Insights · December 8th, 2006
As a futurist, I often talk about the speed of change. Instant and cheap global communication and huge increases in computing power have increased the rate at which we share and build on knowledge. Significant advances are being made in medical science, nanotechnology, bioengineering, space flight, and more. The graphs about these industries (for example, illustrated by Ray Kurzweil in his book, The Singularity is Near) all show lines on the far right leaping off of the chart as the speed of change itself speeds up.
I listened to a talk by climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert this week, at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. In some ways, it reminded me of Al Gore’s movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth. Graphs showed significant changes, and clear trends in Co2, in warming, in ice melt, etc. It struck me how similar the climate change graphs are to Kurzweil’s. Yes, the math behind them is slightly different since the indicators Gore and Kolbert are following are, so far, linear instead of exponential. But they are off the charts, too, and backed by data across a myriad of scientific disciplines.
Global climate change is happening, and the positive feedback loops built into the process (the more ice you melt, the warmer the water, which melts more ice and makes more warmer water and melts more ice…) are making many indicators rise farther and faster than predicted. I’ll leave it to Kolbert and Gore and the many other climate change speakers to explain the details. But the argument is over.
Would you sit still and wait patiently for a tsunami you knew was coming even if you didn’t know exactly when it would hit or how high the wave was? Or would you start moving valuable goods to high ground?
We’re only beginning to see evidence of climate change in our daily lives. And we don’t know enough to accurately predict what will happen in any one location. The system of currents, jet stream, sea level and temperature, ice melt, and rainfall changes that makes up the climate is too complex to model well yet, although we’re learning daily (see paragraph 1 above).
Even though the exact manifestation of climate change in any one region or its affect on any one business is hard to predict, this is the time to begin to act. Incorporate climate change in strategic and even tactical planning. In any pending significant disaster, mitigation is less expensive than waiting, and reacting. I’ve listed a few ideas to serve as seeds for thought.
- Can you start changing your energy use habits at work? It could increase employee loyalty and give you something good to talk to customers about.
- What about changing your fleets to get better gas mileage and use as much alternative fuel as possible? This has a demonstrated financial payback if you can make the capital investment.
- Can you take advantage of the growing green market by altering your packaging, marketing, product design, or distribution? Are there new products you can create that will appeal to this consumer base?
- I recommend carefully examining location decisions: is it smart to invest in new plant or facilities near the ocean right now? Or even near the current sea level close to any coast? Short of a major tipping-point event, sea level is unlikely to swamp coastlines in this decade, but what about the next one?
- Is your business dependent on (or a manufacturer of) food products that may be affected by heat or drought or unusual cold? For example, there was a recent NPR article on the historical and near-term affect of climate change on premium wine grapes.
- Do you have disaster-resistant IT and a backup site? Global warming increases uncertainty.
- Are there ways to invest extra capital in green energy? It looks like a good bet that carbon use will be much more highly regulated in the next two to five years.
Most of these things are good business anyway. As climate change begins to dominate the political and popular culture (probably eclipsed only by the Iraq war), having a business that is well-positioned with a good record will benefit you.
NPR article: Global Warming Endangers California Wine Industry
Futurist.com blog entry by Glen Hiemstra: Waiting to Act on Global Warming will Cost More