In a post back in 2018, I described a phenomenon that contributes to the rapid Acceleration of innovation and scientific breakthroughs. Peter Diamandis coined the term Techno-Philanthropists and compared and contrasted them to the Robber Barons of a different era. Billionaires get a lot of negative press these days – but one thing is clear: their wealth is both accelerating the pace of innovation and addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. Stories described by Articles like this one highlight the point.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, pledged $10 billion to combat climate change, calling the phenomenon the “biggest threat to our planet.” Some will debate the motivations driving this agenda, as Amazon takes steps to address its role in contributing to global warming and faces internal pressure from its own employees. Skeptics will say this is a public relations move. Per the above article, the company unveiled a commitment to meet the Paris Agreement goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2040, 10 years earlier than what most countries had previously agreed to. The online retailer’s plan to achieve that goal includes an order for 100,000 new electric delivery vehicles and a $100 million investment in global reforestation projects.
Whatever the motivations, the outcomes are the same: acceleration towards a very different kind of Future. In our polarized society, plenty of people will say that climate change is overblown. Let’s set aside the climate change debate and instead focus on outcomes. As this new Earth Fund takes off, Bezos will provide grants to scientists, activists, and non-governmental organizations researching and fighting climate change. As he does so, and as other Techno-Philanthropists like Bill Gates join in (he already led the creation of a billion dollar Breakthrough Energy Venture), acceleration towards an outcome occurs. In this case, the complete transformation of the current Energy Paradigm. So while people engage in endless climate change debate, innovation and scientific breakthroughs advance towards an outcome.
This energy story is very complicated and I fear the climate change debate distracts from emerging realities. For example, a recent report published by the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK), which operates under the government’s Ministry of Economic Affairs warns that the increasingly unsustainable economics of the oil industry could derail the global financial system within the next few years. The report arrives at the shock conclusion that the economic viability of the entire global oil market could come undone within the next few years. The article takes an in depth look at the reasons it came to this conclusion. The report goes on to say that the world needs to urgently transition away from fossil fuels, but it may be too late to do so in a way that avoids an economic crisis. And doing so will require industrial civilization as we know it to be fundamentally transformed.
I paint this picture for a reason. There are multiple forces Converging to shape our future, and a myopic focus on one force fails to consider all the others. While some focus on climate change and avoid addressing it for economic reasons – another force sneaks in to create the same economic impact, leaving us no time to prepare. We have to think at the Systems level if we are to avoid big surprises. In a video titled The Great Reset, economist Tyler Cowen uses a great metaphor of canaries in coal mines to describe the warning signals that seem like local events – but actually represent greater and broader stress. He uses several recent examples to highlight the growing stress in the system and the potential for a great reset in the future. What are the warning signals, the canaries in the coal mine that we should pay attention to?