The table below maps various thoughts regarding climate change – the biggest crisis of our time. Entries are noted attitudes defining the Crisis and the Status Quo, highlighting the differences that have blocked action for decades.
Cognitive Maps have become the very heart of AI. To understand and automate some human activity, we first have to define its components, how they interact, and the goals. We have to map the cognitive terrain.
These data, beliefs, and other thoughts are organized along the cognitive scale of 9 functions identified in our AI vs Humans study. It’s not perfect, but a sound framework out of our TechCast Expert work.
If this study proves useful, we could expand it to include other intractable conflicts — abortion, gun control, inequality, immigration, etc.
Research Method: The TechCast Collective Intelligence Process
Scenario 1 plans to Anticipate the Crisis quickly and thereby return to normality.
Scenario 2 reacts to Meet the Crisis as it becomes more severe and thereby heads off disaster.
Scenario 3 tries to Stall the Crisis in an attempt to muddle through, provoking a far more dangerous climate shift.
Map of Climate Change
The following analysis suggests provocative strategies that could resolve this conflict.
Analysis of the Cognitive Map
9. Vision Thoughtful, plausible, and inspiring visions of sustainable futures may help resolve the climate problem. If done well, especially with the participation of those opposed, some hearts and minds are likely to soften to grasp that a better world is possible.
8. Imagination, Creativity We certainly could benefit from a healthy dose of creative thought to bolster a sustainable vision.
7. Values and Beliefs This function may be the nub of the problem. How to recast the diehard beliefs of climate deniers? Some will never yield, of course, but an honest engagement with those holding opposing belief systems could possibly shift opinion toward reality, especially if supported by compelling visions and the hard facts further down in this table.
6. Purpose, Will, Choice Noting the actions being taken by governments, corporations and communities should have desirable impacts on overcoming resistance.
5. Emotion, Empathy If those doubtful about the need for change could witness some of the enormous tragedies possibly ahead, a change of heart and mind would make a difference.
4. Decision, Logic This cognitive function demands a great deal. How can we engage people in realistic problem-solving experiences that weigh the evidence to reach sound conclusions for change?
3. Information, Knowledge, Understanding See above. These are major basic elements needed to reach sound choices.
2. Learning, Memory Better processes and information sources are needed to break through misunderstandings to gain accurate knowledge.
1. Perception, Awareness The very source of experiential life. What could creative simulations of the disasters lying ahead possibly do to shift awareness? Visits to locales actually experiencing climate shift? Meeting those who have taken action?
Three Alternative Scenarios
A useful outcome of this study is to examine scenarios of various strategies and their outcomes at about 2030. While endless scenarios are possible, TechCast proposes the following 3 scenarios that seem to capture the most dominant variations:
Scenario 1 – Anticipate the Crisis
Proponents of resolving the climate crisis moved quickly to resolve the problem and revert to the pre-fossil fuel era. They invited opposition leaders to visit locales with unusually heavy floods, wildfires, scorching heat, drought, and violent storms. They spoke with people who were suffering, change advocates, city governments and business leaders. They examined a variety of information sources to break through misunderstandings and gain accurate knowledge of the even bigger dangers ahead.
Some opponents would not yield, of course. But, after engaging all these different parties in participative discussions and problem-solving, along with a dose of creative thought, people reached their own conclusions about remedial actions that would solve the problem with desirable impacts. A compelling vision emerged finally that most agreed would lead to a healthy and sustainable world.
Business will continue with the short-term profit motive and climate change may even trigger more aggressive investment strategies as business leaders “see the writing on the wall.” They feel a need to extract maximum profits before their sector is regulated out of business or experiences structural failure in their supply chain.
Brian (Bo) Newman
I feel that current political climate appears to be moving in this direction but probably not quick enough to achieve stated end conditions.
I think the crisis is being anticipated (in some places by some people at least) but political reality is delaying implementation of any real effective action. Look at the difficulty President Biden is having implementing his big jobs and infrastructure initiatives. “Normality” will come to mean accepting a degrading environment. Probability of widespread acceptance of a looming crisis and implementing near-term effective action.
