The age of change through collaboration beckons.

Image & Text: Rajinder Kumar
Originally written on 02.02.2021

Here we are.

A heartbreaking pandemic, democracy tested around the world, the concerning wealth divide, misuse of power, and so much more - all, on the grim backdrop of a global climate catastrophe. What will the lens of history reveal about us to future generations? 

Perhaps it will tell them how 2020 provided unequivocal evidence on the true connectedness of life on our planet and the irreversible debt we are leaving for our future generations. 2021 is out to undo its predecessor in every way. We've all witnessed the unfolding events around the world over the last two months; one thing is becoming quite clear, there is a trend of disruption on the ascendance.

To up the ante, leading scientists have recently warned of the 'ghastly future of mass extinction' and climate disruption that awaits us if we continue on with "business as usual" (Frontiers in Conservation Science).

Now think about this a moment:

"Our collective demands first outgrew the earth's regenerative capacity back in 1980"

Mathis Wackernagel, National Academy of Sciences

Yet here we are. 

In his book The Third Industrial Revolution, American economic, social theorist and political advisor Jeremy Rifkin, paints the scene of an industrial civilization at a crossroads - still clinging on to a sunsetting way of life and the energies that propelled it. He writes about the incoming of a third and last industrial revolution that will pave the way for a new incoming era: the collaborative age.

Simply put, there is no time to wait.

Just reactive won’t do. 

Hyperactive, might buy us a little more time.

Converging technologies & true change.

The “systems view of life” proposes we are seeing a pivotal shift in metaphor - world as machine is quickly becoming world as network.

“Evolution is no longer seen as a competitive struggle for existence, but rather as a cooperative dance in which creativity and the constant emergence of novelty are the driving forces. And with the new emphasis on complexity, nonlinearity, and patterns of organization, a new science of qualities is slowly emerging”

Fritjof Capra, The Systems View of Life

Looking at our planet and the obstacles facing human civilization as part of one system, rather than an array of chaotic events, brings a clarified purpose that sets the stage for real change. We move from the fixation on symptoms and bypass straight to the source. Water cycles, loss of wilderness, food scarcity, drought, pandemics, wealth divide, state collapses… a systems look, provides a fathomable framework to an intricate brief. 

For example: The UN Food and Agricultural Organization have warned of the negative impact of Covid-19 on almost a quarter of the population of Lesothos; reduced household incomes are limiting yields by preventing purchases of fertilizer and shortage funds for workers are cited as chief reasons (The Guardian). As our wilderness is replaced by deteriorating grazing grounds, animals too are joining the worlds growing list of climate refugees, bringing with them the potential for new and frequent outbreaks as quality food and water sources decline and disappear.

Klaus Schwab the executive chairman of the WEF has recently added: “Growing societal fragmentation – manifested through persistent and emerging risks to human health, rising unemployment, widening digital divides, and youth disillusionment – can have severe consequences in an era of compounded economic, environmental, geopolitical and technological risks." (The Guardian)

A groundbreaking  study conducted last year by WWF titled Global Futures reveals the close interconnection between our economy and our impact on the planet.  Their studies show that a business as usual approach is set to cost the world up to $490 billion per year, reaching $9.87 trillion by 2050 - roughly the combined economies of the UK, France, India & Brazil.

Global Futures, WWF, 2020

This seems insane considering that viable alternatives are not only sustainable, but are rapidly coming true on their promise of sharp growth in efficiency as new technologies continue to mature. Take the recent Australian power struggle that culminated in tech giant Elon Musk winning a bet to install a 100-megawatt lithium-ion battery system in 100 days. The bid has not only helped avert blackouts but has been argued by some, that they have also contributed to lower costs for Australian households overall. The story has offered a compelling case study into the economic merits of working with free and abundant energy sources such as wind and solar (Bloomberg). The recent advancements in electric batteries capable of a full charge in five minutes were not only successful, but ready to roll out, brings much hope. It's examples such as this that is leading to healthy speculation of the potential of self sustaining cell. Imagine "a closed loop system that when discharging also recharges itself. A bit of a hypothetical but is it possible?" (Elon Musk 2021, Twitter). The prospect of new ways of thinking and a infrastructure rebuild to overcome our current bottlenecks is an optimistic one, bring new types of jobs and opportunities for all.

Couple this with the prospective emergence of what Rifkin dubs the Collaborative Society, an empathetic growing class, riding the wave of three converging technologies:  the internet for communication, a new renewable energy internet for power, and autonomous mobility fueled by those energies.  A new proposed framework, an "internet of things" will provide the foundation for these to fully thrive. Disruptive new business models centered around sharing are already thriving and will only increase. They will challenge our concepts on what experiences can and should be, and that can only be better for us all.

If you are creative, you should be excited.

We are in an era where everything is on the table. If we want to see impactful change, we must endeavor to remedy.  No more pointing fingers, just working together towards the most important common goal.  We have all the tools to be bold and responsible - to support and cultivate. The time for telling people what to do might be drawing to a close.  Helping people to do means nothing but prosperity for all.  

Design has always harnessed the power to imagine, enable and persuade.  Can we persuade a shift from reckless supply and demand to nurture and share?  Can we speculate a future where brands become value set driving hubs for collaboration?  The potential to reframe, inspire and grow exciting new businesses is all around us.  The potential to help drive the discussion around the hurdles we need to overcome as we venture into this brave new world are also all around us. 

There has never been a more meaningful time to be creative.   

Inspired by our planet.

Informed by history.

Empowered by each other.

Propelled by technology.

Inclusive and ever growing.

Further materials

A Life on Our Planet. David Attenborough, Netflix
Can a new Green Deal save life on Earth? Jeremy Rifkin, Science Pro
Full video
The Consequences of COVID-19 and other Disasters for Wildlife and Biodiversity. Daniel Rondeau, Brianne Perry & Franque Grimand
Full article
Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy. Mathis Wackernagel, Niels B. Schulz, Diana Deumling, Alejandro Callejas Linares, Martin Jenkins, Valerie Kapos, Chad Monfreda, Jonathan Loh, Norman Myers, Richard Norgaard, and Jørgen Randers
Full article
Global Futures: Assessing the Global economic impacts of environmental change to support policy making , WWF
Full article
The Systems View of Life, Fritjof Capra, The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 11, No 2
Read article
Plan B 4.0 Lester Brown
Buy online
Frontiers in Conservation Science
Full report
The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. Jeremy Rifkin
Buy book
The Third Industrial Revolution. Jeremy Rifkin, Vice
Full video
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