Published November 2021
107 billion people have lived on this planet. I know this article does not address you by name, but I am talking to you, and also your friends, family and colleagues. Basically any good person in your life, scratch that, actually it doesn’t even have to be a good person.
The fact is, good or bad, English or Zulu, man or woman (or anything in-between), cat lover or dog lover, Catholic or Muslim, lawyer or poet, we are all in the same boat, or taxi, or whatever mode of transport you wish to envision sharing with 7.8 billion other people. You are a passenger and your ride is about to become unpleasant and costly.
This article is without any doubt the most important one I have written in 2021 and implore you to read it to the end.
What ride am I referring to? If I was permitted to give it a name, I would refer to it as the ‘Social and Environmental Apocalypse’. Most people believe the word ‘apocalypse’ means the end of the earth. I would entertain this understanding of the word, after all, most books and movies with that word in their title normally include within the story theme some type of asteroid or plague, or any other variety of horror we might imagine to obliviate us. The truth is, the words original roots relate to a ‘moment in time’ where ‘really important information becomes apparent’.
And that is it! An ‘Apocalypse Moment’ is upon us, or certainly upon you for reading this article. It is a time to learn something very important and act upon it. I am referring to Climate Change. Wait, before you lose interest…
I know many of us have heard this phrase before, but give me a few moments to make a handful of points because the problem with this ‘apocalypse’ is the majority of people just don’t get it. This threat is not as obvious and simple as a killer asteroid, nor is the solution. The complexity of the situation has resulted in a few varieties of understanding. A person might think they know what climate change is, or they might not be interested at all, or maybe they are distracted by the current challenges of the day. Perhaps you do know a lot about Global Warming but you are too overwhelmed to act. Which variety are you?
I have chosen rather to know this devil. I detest being ignorant or naïve, or worse yet, deprived of information. There are people at this very moment literally having to pack their homes and move to other countries because of Climate Change, but we don’t hear about this in the news. Google ‘the people of Tuvalu’ and learn a little about their cultural fate. Most people in similar sinking situations don’t even know why things are changing, and it is ironic the countries they call on for help are often the ones creating the chaos.
Knowledge is power and inspires solutions. This article’s purpose is to provide just the right amount of information to inspire an action from you.
I always say to my colleagues we need to be wolves and not sheep.
During the next few years, we need to avoid being helpless lambs. Right now, we are ripe for the picking and available to be gobbled up by the lions with their commercial and political yearnings. I can assure you, the herding of the populace began some time ago, and we have been enticed by creature comforts and commercial benefits offered today, but at huge costs to the future. I do mean huge, think State Capture, but 195 times multiplied. (2 brownie points will be awarded to whomever can work out how I came up with the number 195).
The cost cannot truthfully be quantified, because it’s being exasperated on a daily basis. It will be detrimental to all realms of our way of life: social, economic and political. It will also have a heavy emotional toll on our mental wellbeing.
I often write about ethical and sustainable business. I encourage you to read one of those articles, but my point in this instance is business cannot be as usual. Major changes will be ushered in by the ethical consumer and government regulations. In the very near future, we will see people seeking to support businesses that are part of the solution and shunning those who carry on as normal. This trend will play a pivotal part in combating the biggest challenge humanity has, and may very well ever need to deal with. That is not a sensationalist statement, and guess what! It’s happening while you are alive. That fact could either be seen as awful luck, or if you are a glass half full type of person, an extraordinary opportunity for our species to leave a legacy we can be proud of.
Legacy is a subject I talk about often. Either you are someone who has decided to leave a legacy, or live in ignorance, contented to fade away making little impact in your wake. There are both types of people in society and there always will be. That is okay. To deal with this challenge we must acknowledge all the characteristics of humanity, and make provisions for them. The trick is simple, we need to have less sheep, and more wolves. It’s almost a simple mathematical equation to solve. Greater force determines the trajectory of action. It’s a proven theory, and one I apply when dealing with the challenges associated with South Africa. I believe as long as there are more people doing good than bad, there is hope. Of course, many good people in South Africa have become despondent and idle, but that is a subject for another day.
A wolf will not fall victim to the lion. It knows how to avoid risk and also how to rally its pack. If you don’t want to be a wolf, you could perhaps be a fox. A popular choice and reference by my industry colleague (through the agency) Clem Sunter. Of course a fox is not a pack animal and really works alone. A wolf is better suited because it works with its’ liken.
I am asking you to make a decision, to be part of the solution and leave an epic legacy, all the time knowing that despite being just one person, you can throughout your life time champion real meaningful change. Each given day a Future Thinker does something to influence the trajectory of their life and that of their family and society at large. Future Thinkers are not preachers, they are leaders by the power of ‘example’.