I agree that the dominant issues blocking action on climate involve subjective forms of thought. For industrialized countries, the fear of loss is key. They fear “other nations will gain and they will lose.” Those in power question whether there will be enough for them, as a result, there is no sympathy for the weak and marginalized in the current situation. The probability of those in power putting policies in place to preserve their futures is very likely. The use of technology and access to information will make the marginalized more aware of how abused they have been and how negatively global contacts have been on their countries and contributions to climate change.
The scenarios are too Western-based with no hope for Southern countries and continued dominance by Western countries resulting in a lopsided future. The West has polluted the planet so badly that the only result for the South is to migrate to the North. The North will run out of resources, leading us to off-world explorations in search of a more sustainable world and leaving what’s left to live under climate-controlled earth domes. We need to change the present economy we are in. There are water shortages in the Western part of the US, but yet we allow Coke to sell us water in a bottle without a green tax. There is no sense in implementing a green tax on Southern Countries that have not been able to participate in polluting the world. Africa is just learning how to use tech and then the West wants to tax Africa? The end result here is that the West and wealthy remain wealthy, while the poor will have to migrate to find sustainability.
I think this is wishful thinking. We all know what’s happening. Yet the system of ‘Big Science’ isn’t adroit enough to effectuate the change in the desired timeframe.
Too much singing of kumbaya in this framing. In general, people don’t and won’t react until their tails are on fire. Politicians are worse.
I don’t see that this is a technical possibility. There is too much inertia in the natural, technical, and social systems. Nothing could be done to slow them down before much more serious destruction.]
Scenario 2 – Meet the Crisis
The mid-2020s proved critical as climate change grew more severe, leaving parts of the southern US, Middle East, Africa, and Asia uninhabitable. The resulting economic disruption caused the global depression that had long been feared as national debt reached stratospheric levels. Climate-change refugees fled to northern regions, cities like New York City struggled to subdue chronic flooding, much like Venice. Public riots soon forced politicians to take serious steps to curtail CO2 emissions.
Forecasts for the coming years were even more severe, creating a global shift of opinion to resolve the climate crisis. Fresh ideas and new leadership emerged to rally a movement to “Create a Sustainable World.” Beliefs flipped as former climate deniers found faith in Nature, and environmentalists accepted the need for economic reality. Green technologies and environmental research were shared around the globe. A universal green tax was adopted, with revenues to be returned to taxpayers. And with millions of high-tech jobs opening in environmental work, the global economy entered a period of clean growth. It is estimated that “peak CO2” or “peak warming” was likely to be reached about 2034.
I am very pessimistic regarding global leaders responding to the climate crisis with the urgency that it demands.I give the second and third choices equal weighting because right now I consider them to be equally probable. What I wish for is scenario 2, especially since I think that scenario 1 is totally unlikely and dread the possibility of scenario 3 actually occurring.
Climate change is not going to be seen as a “day after tomorrow” flipping a switch. It will be a slow onset, incremental set of changes. Similar to the “boiling frog syndrome,” business will adjust to the changes and consumers will pay more for climate-adjusted prices, including things like carbon taxes. The “blah, blah, blah” buzzwords from the political class will become more strident but will be increasingly seen as empty words. We will learn to live with daily news items of disappearing countries, climate refugees, floods and wildfires as the new normal.
Brian (bo) Newman
Without the emergence of effective leadership at the global level, there is still a significant risk of delays in timely response and solution adoption.
This implies that national debt will cause a depression. That is not necessarily accurate. It may in fact be true that the global depression arrives because the national debt did not reach stratospheric levels and hence little action was taken. This appears to be possible in the USA as we edge towards an autocratic oligarchy.
The median scenario has a better chance, but it seems likely to be the 2030s before China, the US, and India feel the heat–pun intended–enough to respond effectively and longer before new environmental policies yield significant benefit.
It is very difficult to see the foreseeable future in the matter. Each has a plausible possibility of dominating the scene for at least the next 25 years – though a Trump second presidency would assure stalling.
