For the last two weeks, I have advised everyone that I talk to, to pick up a copy of “The ministry for the future”. Not a business book, but a novel. A novel about climate change. The last time I got excited about a novel covering business topics was “Change agent” by Daniel Suarez.
Blow your mind
The ministry of the future will blow your mind and covers some very interesting perspectives. Very similar to “The end of Western Civilisation, a view from the future” but then more optimistic in the end. I will try to cover some of the concepts. Some of them are predictions of the future. Future truths if you want. I think the author is spot on about his predictions on policy, society and technology.
Beginning with climate change itself
Humans are burning about 40 gigatons (a gigaton is a billion tons) of fossil carbon per year. Scientists have calculated that we can burn about 500 more gigatons of fossil carbon before we push the average global temperature over 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was when the industrial revolution began; this is as high as we can push it, they calculate, before really dangerous effects will follow for most of Earth’s bioregions, meaning also food production for people.
The carbon suspects
Thus, 500 gigatons; but meanwhile, the fossil fuels industry has already located at least 3,000 gigatons of fossil carbon in the ground. The notional value of the 2,500 gigatons of carbon that should be left in the ground, calculated by using the current price of oil, is on the order of 1,500 trillion US dollars. The nineteen largest organisations owning this are, in order of size from biggest to smallest: Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gazprom, Exxon-Mobil, National Iranian Oil Company, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Pemex, Petróleos de Venezuela, PetroChina, Peabody Energy, ConocoPhillips, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, Iraq National Oil Company, Total SA, Sonatrach, BHP Billiton, and Petrobras.
It is irreversible
Mass extinction is one of the most obvious examples of things done by climate change (us humans) that cannot be undone, despite all the experimental de-extinction efforts and the general robustness of life on Earth. Ocean acidification and deoxygenation are other examples of things done by humans that we can’t undo, and the relation between this ocean acidification/deoxygenation and the extinction event may soon become profound, in that the former may stupendously accelerate the latter. We should be doing everything needed to avoid a mass extinction event. There is no plan B. It is the tragedy of the time horizon. Meaning we can’t imagine the suffering of the people of the future, so nothing much gets done on their behalf. We don’t look more than a few years ahead, or even in many cases, as with high-speed trading, a few micro-seconds ahead. Read “Rethinking Strategy: How to anticipate the future, slow down change, and improve decision making“.
People invent indexes trying to come to grips with this issue. We now use the GDP, gross domestic product, the dominant metric in economics for the last century, consisting of a combination of consumption, private investments, government spending, and exports-minus-imports. It is a perverse metric. These might be the indexes in the future:
- the Genuine Progress Indicator,
- the UN’s Human Development Index,
- the UN’s Inclusive Wealth Report,
- the Happy Planet Index, the Food Sustainability Index,
- Ecological Footprint,
- Gross National Happiness,
Read “Doughnut economics“. Because still, all these indexes are attempts to portray civilisation in our time using the terms of the hegemonic discourse, which is to say economics, often in the effort to make a judo-like transformation of the discipline of economics itself. The whole field and discipline of economics, by which we plan and justify what we do as a society, is simply riddled with absences, contradictions, logical flaws, and most important of all, false axioms and false goals. Do you ask your calculator what to do with your life? No. You have to figure that out for yourself. Read “Sense-making”. Economics can never explain the beauty of a butterfly. What’s the monetary value of human civilisation?
It is existential
One of the effects of climate change will be wet-bulb temperature. A wet-bulb temperature of 35 will kill humans, even if unclothed and sitting in the shade. Wet-bulb temperatures of 34 have been recorded since the year 1990, once in Chicago. So the danger seems evident enough. Read “Falter“.
Insurance companies will start panicking
Insurance companies are already panicking. Pay-outs will rise to over one hundred billion USD a year and will be going higher fast, as in a hockey stick graph. Insurance companies are insured by re-insurance. These are holding the short end of the stick. A domino effect. Ultimately it will mean the end of insurance.
That means that everyone is uninsured. Governments, therefore, become the payer of last resort, but most governments already deep in debt to finance, meaning also re-insurance companies. Nothing left to give without endangering belief in money. The entire system on the brink of collapse.
The current law of the market
The state has been indebted to private wealth and so relied on the goodwill of particular private individuals, who were unelected and unrepresentative of anyone, but their own class. And yet, they were inserted right into the heart of state power. And are constantly finding reasons to perpetuate and extend state power. So whatever the law said, in practice, the bank/state combination did what it pleased. The market was constructed by, and parasitic on, that structure of laws. The market can buy the laws. The market is impervious to law. It is its own law. It is the way of the world. The lawmakers are corrupt. Until it changes.