What examples can we start with?
We have most of the solutions and technology we need to solve these problems already. What is lacking is the will. The will to act is often prohibited because we feel disenfranchised and hopeless. We don’t actually know what’s best to do. We either spend more time seeking more solutions, or we give up.
Let me give you the lowdown on what our status is today, done without jargon. I want to share simple and achievable goals. While I work through these, please remember three things, and be crystal clear about these:
Responding to climate change does not mean you will be poorer or have a reduced quality of life, quite the opposite! How about that!
Every morning, I start my day by reading a list I wrote many years back when I went through a personal traumatic event. The list reminds me of the type of person I would like to be that day. One of the lines says “you cannot have everything you want all at once, but you can have some of what you want some of the time”. I believe the source of this text originates from an African American Woman with a very popular TV show. The concept shared is pertinent to remember when dealing with this apocalypse because while we will be giving up some things we like, we will still able to have other things we enjoy. Unfortunately, the notion that we can have it all was never a reality, nor was it sustainable or ethical.
What is your angle of attack!
The best form of defence is often attack. I don’t condone violence of any sort by the way, so I am not referring to a literal attack on anyone specific, but rather our way of life and business.
The enemy and saviour are ourselves.
We have to win four battles:
While you battle, there will be many times you will need to deal with and even manage unhappiness, often from corporates, politicians and even your loved ones. Your job is not to prevent unhappiness, but to engage, and lead by example. Ethical and operational habits all need to be reinvented, and this requires positive and constructive support and effort. You will need patience and determination. When tired you must rest rather than give up.
If you manage everything said above, you will already be setting a tremendous example and changing the world a little each day for the better. Very soon you will catch yourself refusing plastic bags at Checkers, or getting angry with businesses that still print and post statements, or moving your savings into a fund or bank that only invests in renewables. You will see lots of little changes ushering in an ethical revolution.
This ethical revolution cannot be achieved by the instructions of a dictator. I don’t want the points that follow to be seen as demands. Rather these points are meant to inspire discussions at home, office and in your community, or if you are at all a little like me, discussions in your own mind with one self. As long as the chats generate ideas which manifest into action.
South Africans need to rethink their priorities. I know many of us are exhausted. I know about the unprecedented levels of corruption and unemployment and a buffet of other problems. What we must accept is that these are secondary to the challenges associated with this apocalypse. In a few years’ time, and I do mean a few years, things are going to get worse exponentially. Many people during Covid lost lives, businesses and hope. Covid was one pandemic only. Climate Change will bring on more natural and even man-made disasters, greater in severity and frequency. For South Africans it is harder for us to respond as needed because we are in a weakened political, financial and even ethical position. Appreciate the risk before you. We must plan better for the next disaster, and it is coming.
The quiet fire alarm.
The severity of the effects of Climate Change are grossly under reported and therefore underestimated. In order to prepare to write this article, and come to grips with the fundamentals myself, I decided to study the IPCC Inter Governmental Climate Change Report of 2021. This document was nicknamed the ‘Red Alert’ report. Such an apocalyptic name!
I thought you might find it interesting that after the first few hours of going through this report, I came to the conclusion I bit off more than I could chew. This report has 3949 pages, the file was so large it crashed my PDF reader. Many of the pages I managed to review confused me to no end. Anyone who has read the full report will confirm that front to back, it is full of impressive data, math, explanations, diagrams, graphs and many other things only people with advance degrees might fully comprehend. 234 authors from 66 countries prepared its content. If that was not impressive enough, an additional 517 ‘contributing authors’ were also involved to add extra nuggets. I saw a number of South African names cited for their contributions in the document and that made me smile. In addition to all the clever people involved, we must consider the advances in technology we have been able to use and refreshed methodology applied. The result is greater accuracy and the most comprehensive information ever available to our civilization on the living status of planet earth. There are over 14000 cited references and a third tier of 78007 expert and government review comments. What an absolutely epic effort!
There are summarized versions of this report available, and I would like to encourage those who want to learn more to download them. I do want to share a few nuggets with you, let’s call it my ‘take always’ from my review and of course my points on the subject at large.
a.) The ‘Red Flag’ report can be trusted. Let me share an info graph (one of the simpler ones) from the report / summary report. The IPCC Inter Governmental Climate Change Report and summaries have many examples of ‘nice ways’ of explaining things. They have created scenarios and offer descriptions like “low consensus” or “high consensus”. These sorts of descriptions I believe have come about because when you are dealing with so much data, over varied date ranges and many methods of extrapolating future outcomes, it is implausible to get one definitive conclusion. Therefore, and cleverly, the report gives us a much simpler way to consume information by providing ‘confidence levels’. Imagine all the nerds and scientists either mostly agreeing or mostly not agreeing on a point. Therefore concluding an opinion on a subject on either a low confidence / low probability or high confidence / high probability statement. Of course there are other levels in between but if we focus on information that deals with the greatest certainties and make our decisions based on those, we can only be placing ourselves on better footing.