Assuming Trump does not “steal” the leadership in 2024, I then expect the middle course – “Anticipate the Crisis” to take the lead at least until 2028 by which time we might finally be ready for the more extreme corrective measures of “Meet the Crisis.” This reflects my confidence that younger people around the globe are increasingly convinced something significantly “green” must be accomplished ASAP.
The Devil of course remains as usual in the details: Can solar be sufficiently upscaled? Will nuclear fusion energy ever make sense? Can existing nuclear plants and their waste be better managed? Can rising coastal waters and flooding of low-lying farmlands be overcome? Will the world’s top 10% agree to pay more taxes to fund green changes?
In short, can we soon develop a complex globe-wide reform formula guided by creativity, imagination, and goodwill? If not, a corrosive stall will increasingly dominate, possibly even despite an increasingly frightening desire to rectify the matter.
I wish I could be more optimistic regarding “anticipate the crisis” but taking into account that key elements of climate protection are being taken out of public investment programs leaves me hesitant. The same seems to be happening in Germany in these days with the Green Party giving in on key climate protection initiatives like the speed limit on the German autobahn – just to gain power and make the new coalition work. Key actions to make climate protection effective tend to be popular for a short period of time after the catastrophes happen (e. g. Californian fire, German flooding). However, people forget too easily, focusing back on their day-to-day business issues very quickly. This is what drives their election decisions eventually resulting in a much less ambitious public climate protection program – a weakness of democracy.
Collective actions are required for avoiding the climate crisis. When some more severe disasters happened, the evidence and witnesses would inspire more voices from the public, and then push politicians to take action.
Green tax might come out and become a universal norm because it is a way to internalize environmental issues into all human beings’ daily life.
Return to the model of the cognitive map, as an economist, I think Information, Knowledge, Understanding, Decision, Logic, Emotion, Empathy are very critical.
This scenario should include well-meaning attempts to geo-engineer around climate change. But some of these programs may well create negative and unanticipated outcomes. Examples might include attempts at weather control, trying to move the Gulf Stream, stirring up the oceans to change their surface temperature, weather weapons (ugh!), changing the earth’s albedo, orbiting sunshades or mirrors. To encourage such programs, the scenario should mention some incentives: prizes, scientific and popular recognition, media hype, and new university courses. Will any of these “solve” the crisis?
While there may be a great migration as a result of global migration due to climate change, a change in global resources from North-South contractual arrangements shifts, forcing Northern counties to change resources for building materials, food, and energy. The universal green tax, while a good idea, still marginalizes developing countries and prevents advancements in using carbon fuels. However, developing countries like Africa, Asia, Middle East, are forced to develop sustainable societies as the west increasingly shuts its borders to climate migration.
Look at what’s happening in the US. We are getting a resurgence of labor movements. If you’re part of the 60-80% of Americans who has seen their wages stagnate over the past 40 years — you can’t afford to worry about much more than family, food and housing. Heck, a sitting U.S. Senator just blocked any subsidies that would ‘discriminate against coal. Coal!!! The current political climate incentivizes the U.S. to double down on buggy whips rather than fusion cells. The hope has to be on private companies to innovate us out this.
This would be my “best we can hope for” scenario. And the developed world will likely jump on this bandwagon. Africa, South America and most of Asia (with notable exceptions) will likely not, as that will decimate their already fragile economies. As an example, no matter what the politicians say, with unemployment at over 44% in South Africa (yes, official figures), the vox populi doesn’t give a hoot about climate change.
This would take an emergency political-social response on the order of WWII or Meiji Restoration. While it would be possible for two groups to rise up fiercely — worldwide angry youth, and old people guilty for killing generations forward — there seems to be no significant political class in the world that could be moved by those groups. The problem with the examples (WWII and Meiji) is that these movements were focused on one society and a more visceral “ethnophilia.” There’s not enough broad “androphilia” or “biophilia” or even “cosmophilia (spiritual)” to generate pressure in multiple societies. But, as I say, the pressure has to move a political class, and no amount of pressure seems capable of doing that in any of the major emitters.
