1 billion by the end of this century. Thus migration will be the new normal

Let’s not underestimate the challenges that present and future generations will face and the decisions that they will have to make

My response:

…Agreed, let’s not underestimate.

Whether the absolute number of Earth-bound humans is 1 million, as in prehistory, or 7.6 billion, as of 2018, a large proportion of our population has been nomadic, moving to follow food sources, weather conditions and ecological competition. Humanity has seen many changes in sea level and glacial land cover. Those who failed to move perished. This time it’s happening much faster and we have developed the capacity to see it coming. I’m not convinced we become more adaptable by calling ourselves refugees. We will not be fleeing an unforeseen social upheaval such as a war or a rapid disaster triggered by a plague or wildfire. The term “refugee” brings an image of helplessness and mass panic to my mind. I’d rather not wait until climate change erases all our options.

Instead, let’s use education and industrial practices to bolster our adaptibility. We have the technology for seasteading and arcologies that can provide human habitats on water-revised Earth. We, as a species, have failed to proactively protect Earth’s climate from drifting away from conditions we evolved to deal with over hundreds of thousands of years. Let’s not fail to use the brainpower we have developed so that our children can thrive in the coming new environment, one we may have inadvertantly brought about.

Years ago I took a course from noted Stanford psychologist Al Bandura. He introduced the concept he called “perception of self-efficacy“. People with high self-efficacy believe in their own ability to cope in difficult situations and try harder to overcome the obstacles they face. Even if they are nomads who travel and have no permanent home they become the survivors. People with low self-efficacy become refugees, the huddled masses  on the shore who give up and succumb to raising seas. Perhaps our greatest challenge as educators is not figuring out how to prepare ourselves and our children for either climate change or 21st century jobs. What we need to be doing is promoting a high perception of self-efficacy across the population so that we keep innovating and engaging in our as-yet-unknown future.

 

Evolving Work

Luddite.pngPoliticians claim to be able to create new jobs. I think they are ignoring a major change in human society that is being brought on by current advances in production technology. It may have taken 300 years but dumb machines, enhanced by artificial intelligence computers, are finally making the Luddites right. If we hope to avoid a violent revolution fueled by ordinary people fighting to preserve the only means of survival they know we’d better come up with some new ways to think about “work”.

Fortunately John Hagel is sharing his vision of “the big shift“. This business guru is serious about rethinking our employment structure.

Robots and AI may be the catalyst we need to finally jettison the increasingly outdated industrial model of scalable efficiency. In its place, we’ll evolve fundamentally new forms of work that tap into more our distinctively human capabilities and potential. Not only will we as individuals develop opportunities to learn faster by working together in very different ways, but our institutions will move from a world of diminishing returns to a world of increasing returns, where the more of us who join together, the faster we will all learn. Performance improvement will begin to accelerate in ways that previously would have seemed unimaginable. The technology that seems so threatening now may actually become our ally, amplifying our performance improvement by freeing us from the tasks that today keep us tightly locked into the routines of the past and providing us with the data we need to spark even more imagination and creativity. (read the whole article)

HubBubClub - 1So what will new work look like? For some of us it will be indistinguishable from play. For others it will be art and craft. For still others it will involve caring for those who can’t fend for themselves. What else will garner the big bucks? It is already becoming clear that be anything repetitive or routine — anything we can reduce to an algorithm and hand off to a computer — will no longer provide a living wage. This shift has huge implications for how we educate our children – all of our children, not just the rich and privileged.

To be continued…

Going beyond the business view of social responsibility

Check out Milton Friedman was wrong by Alan Murray

Here’s how it starts:

“Business needs to pay attention to social problems, or else…

In an interview this summer, Microsoft MSFT 0.21% CEO Satya Nadella was asked whether he thought companies creating technology had a responsibility to consider the effects of that technology on social equity.

The late Milton Friedman had a ready answer. “The social responsibility of business,” the economist often said, “is to increase its profits.” Period.

But Nadella took a different approach: “I think we don’t have a long-term business if we don’t address the inequities.”

As I’ve argued before in this space, capitalism is under attack. Having won the great ideological struggle of the 20th century, it faces a new and more diffuse challenge in the 21st. The quarter-century since the collapse of Communism has seen the greatest alleviation of poverty in human history. But it has also created deep pockets of disaffection in developed countries, where workers have been displaced by overseas labor. And it has fed rising inequality within countries. This year’s pro-Brexit vote and the Trump and ­Sanders insurgencies provide powerful punctuation to the trend.

My friend Dan Yergin, whose book The Commanding Heights documented the triumph of free-market faith at the end of the last century, cites four reasons for the current rebellion. The first is the aftershock of the 2008 financial collapse, which undercut confidence in markets. The second is rising inequality within countries. The third is the realities of global trade, which creates losers as well as winners. And the fourth is fading memories of the old order. Socialism sounds better to a generation that has no memory of its legacy of poverty, thwarted opportunity, and oppression.

And there is a fifth reason: the failure of governments. The 20th century assumed it was the job of government to address most social problems. The 21st century has witnessed too much ­corruption, incompetence, and political gridlock to ­assume the same.

For all these reasons, an ever-growing group of business leaders have come to believe that they must take up the mantle. The best businesses, of course, have always put purpose at the center of their strategies. But members of this new group realize that restoring public trust is essential to their long-term ­success. Increasingly, they are building intentional efforts to address social problems into the core of their business plans…”

.. (read more)

While you’re at it you might want to visit

The Lesson Behind Fortune’s ‘Change the World’ List by Michael E. Porter , Mark R. Kramer

My problem with both of the approaches offered is that they do not go deep enough.They fail to address basic questions of ownership and reciprocity.  Ownership is a matter of who controls and, therefore, has the right to benefit from a natural resource, institution, product or service. Reciprocity describes that social obligations that tell us who should do, exchange or give what to whom. The ‘what’ may be goods, services, loyalty, and emotional support, among other human productions. Both ownership and reciprocity are culturally defined and it is easiest for us to interpret right and wrong through the lens of our home culture.