This info graph image is of a table of 5 scenarios, which we could go into more detail about, but won’t today. What is important is that you note that every scenarios best estimate is over 1.5 degrees celsius by the end of the year 2040. That is in less than 2 decades away! Following 20 years on, three of the scenarios are 2 degrees or greater and the worse ‘best’ estimate of 3.3 degrees arrives in scenarios SSP5. I cannot even imagine what earth will be like if we reach a 3.3 celsius degrees increase. Let’s hope our children never need to.
b.) We need to understand that while our consumption and production habits have had direct implications on the planet, there will also be many more ripple effects brought on as a result. All these ‘things’ within nature will become compounded problems. Provision must be made for feedback effects and I will discuss some of these in a moment.
c.) Climate Change is not only about greenhouse gases like Carbon Dioxide. In fact, carbon dioxide in the air, while at an all-time high (the highest it has been in two million years) is only one part of this large and complex problem.
The better angle, and the angle we must position ourselves in is to view these challenges through the viewing glass of ‘Carbon Footprint’ and ‘Carbon Budgets’. ‘Carbon Footprint’ and ‘Carbon Budgets’ (repeated for dramatic effect) can be understood and worked out in different ways.
Every person, business, community, every product has a footprint. Even services that one might not think have a physical component, (therefore assuming no carbon footprint) still do. Like emails or Bitcoin. In fact the digital processing of Bitcoin uses more electricity than some small countries in a year.
All things have a carbon footprint and each person on earth has a ‘carbon budget’ to maintain, regardless of if we like it or not. The easiest way to understand this is to understand it as ‘the volume of mess’ one person can make that the ‘earth can deal’ with before harm is done. How much is your budget? In the USA, people are running up a ‘carbon bill’ of about 16 tons, which is a lot higher than the global average of about 4-6 tons. We need to get this to under 2 tons per person annually to mitigate climate change.
Imagine it another way: our town or city gives us a big plastic black bin for our home. This gets emptied once a week. (Unless you are in Johannesburg at a time that Pikitup are striking). Right now, humanities carbon footprint per person is 1.7 of these bins. Each week, there is 0.7 overflow. We don’t get a bigger or extra bin. The same goes for Earth, we only have one planet to live on, for now anyway, with a little luck we will have a 2nd within 75 years or so, but not one I want to move too.
Right now, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to provide the resources we use and need to absorb our waste. This means it takes the Earth about one year and eight months to regenerate and recover what we used in a prior year. This is not sustainable. If each person cuts back by about 45%, and we don’t add more people to the planet, Earth can cope. Is it that simple? Cutting usage and waste by 45% and less babies will solve it all?
Looking at a challenge mathematically can sometimes really help us plot out a goal post. Of course, this challenge does not have a simple two answer solution. What we eat, how we travel, printing an email, leaving a window open, or even banking at an ATM all need to be thought about. Everything we do while awake and asleep, and even for a few weeks after we die will count towards your carbon life footprint.
d. Earth’s land, air and oceans are getting warmer. I know some people are aware that the earth has cooled and warmed many times. If you have read my little book “Future Thinking 2021” you will have learnt how many times this has happened and why. The challenge now is the rate or speed in which things are happening is unprecedented. Not all flora and fauna will make it through this ‘Human Initiated Global Warming’ because it cannot evolve or adapt fast enough. A fact I am so gloomy about. I know we will be responsible for the harm of millions of people and billions of plants and animals as well. Many scientists are calling this a six mass extinction level event. (Also something I wrote about in “Future Thinking 2021”). We are all part of an ecocide.
It is not too late yet, but it will be soon, and we will be fools for not using the wisdom we possess and the technology at our disposal, and missing this opportunity to harness humanities potential for remarkable things. While this requires a unified global effort, it starts with just one person. You. Every day. Making Future Thinker decisions.
I don’t believe there is a document in existence that can rival the IPCC Inter Governmental Climate Change Report. Without any doubt we know now we are responsible for climate change, it is worse than we thought, it is going to happen quicker than we were planning for, but if we act today there is hope. If we don’t there will be catastrophe, death and social collapse. Can you see why I think my description of ‘Social and Environmental Apocalypse’ is apt?