Scenario 3 – Stall on the Crisis
The same environmental threats as above took place, but the comfortable path of muddling through prevailed. The onset of more heat, drought, wildfires, floods, and violent storms was devastating, but opinion remained divided, so there was insufficient political will for serious change. The global economy suffered from lost jobs, rising poverty, and lesser social services. The professional and wealthy classes maintained the bulk of national income.
People tried to adapt in various ways. Some left southern regions as they became uninhabitable, so Canada, Nordic nations, and Russia boomed in population. To fend off excessive immigrants, some countries built borders walls to limit their passage. Investments were poured into green energy, carbon capture, and geoengineering, although it was too little too late. Climate decline continued, fed by big increases in air conditioning and other attempts to stave off the heat. This created a positive feedback loop that increased CO2, merely accelerating the impending shift in climate.
The climate crisis is not new, as we have known about the potential changes and impacts for more than a century already. Stalling is what we do best. It is what we have done so far and will continue to do as long as “it doesn’t affect me personally”. Yes, there will be some feeble efforts to change like carbon taxes, offsets, and climate laws but economies will adjust to these changes. Slogans like “net-zero” will be proven to be idle dreaming and not possible in the real world, especially in industries requiring fossil fuels such as aviation.
I can tell the difference between spin and reality. The following empty words are just spin – green economy, circular economy, net-zero, climate neutrality, clean energy, sustainable cities, carbon capture and storage, decarbonization, decoupling, etc. I have to examine what each of these slogans means in real-life programs and projects. Let’s take “green hydrogen” as an example. The concept is good – use renewable energy (e.g., concentrated solar) to break water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. When you do a life cycle analysis of the system to produce and use “green hydrogen” you find that the carbon emissions are anything but negative – the materials that go into constructing a concentrated solar plant, the transportation of materials and workers, the mining of the catalysts that are needed, the steel that goes into the pipelines, the construction and operation of the shipping to export the hydrogen to Japan, the embedded carbon in the steel production, the steel and other materials that go into constructing the trucks and planes that would use the hydrogen, etc. – and the net effect is an increase in GHG emissions.
For an analysis that claims to be climate neutral or net-zero or climate negative, I challenge the proponent to define the system boundaries and then do a complete life cycle assessment. So far, I haven’t found any technology being claimed as a climate solution actually offering the potential to be climate negative and potentially scalable to the global level. Even technologies like direct air capture of carbon, you find that most of the captured CO2 is actually used to increase the extraction of the last oil and gas from a fracking operation. So, yes, I am pretty sure we will continue to muddle through claiming lots of green credentials that actually don’t stack up in the cold light of life cycle analysis. I really wish I could be more positive, by the way.
I wish there was room for scenario 2.5 where we are not as bad as scenario 3 but still worse than scenario 2. The unspoken truth is we will have to stop burning hydrocarbon as our voracious need for energy continues to increase exponentially. Big Oil knows this, and they will continue to fund climate deniers (fake science) and political campaigns for those who will do their bidding. “The center will not hold” and over the cliff, we go. Advanced AI is the wild card. Severe rational thought could be our rescue.
Brian (Bo) Newman
The emergence of extreme disruptive political factions could disrupt or reverse any meaningful progress.
While I hope with all my heart that I am wrong, my personal take is that scenario 3 is most likely since most of the big powers USA, Russia, Brazil, and India are in the throes of becoming more authoritarian, more fragmented and less open-minded. Europe and China will be swept along by those tides even though there the predominant intent seems to be climate change-oriented. This scenario is the one that has played out historically, no matter the crisis.
I see no real prospect that the largest polluting nations will change their ways before the world is fully committed to environmental catastrophe. The evidence to date suggests that political obstruction will delay their full benefits much too long.
The critical issue, as you rightly point out, is one of values. Unfortunately, the values that matter are those of the rich, powerful, and ruthless. For every Gates and Soros, there are a dozen Adelsons, Kochs, Waltons, Uihleins…the list goes on. The worst of our wealthy have bought a Republican Party to serve them in compounding their money and keeping the heat and the rabble outside their estates. The death of American democracy now being engineered in red-state legislatures ensures that their priorities will dominate the nation’s actions, even as politicians maunder about changing its ways.
