Sunday, December 13, 2020

Greetings from 2030 - a time when the oxymoron of ‘sustainable growth’ is, finally, gone

Dear 2020,

Reading this hopefully gives you hope and trust in the future. There is one! What it looks like we decide, every day. Sometimes it seems to need some magic, but remember that “magic is making the seemingly impossible possible”. There’s a big difference between “seemingly impossible” and “impossible”.

I remember that I watched the advent calendar on the Swedish television back in 2020. Something I hadn’t done for many years. I recall it was an effect of being mainly at home, every day, the full year. You can probably relate to that, even if it feels like a long time ago this shift happened.

The television advent calendar the year of 2020 was a story that included back holes, time travel and sending messages through time. Sending messages ahead in time, into the future. This is something that has been possible from the dawn of humanity.

Sending messages backwards in time is a bit trickier. When did we learn that? Well, “future will tell” :-)

Black holes was also the subject of the Nobel prize in physics back in 2020. (One of the laureates was Roger Penrose, who to me was more known for the Penrose tiling and other less galactic topics.)

2020 was the year when you could more clearly see that we were at the inflection point. A bit clearer than when I last wrote about it. The inflection point is rather an inflection period, a period of time when we shift from one era to another. A period of time during which our actions have a very high impact on the future.

Be aware of this. Also be aware that the inflection period is not over, it continues in 2021 and beyond. But proactive actions are best taken early in the inflection phase. Of course, the uncertainty is even higher in the early phases, so your actions must be guided on principles that embrace the unknown, and the actions must be designed to cater for the unknown. 

Giving guidance on how to get to the future, from the future, is very tricky. One reason is that the past, present and future are different reference frames. It’s a bit like telling someone to “turn right”, and getting the opposite result (“they turn left”) because their left is your right. I will however offer you two beliefs of the future that might guide you:

First, “you will get there”, regardless of if you’d like it or not. It is not about “how to get there”, it is about what it looks like. And the future depends on the past, and hence you impact the future with every action you take, collectively.

Second,, a more specific hint: “Rethink growth”. I remember that “sustainable growth” used to be a very popular term, which drove humanity into the inflection period. “Growth” as it used to be defined was a very effective engine to power humanity ahead. All the way into the inflection period. But growth the way we used to think about it is simply not sustainable. All resources on a planet, both the renewable and the non-renewable, are limited. “Sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. Sooner or later a system of growth reaches the limits and the laws of growth starts to break down. This leads to a bifurcation point which decides the future state of the system. Our system, the system of earth and the ecosystem of earth, including humanity. Are we going to “level up” for yet another era, or are we going to be a victim of the great filter in the Fermi paradox (an unimaginable future!)? A key aspect to nudge our path into the wanted future is to redefine “growth” and find a growth metric that guides us into the next era.

A few complementary thoughts:

  • “Digital assets and digital value creation” are not disconnected from the physical world. In the 2020 era value created on the digital side of the equation still impacts the (unsustainable) utilization of physical resources. 

  • “Technology” is important, but not the key ingredient of a sustainable future. We are leaving the industrial era, in which technology in the 2020 meaning was a central driver. Technology will still be a key part of our lives, just as grain and other agriculture products will be, and is, even after the agricultural era.

And in case you are looking beyond our planet. Yes, there are other planets within reach, and they are richer of resources than we might think. But all other planets within reach lack the most valuable and necessary resource! An ecosystem to be part of. To build up a complete, self-sustaining, ecosystem is a grand challenge that we still do not know if it is an “impossible” or just “seemingly impossible” quest for humanity. And before we know we only have one ecosystem, our planet.

We shape our joint future step by step, day by day and action by action. A learning from the 2020 advent calendar is in its title, Mirakel. Not in its literal meaning (miracle), but it is made up as a synthesis of the past and the present, of the present and the future. The protagonists in the Mirakel story are called Mira and Rakel, and Mirakel is a synthesis. Literally.

The protagonists in our narrative of the future are you, me and everyone else. “Act now”!