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Life after climate disruption? Future Imperfect Tense

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At a Zero Carbon Campus expo (University of Newcastle, Australia) yesterday a young student asked my opinion on our prospects for the future. This is a common anxiety with millennials. Climate change. Disruption. Fossil fuels. Will we have a future at all?

To all appearances at UON, however, our leaders, the baby boomer generation, don’t seem concerned at all. Or aware. They seem stuck in a time warp warming themselves with coal-fired power as the coal ships come and go on Coal River. In Coal City. It’s business. As usual.

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The students get it. It’s their future at stake. And they’re understandably anxious about UON’s glacial and grudging nods to renewables in their bid to hold onto the crumbling business model of the present. Universities are slow to change, and conservative. It’s business. Money now. Problems later.

But change is about to overtake them. Ready or not.

Yogi Berra famously observed: Making predictions is hard, especially about the future. On climate change the science tells us we’ve overshot our life supports and like a very slow motion Coyote in pursuit of Roadrunner we’re about to plummet to the gulch below in a plume of dust.

But science also provides us with an Acme rubber band in our backpack to whisk us back to the cliff edge in the shape of exponential technology. Just as Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner defy gravity and the laws of science to survive to fight another day, science itself offers the same illogical, cartoonish promise.

Who could have predicted the speed and exponential transformation of technology in our lives? As one of the 7 billion people on the planet you are far more likely to have a smart phone than access to electricity, water or roads. You may lack the infrastructure we are so smug about in the West but you hold in your hand unlimited power, power the envy of 20thC presidents and potentates. Transformative power. Dick Tracy watch? Eat your heart out. Sorry, no hover boards or flying cars. Just profound power and access. In your pocket.

Pessimism is slow, lumbering, seemingly inexorable, breaching of tipping points, ground crumbling beneath our feet. Optimism is transformation. Technology transforms everything. Quickly.

Slow crumbling. Quick transformation. Transformation, by the way, not restoration. You and I and Mr Trump may long for the certainties of the good old days, but like milk in bottles and ice on the dog’s bowl in winter they’re long gone.

What’s replaced them is an explosion of technology that takes our breath away. And if you’re not blown away yet you need to get out more. What’s coming is already here. And what’s coming is disruption.

You may be scared of what’s coming. It’s like you’re out on your board; you’ve been catching some nice waves all morning and there’s a big one coming. It’s big already and it’s a ways off yet. No, it can’t be that big, surely? Oh. My. God. Will you look at that!

That’s what’s coming. A disruptive tsunami of change. An exciting ride or a massive dumping. To catch it you’ll need to paddle hard now.

Will you ride the tsunami of technology through the jagged reef of climate disruption? There is no ‘do-nothing ‘ option. Well, there is, but it ends badly.

Transformative, exponential technology will disrupt everything. Fossil fuels will go the way of whalebone corsets and chewing tobacco. Solar, doubling every two years will replace thermal coal and gas. Artificial intelligence will replace repetitive jobs. Autonomous cars will disrupt the trillion dollar automotive industry. Whole industry segments will collapse. Entirely new ones will emerge.

I’m excited by it. I can’t foretell the future. What I can tell you is it won’t be like the past or the present. It’ll be the future. Imperfect. Tense.

George Parry is from BZE Newcastle, bze.org.au. Formerly, her was the CEO of SuperFerry Ltd and chair of The Direct Access Group.  

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  • Tim Forcey

    The home of the future is all-electric. Burning stuff is so last century.

    Join the discussion and learn all about it at “My Efficient Electric Home”!
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/996387660405677/

    • trackdaze

      Burning is ok as long as its a giant ball of hydrogen the size of the sun Tim. 😉

      • john

        Mind even at the distance that Earth is, the effects of the giant nuclear furnace does emit a spectrum of radiation detrimental to life.
        Without the shield we could not exist.
        The UV spectrum does have detrimental effects.

  • Such techno-optimism. If only it were capable of bringing back the species we’re losing every day. Or the continuing centralisation of power and wealth (which even the interweb is now suffering from). Or better sharing the wealth gained from our global commons (ergo the 62 wealthiest individuals who have as much as the poorest 3.6Bn people). Technology is useful. It isn’t enough though. It’s time for cultural and systemic transformation. Nothing else will come close to getting us across this chasm.

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    • George Parry

      Hi Adam
      I agree with you. I read the science extensively and in consequence am in quite realistic about our chaotic disrupted future. My take is that pessimism fails to galvanise action and that action now, stimulated by good news stories on the exponential advance of technology will make the difference between 2 and 7: degrees, metres and billions disrupted.
      I can’t read the future. I think it will be significantly tougher than today. If we are to have any prospect of surviving into the 22nd century we’ll need to actively sequester carbon through aggressive reforestation. This may be made easier by the greatly reduced global population a hundred years hence.

  • Michael Murray

    Our grandchildren are going to have a future ? Well that’s news to me.

  • suthnsun

    What an amusing line of patter! Crossing of wires and staccato delivery gives a real buzz.. Technology disruption does very little for the deep cliff of physical climate disruption. That’s where the wires got crossed. No amount of you or I paddling as hard as we can will fix it once it’s fixed. Just needed to clarify that bs.