For our current purpose, the oligarchies of China and India and the Russian kleptocrats are almost indistinguishable from their counterparts here, save that they need give even less token support to global well-being. The world can expect little help from them a least until Beijing perceives an agrarian uprising in the making.
We do have one last hope. That is technology. So much faster than anyone hoped, wind and solar energy have become cheaper than fossil-fueled power plants, and their advantage grows daily. Eventually, it will be impossible to hold back. But politicians like Sen. Manchin will continue to obstruct them at every step until our window to avoid environmental catastrophe has long closed–assuming it has not done so already, and that is not clear to me.
Effective environmentalism, like almost all other policies I consider valuable, is the stuff of social democracies. The United States isn’t one, and it will not become one soon.
Orwell told us to picture the future as a boot stamping on a human face. Given current political trends, I picture it as neo-feudalism, or perhaps neo-manorialism, the rich and their servants living behind well-guarded walls, while the serfs scratch for a living outside. One group will be comfortable no matter what happens to the environment. The other won’t matter.
The reason I weighted scenario #3 so heavily is that I always try to take a total system view:
- Environment (not just climate and weather, but toxicity, air, water and soil contamination, etc.)
- pending economic collapse (from runaway government and corporate spending built upon nearly one quadrillion dollars in total global debt, derivatives, re-hypothecated securities, unfunded liabilities, and “off-the-books” shadow debt)
- more pandemics, as we discussed with Jerry, et al, especially the Nipah virus, which is hundreds of times more deadly than Covid and is already seriously impacting our offices in India
- war and terrorism (always with us, just review 5,000 years of human history), including the growing threat of cyberattacks which can bring a whole country to its knees
- hunger from the collapse of food and supply webs, even before taking climate change into account
- loss of social cohesion that comes with all of the above
So the main reason I rated scenarios #1 and #2 very low is simply that as the economy is already weighed down from debt, and social security and other benefits run dry, another more severe pandemic hits, war and terrorism break out and intensify, along with rioting in cities because of loss of jobs, food, etc. – there is NO WAY people are going to even think about pouring trillions of dollars into addressing climate change
Like Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss we will accept whatever we get and call it the best of all possible worlds. This scenario should include some “normal” progress that accompanies the usual development paths: e.g., electric vehicles brought about through marketing, competition, consumer choices, economic advances, etc. And don’t forget some hopeful random events such as fusion-based electricity generation, new means for massive energy storage, species preserving (or even species re-creation) genetics, teleportation (via entanglement), and who knows what? Will any of these stall the crisis?
While this scenario may prove true, the global economy shifted its use of resources (for example, cement). It was proven that cement, like many of the resources used in the Western building industry, was warming the planet as well as C02 emissions. Southern countries were less reliant on cement and able to leapfrog into the future using drone technology to power personal and public transportation. Southern countries were able to adapt to new technologies and reverted to southern-based architecture long lost or denied by Western countries. Air conditioning in southern countries was a luxury anyway, and the poor had not benefitted for more than 200 years anyway.
I don’t buy the end results — migration patterns, et al — in this option only that we will continue to stall. I prefer to think of it as chipping away at the problem. Change is slow to happen until it isn’t. Socially we’ve gotten there on gay rights and marijuana but not on guns. Change is really slow… until a tipping point is reached. We won’t get to said tipping point on climate through external events (e.g., migrations, equator being uninhabitable, et al). Rather we will get there because innovation will. No one can reasonably argue that coal is the future. No one can reasonably argue that greenhouse gases and smog are great. It’s just that they’re cheap and easy. Things like Biden’s wind farm off the U.S. Coasts may take 5 years to build, or if admins change… 25 years. But they will be built. And they will slow down the crisis and eventually ameliorate the effects. But I don’t see things like ‘climate riots’ or even massive immigration being realistic levers to the sorts of changes. As such stall, stall, stall until either the science is so irrefutable or hope that the next 3 Elon Musks opt to build companies and not work for Apple. And I suspect it’s easier culturally/legally to change the workweek to 4 days/week with two days at home — to limit greenhouse gases — than it is to get 51 Senators to agree on ‘science’ when there are so many monied interests lurking. The changes, if any, will NOT be coming from policymakers.