One historical example of the ownership issue can be seen in what we might call the European land grab. Europeans who immigrated to Africa and the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries encountered peoples whose cultures didn’t include private ownership of land. “Well, if no one owns it, I can take it,” they thought. This belief was used to justify forcible expulsion of millions of people from their ancestral homelands.

Today, at least two critical cases of ownership need to be addressed: ownership of non-renewable natural resources and ownership of an individual’s labor in the face of growing robotic an artificial intelligence capacity (which I’ll address in a later blog).

The topic of ownership leads directly to reciprocity. If the chief of your tribe “sells” your ancestral land, the means by which your forefathers survived for five thousand years, to a corporation that now plants coffee to be marketed around the world, who should benefit from the profits of that business? The stockholders? The employees, a few of whom may be of your tribe? The distant consumers? Is it enough that the corporation subsequently provides your extended, but now impoverished, family with a new school building, some medical supplies, or the raised expectations that you will be able to buy previously-unheard-of commodities? Does monetary payment for the land combined with these acts of ‘social responsibility’ fulfill the corporation’s obligation to reciprocate? In small-scale, usually isolated, societies reciprocity is dictated by tradition. Tradition tells community members who can use how much of the common resources, who cares for the young, sick and disabled and who can be either killed by or expelled from the group for what offenses. Our large-scale, global society is a mash-up of conflicting traditions that offers us few overarching guidelines for reciprocity.

We do have some vaguely religious or secular moral notions of ‘brother’s keeper’, familial obligation and noblesse oblige. But these are often obliterated by a constant chanting about the importance of financial success, consumerism, competition, economic growth and actualizing our individual potential. No wonder so many of us are confused, depressed to the point of suicide, cynical and suffering from unmet expectations. Of course we are choosing to escape into that bottomless time and energy sink, entertainment. It’s not surprising that we are politically divided to the point of governmental paralysis.

It’s time, way past time, to pull our eyes, ears and minds away from our flickering screens and address two questions:

1) Where will we been in 50 years if we continue on the economic path we are now following?

2) What are the elements of a positive alternative vision for humanity?

Current economic thinking will not get us to a positive future because it begins with a set of assumptions that preclude understanding the forces driving contemporary human behavior. Yes, Milton Friedman was wrong. And Fortune’s Change the World List Companies won’t do it either because their notion of reciprocity is still based in buying and selling. Economics, as we know it, is rooted in the concepts of scarcity and demand. It cannot cope with conditions of abundance and free exchange — conditions that we can create if we can free our thinking from its economic box.

There is a growing chorus of thought-leaders like Alan Murray who are challenging us to examine our ideals and bring our economic behavior beyond the standard of one who “maximizes the net present value of their preferences” in monetary terms. But leaders who venture too far beyond the conventional wisdom are likely to find themselves without followers. Let’s be courageous thinkers and forge ahead with new (and perhaps ancient) conceptions of ownership and exchange. Having crafted such a vision we can take action to create more viable and sustainable communities, locally and globally.

Preparing for Life without Jobs

The majority of humanity will need to prepare for living a life of dignity, joy, meaning and fulfillment without “jobs” as we have known them. We have actually succeeded in achieving that 300-year goal of creating more “leisure”. Now we have to learn to live with it. – Quoting myself, Liza Loop

 

Sonoma Coast - small

When I look around my local community, Guerneville, Sonoma County, California, I see serene rural beauty punctuated by lots of problems:

  • impoverished, homeless people begging on the streets and sleeping in the bushes
  • decaying built infrastructureInstalling pipe - 1
  • underemployed job seekers struggling to maintain the lifestyles their parents were able to provide for them
  • disillusioned citizens who question whether government can work in their interest
  • concern over unsustainable agricultural Korbel Vinyard - 1practices and dwindling wild spaces
  • growing fear of civil unrest fueled by local crime and global terrorism
  • skepticism about whether our existing educational institutions can actually help prepare their children for an unknown future

 

In spite of these negatives, almost everyone here is an artist of some kind — painter, sculptor, photographer, actor, musician, writer, landscape gardener — even the homeless are following their bliss in a way.HubBubClub - 1 This makes the present bearable, often joyful. At the same time, there is an underlying sense that we are under siege, threatened by a global human society that is rapidly imploding. Our art helps us soothe the pain of our local troubles but few of us are turning our gaze outward and asking how our personal solutions might be used to address the depredations breaking out all over the planet.

One key solution is literally under our feet. Most householders in these parts have gardens and many businesses are very productive farms. This, Garden - 1combined with an ethical commitment to volunteering and sharing, means almost nobody starves here. And, since the climate is mild, you don’t die from the cold if you live unhoused. Even the wealthy have chosen this place because it offers an opportunity to live simply, without ostentation in an atmosphere of sharing and community. It isn’t Utopia but it is certainly a hopeful place to be.

What lessons can we offer the rest of the world from our little bit of success at living joyfully in this local “garden world”? How can we foster the emergence of similar positive communities in other places so that this one does not suffer “the tragedy of the commons”? This blog site is one place for me to offer my vision and for you to share yours. I’ll try to answer some of the questions I’ve posed today in upcoming posts but right now I’m going to go pull some weeds among the vegetables. Catch ya’ later…

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