The Snap Forward
The Snap Forward
The Year Ahead

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The Year Ahead

Why the end of consensus on the Orderly Transition is going to magnify conflict in climate and sustainability debates.
Galileo demonstrates the telescope for the Doge of Venice.

Hey friends—

2022 looks like an inflection point to me.

I see many signs that the consensus on Orderly Transition as the only way to tackle the planetary crisis has begun to fall apart.

Events over the last year have certainly begun to drive serious changes in informed opinion.

  • Political inertia — from the failure of COP26 to mobilize real commitments, to the failure of the Build Back Better act to reach a vote, to the simple fact that global climate emissions have not yet peaked (and indeed fossil fuel emissions have been predicted to rise another 1.8% next year) — has made confidence in a collective, comprehensive approach seem misplaced. Civic sabotage is still working, and the limits of the politically possible do not match the scale and speed of the changes demanded. Whatever we may like to think, we are not all in this together.

  • Planetary warning signals — from unprecedented heat domes in the Northwest to the Amazon burning to parts of the tundra exploding to the Thwaites “doomsday glacier” showing signs of imminent collapse — have been blaring so loudly that it’s clear to more and more people that the planetary crisis is here, now, a massive discontinuity, and effectively irreversible. As Bill McKibben puts it, “The world is clearly more fragile than the models have led us to believe.” We are not going to return to continuity.

  • Growing societal strains under the pressures of crisis — from the increasing awareness that widespread ruggedization is not going to arrive very soon, to the grim awareness of the transapocalyptic nature of our future, to geopolitical tensions mounting in the face of ecological conflicts, to the simple trauma of realizing that if the world is not as we thought it was then neither are our lives going to be what we thought they’d be (what I’ve called personal discontinuity) — have already convinced many that our institutions are not capable of the kind of foresight and commitment an orderly, predictable global response would require. The future will not be optimized.

We’re clearly still in the Interval of Predatory Delay. I think we’re several years away, at best, from a tipping of the political, economic and cultural balances towards fast action. It may be a decade or more before average people grasp what’s already happened to them.

Within professional sustainability spheres, though — within the circles of people who work directly on climate and sustainability problems, or who work in climate/sustainability advocacy, or who are forced to think about the planetary crisis as part of their managerial duties, or who advise on strategies, or who know their investment and philanthropic decisions must be guided by an understanding of what’s going on it the world — the change has already come.

Conflicts between fast and slow interests are rising to a head in these spheres. I think 2022 is the year when it all boils over. Like every other part of this discontinuity, affairs will move faster than we’re used to.

That’s because when it comes to professional work on the planetary crisis, there is fundamental conflict between triangulated approaches and disruptive approaches. That conflict boils down to whether one’s job is about protecting from change or benefitting from action.

The partisans of Orderly Transition are, in many cases, not particularly well-prepared to lead the way forward when discontinuity is the job. That means a large number of successful people are having their assumptions and self-conceptions challenged, and in some cases finding their status, authority and economic value threatened.

Long before the general public understands the real magnitude and nature of the planetary crisis — and that everything they care about is in discontinuity — there will be a massive professional shake-out. That will involve both a scramble for new expertise, new strategies and greater foresight AND a massive repricing of outdated expertise.

Any system of interests kicks back hardest the moment it realizes its end is approaching. The major weapon slow professional interests have at their disposal is boundary policing. They can close ranks, keeping unwelcome insights and perspectives away from the conference stages, out of the board rooms, off the opinion pages. They can attack faster professionals themselves, undermining careers and networks. They can control pathways like accreditation and funding processes, hampering new organizations and enterprises. They can attempt to portray new strategies and innovations as unrealistic, and new ideas as unethical. They can sabotage efforts to reform regulations to allow newer approaches. The list is long, and the threats are real. Many of you have felt them, yourselves.

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The Snap Forward
The Snap Forward
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