Most likely scenario, with a probability around 60%, for the reasons already outlined above, and due to the fact that a growing totalitarian ineptocracy (which include mainstream media) struggles to recoup the trust of the ordinary citizen (viz the whole Covid debacle). We need these idiots to be completely honest with us, or we will continue to lend our ears to “alternative” media (which is actually already more trustworthy IMHO).
Clearly the winner. A great deal of energy will be wasted on pointless ‘personal’ good deeds. Heat will need to be reinterpreted as pollution that gets severely regulated and taxed. Easy money needs to be made in a building spree for low-heat infrastructure.
Analysis and Conclusions
We conclude that civilization is facing a moment of truth. This decade will decide whether the world is plunged into a disastrous shift in climate or if it can be pulled back from the brink. Muddling through is no longer enough.
While gloom is everywhere, there are sound reasons for hope. A recent report by the PEW Research Center shows that two-thirds of those living in the US and other modern nations are so alarmed by the Covid Pandemic that they now demand major changes in political, economic, and health care systems. The World Economic Forum called recently for a “global reset” in all spheres of society.
These results confirm the thesis of Beyond Knowledge: How Technology Is Driving an Age of Consciousness. The book faces climate change and other crises squarely, calling it a “Crisis of Global Maturity.” But it also recognizes the forces countering this Global MegaCrisis — the relentless drive of social evolution now moving beyond the Knowledge Age. The next stage of development is an Age of Consciousness, although it is disguised by all the post-factual nonsense being spewed from both right- and left-wing radicals. Liberals focused on being woke, politically correct, cancel culture, defund the police, etc. — while conservatives insist on the big lie, anti-vaccination, and climate denial, etc. All these claims are beyond knowledge — they are subjective thought, or higher-order consciousness.
This conclusion is supported by the cognitive map of the climate crisis. The dominant issues in the map involve subjective forms of thought (cognitive functions 5-9) rather than objective thought (functions 1-4). Objective thought (knowledge, logic, etc) is crucial certainly. But the main reason nations are unable to resolve the issues of our time is that action is blocked by subjective consciousness (emotion, purpose, values, beliefs, vision, etc).
If this analysis of social evolution holds, we are likely to witness a historic shift toward global consciousness. All stages of evolution have been powered by revolutions — the Agrarian, Industrial, and Digital Revolutions. This means the Age of Consciousness is likely to produce a “Mental/Spiritual Revolution.” Yes, this seems almost hopeless, but that is usually the case before revolutionary change. Nobody thought the Soviet Union would collapse until it actually did.
William Shatner (Capt. Kirk) exuded an overwhelming love for the planet after orbiting Earth — the foundation of global consciousness.
Beyond Knowledge receives flak constantly for forecasting that global consciousness is likely to arrive about 2025 +/- 5 years. No later than 2035 at the extreme. Despite doubt everywhere, this remains our most likely forecast. We will know in a few years.
This study illustrates the central role of consciousness today. Our next study will examine how extensively consciousness dominates public policy today. We are moving closer to the heart of the problem. Our working hypothesis is that modern nations are today living beyond knowledge in a state of subjective consciousness. Look for our next issue.
We are grateful for the following experts who helped with this study: Owen Davies, Peter King, Clayton Rawlings, Brian (Bo) Newman, Ian Browde, John Meagher, Young-Jin Choi, Margherita Abe, Aharon Hauptman, Kent Myers, Art Murray, Ashish Manwar, John Frieslaar, Art Shostak, Paul Haase, Xin-Wu Lin, Adam Siegel, Ted Gordon, Yul Anderson, Adam Siegel, Clayton Dean, Jacques Malan, Carlos Scheel.