Insights · November 23rd, 2022
We live good lives. We hope for the best. That is the greatness of humanity. However, we recognize the struggles we face and they become uneasy bedfellows.
Today, we are more advanced and have pathways to solutions that can help create resiliency against the struggling industrial complex.
Constantly transforming water-energy-food ecosystems, waste as a cultural artifact, disease (new and old), multi-generational trauma and mental health declines, and the acceleration of climate change and the effects of global warming are all narratives that we revile or explore to understand more.
One thing is sure. Difficult and dark days will come, and the most difficult will be wrought upon us by natural catastrophes that we will likely have little or no control over.
We have to explore the positive futures that lay ahead and we – most uncomfortably – also look at dystopian trajectories and what will most likely go wrong if we follow principles of greed, control and growth at any cost.
To do so we must, as humanity, consider history as that provides clues of what happened and what we did to survive the difficult times.
In my constant research I look back and forth through history at the strange and the mundane. I sometimes stumble across historical events that we often choose to hide because of the challenges it presents us. Let’s travel back to 536 AD and the volcanic winter that was the most severe and protracted episode of climatic cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years.
The Volcanic winter of 536 AD
In 536 AD, the world saw two years of darkness, famine, drought and disease. Apocalypse.
Written records and scholars from China, Italy, Palestine and many other countries suggest a huge catastrophe blighted the world in 536 AD however the cause of it has been uncertain. It is thought that a volcano is to blame for the dark ages of famine and plague that shaped the world order of today.
This volcanic winter was caused by an eruption, with several possible locations proposed in various continents. Most contemporary accounts of the volcanic winter are from authors in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, although the impact of the cooler temperatures extended beyond Europe.
It has been determined that in early 536 AD, a volcanic eruption ejected massive amounts of sulphurous aerosols into the atmosphere, which reduced the solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface and cooled the atmosphere for several years.
In March of that year, Constantinople began experiencing darkened skies and cooler temperatures, Summer temperatures plummeted between 1.5-2.5°C causing crops to fail and millions to starve to death. In Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia were plunged into 24-hour darkness for 18 months.
“The beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year.”Michael McCormick – medieval historian
The cause? A volcanic eruption in Iceland (sound familiar?) spread ash across the Northern Hemisphere, blocking out the sunlight for over a year. The event kick-started a decade of misery and struggle for humanity.
Summer temperatures in 536 fell by as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit degrees) below normal in Europe. The lingering impact of the volcanic winter of 536 was augmented in 539–540, when another volcanic eruption caused summer temperatures to decline as much as 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 Fahrenheit degrees) below normal in Europe. There is evidence of still another volcanic eruption in 547 which would have extended the cooler period.
These times created a perfect climate for the ‘Justinian’ bubonic plague – the first plague pandemic that began in 541 AD. This spread across the Mediterranean leading to an estimated 25-50 million deaths, between 35-55% of the population, which also aided the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire. Add to that crop failures, famine, and millions of deaths and initiated the Late Antique Little Ice Age, which lasted from 536 to 560.
This video by Real History – ‘536 AD: The Year That The Sun Disappeared’ – takes us deeper into the story:
With catastrophe comes change. We’ve seen this with hurricanes and floods, drought and famine, social uprising, and apathy. There’s little we can do to prepare but prepare for the events that may be. This is not a hardcore call for us all to become preppers but maybe there is something in that philosophy of anticipating something will come.
In fact, apathy is exactly one of the reasons I wrote Facing Our Futures. Short-term thinking and a fear of looking at what might go wrong is our achilles heel. Strength and preparedness comes from holistic exploration of our futures – positive possibilities and dystopian trajectories of what may be.
A significant event like 536 AD may not come in our lifetimes. Or, it may be just around the corner. Needless to say, we are not ready because we choose not to be. Buckle up.
New Book: Facing Our Futures
Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist at futurist.com – has written a fascinating insight into how professionals and businesses can develop their foresight and strategy to ensure that they are prepared for an unpredictable future.
Businesses, organizations and society-at-large are all subject to unforeseeable events and incidents that often have a dramatic impact upon prosperity and profit. Due to their unpredictable nature, business leaders and executive teams are unable to prepare for these specific events. But, through innovation, strategizing and an open-minded approach, they can restructure their organization and practices in order to mitigate (or even take advantage of) the impact of such events.
In Facing Our Futures, Nikolas Badminton draws upon his decades of experience as a consultant and futurist to provide readers with the skillset and outlook they need to prepare their organization, team and themselves for whatever obstacles the future may hold. CEOs, executive teams, government leaders and policy makers need to gain a broader perspective and a firmer grasp on how their relevant industry, society or community is evolving and changing. Once they have acquired this foresight, they need to then discover how to fully harness it – by strengthening their foundations, forecasting and establishing a resilient and adaptable strategy.
Facing Our Futures acts as a primer on the value of seeing how bad things can get and the power in imagining these futures. It also provides a proven strategic planning and foresight methodology – the Positive Dystopia Canvas (PDC) – that allows leaders to supercharge their teams to build evocative visions of futures that strengthen planning today.
You can preorder Nikolas’ new book ‘Facing Our Futures’ at Amazon, Bloomsbury, Barnes and Noble and other fine purveyors of books. We’s also love it if you considered pre-ordering from your local, independent book store as well.