The new laws
Carbon pricing, industry efficiency standards, land-use policies, industrial process emissions regulations, complementary power sector policies, renewable portfolio standards, building codes and appliance standards, fuel economy standards, better urban transport, vehicle electrification, and feebates, which was to say carbon taxes passed back through to consumers.
The end of millionaires
The Gini coefficient, devised by the Italian sociologist Corrado Gini in 1912, is a measure of income or wealth disparity in a population. The three richest people in the world possess more financial assets than all the people in the forty-eight poorest countries added together. The wealthiest one per cent of the human population owns more than the bottom seventy per cent. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which no one can rise. Enough is a good as a feast—or better.
The Mondragón as a global concept. These worker-owned enterprises became a kind of co-op of co-ops, which now forms the tenth largest corporation in Spain, with assets in the billions of euros and yearly profits in the millions. Open admission, democratic organisation, the sovereignty of labour, the instrumental and subordinate nature of capital, participatory management, payment solidarity, inter-cooperation, social transformation, universality, and education. Read “Reinventing organisations”. We are all going teal.
Creation of a commons for every necessity, public utility districts, state-owned (meaning citizen-owned) enterprises, cooperative enterprises, real political representation, regenerative agriculture, landscape restoration, wildlife stewardship, garden cities, universal basic income and services, job guarantees, refugee release and repatriation, climate justice and equity actions, first people support, participatory economic, all these tended to be regional or localised.
New data ownership
The book suggests killing the big nine by the creation of an open source instruments that mimic the functions of all the big social media sites. It will protect their data for them using quantum encryption. Open-source. A distributed ledger. The beginning of the global internet cooperative union. This won’t be quite like a credit union because it would be an open network of people who make a distributed issuance of credit, issuing carbon coin fractions to each other on proof of good action on carbon.
Some interesting concepts
- Keep it in the ground. The social cost of carbon was finally getting injected into the price of fossil fuels, and that old saying, ridiculed by the fossil fuels industry for decades, was suddenly becoming the obvious thing, as being the most profitable or least unprofitable thing: Keep it in the ground.
- Carbon coin. For every ton of carbon not burned, or sequestered in a way that would be certified to be real for an agreed-upon time, one century being typical in these discussions so far, you are given one carbon coin. The start of CQE, carbon quantitative easing.
- Climate terrorism. The books paint the scenario when a day came that sixty passenger jets crashed in a matter of hours. And it was later that same year when container ships began to sink, almost always close to land. People who got very rich in polluting the planet get hunted down and killed (by drones).
- 2000 Watt society. The 2,000 Watt Society, started in 1998 in Switzerland, calculated that if all the energy consumed by households were divided by the total number of humans alive, each would have the use of about 2,000 watts of power, meaning about 48 kilowatt-hours per day. Expect a carbon budget.
- India. The book predicts that India will take the lead in climate change and truly embrace regenerative economics, zero-carbon. etc. Not surprising when you study Ayurveda.
- Internet of animals. Millions of animals tagged, and thus now participating in the so-called Internet of Animals, which is basically a gigantic suite of scientific studies. Also, expect the internet of trees.
- A new type of ships. The new versions had sails made of photovoltaic fabrics that captured both wind and light. The solar-generated electricity created by them transferred down the masts to motors that turned propellers.
- Carbon scrubbing.
- Geo-engineering putting yellow dye in the ocean. Yellow water didn’t allow sunlight to penetrate it and even bounced some sunlight back into space.
- Some kind of global citizenship, given to all as a human right. The nations on Earth grant legal status to this global citizenship and share the burden equally, with the historical disparities in carbon burn factored into the current assessments of the financial and human burden going forward.
- All money blockchained and tracked, meaning that all the old havens and shelters are being rooted out and eliminated.
The perspective of the future
The world as a commons, one ecosphere, one planet, a living thing they were all part of. World civilisation no longer using up more of the biosphere’s renewable resources than were being replaced by natural processes. What for many years had been true only for Cuba and Costa Rica becomes true everywhere. Flattening of the Gini index figures for the world at large. The pay justice movements, the wage ratio movements, and the central banks’ recommended tax plans, plus political movements everywhere supporting job guarantees and progressive taxation, sometimes under the rubric of “an end to the kleptocracy of the plutocrats,” and capping personal annual income at ten times that minimum amount. Carbon coin as success meaning huge amounts of money going to landscape restoration, regenerative ag, reforestation, biochar and kelp beds, direct air capture and storage.
Dark and bright
The book gets very dark (death, terrorism, upheaval, climate armageddon, but in the end, it paints a very optimistic perspective. What is exciting about the book is how it paints solutions that could work and that they are grounded in trends in current technology and trends in how we start thinking about economics and politics. I am a little more optimistic.