Know thy enemy. There are two ‘types’. The first is ‘irreversible processes’. They are environmental changes that no matter what we do today, or in the next 50 years or so, will happen in spite of any efforts we take now. This might sound very depressing, but we must remember these processes were set in motion from the industrial revolution (roughly 300 years ago), and now we have to deal with atmospheric temperature increases, rising sea levels and melting regions of ice caps and glaciers. There will also be chemical composition changes in our oceans. We will need to cope with changing regional seasons, shifting weather patterns, too much rain in some places, and too little in others, more hot weather, loss of eco systems and environments. Already at risk is coffee and chocolate!
I could write books about each of these dramas, and perhaps one day I will, but for now it is sufficient to warn businesses, families and communities to prepare for the inevitable. These mammoth tasks will need to be tackled in conjunction with i4.0, automation and many other e-trends like the end of banking as we know it. Let’s not forget the social, political and commercial reforms we are sitting at the precipice of. The fact is if you intend to still be alive for at least the next 20 years or so, you are going to have your hands full. I run workshops and strategy sessions on risks and scenarios for businesses and communities. Please call on me if you are interested in a consult.
Every decision and subsequent action we take over the next 20 years (maximum period) must have deeply ingrained into its core both ethics and sustainability as essentials. If we do this, and apply the best solutions aggressively and immediately we will be able to reduce the severity of these irreversible changes. Then we can succeed in mitigating the level of damage to a point our children can cope with. If we fail, the generations that follow us will only remember those who lived today with animosity, and rightfully so. Aside from self-preservation, do not forget all the plants, animals and natural spaces we can still help save.
I mentioned earlier we have to deal with feedback affects. An example: as the ice melts, there is less ice to reflect the suns heat back into space, therefore more heat remains in our atmosphere, and that causes ice to melt faster, water levels rise at a greater pace. There will also be more moisture in the air, trapping more heat, and so forth and so on. It’s an absolute mess. All this accelerates the loss of healthy environments and with that, the loss of natural systems that absorb carbon on land and in the seas. There will be hastened loss of more species, both animal and plant. I hope you get the picture because I am only giving a short list of issues out of many as examples.
There is a ‘tipping point’ where eco systems will reset. There is fierce debate at what temperature this ‘reset point’ could happen, but the range is somewhere between 2 and 4 degrees celsius. Aside from the heat, let’s remember we have taken land and resources as and how we wish, leaving very little for all other living things. If we lose too many keystone animals and plants, Mother Nature will reshuffle the cards and we might not like the new hand dealt.
Our fate has almost been decided on. Data assures us we have increased the planets temperature by no less than 1.07 degrees celsius. This might not sound like a lot, but that’s because you have not put into context something very astonishing. Humans have in a short period of 200 years managed to heat up the surface of a 6.585 billion trillion ton rock floating in space. Mother Nature needed tens of thousands of years to produce similar effects. Let’s also remember that the difference between running water and solid ice is only one degree celsius.
The ‘other’ enemy.
As a Dung beetle moves his ball of ‘you know what’, it collects more stuff along the way. Our ball is rolling uncontrollably because no one wants to handle it. The second ‘enemy’ is the ‘handling’ and response by us to this extra stuff added to the ball of “you know what”. Consider:
These are just a few of the concerns (things on that ball) we need to prepare for because they all fall within the realm of ‘likely’ to ‘probable’ scenarios based on our current trajectory. The poorer or socially and politically rickety a nation is, the worse it will be for their citizens. More influential nations and ‘big players’ in this game like the USA and China need to apply their focus on this apocalypse instead of their rivalry and commercial posturing. These nations need to be leaders, and with other wealthy European countries, provide the support needed to poorer countries.
There is no singular state that can overcome climate change unless every country does. On a side note, let’s keep an eye on India who are leaping ahead with innovation and will be a super power in their own right soon.
There are three ways South Africans can fight these specific risks at a macro level, and I could unpack each point in length, but the summary is:
Your vote, Rand and willingness to work with others have never been more important.
Writing specifically for South Africans now: there are actions we can take that will have substantial influence on altering our trajectory. I could write another book on each of these solutions, but I need to be mindful of how much time you have already spent on reading this article and try and get through the points as quickly as possible. With that said, anyone who would like me to elaborate needs only ask.
To end this article, I have one request specifically to parents. Please reintroduce your children to nature. We do not harm what we love, we do not love what we do not know. Most children can give you the names of several Instagram or Tik Tok influencers, but can’t name one plant in the garden. We are a generation that does not even know we are part of an eco-system. You can teach them.
~ The End
About Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline
He is a Business and Environmental Technologist. An entrepreneur who runs several online businesses. He is a published Author who researches, consults and facilitates strategy sessions about the most important matters affecting our generation and the changes to technology, business and the environment. Services include:
Published November 2021Read more articles