/ˈtəːmɔɪl/ – A state of confusion, disturbance or uncertainty. A very apt word, not for the word games I was playing over the holidays, but for everything else that’s going on around us. Facing in one direction I find my British cousins, friends, co-workers, or at least neighbours, convulsed in the throes of Brexit. The consequences of this poorly formulated plan to extract the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union project are vague at best and potentially disastrous at worst, and it seems that no matter what happens, roughly half of the UK citizens who express opinions on the matter will be disappointed. It’s an unhappy state of affairs, and not likely to get better any time soon.
If I do a 180 and look towards that other horizon I discover another world of chaos in the United States of America, that amazing place mostly located in the northern part of the American continent and comprising such a wonderful mix of people of all kinds, colours, creeds and outlook, all in perfectly balanced disagreement. As I write this, a sizeable chunk of their government has pulled down the shutters while various political factions argue over who is to blame and where their priorities lie.
The world abounds with instability. East, West, North and South. A lot of it is political. A lot is economic. It dredges up historical conflicts and gives them new, unwelcome, impetus. Like motes in a simmering pot, we are having our own personal Brownian motion experience, not knowing which way we’ll be going from one moment to the next.
While all this is going on, there’s another pot boiling and it’s also world-wide. In fact, it is the planet itself. All of the evidence is clear, at least to those who accept the veracity of such evidence, that our pale blue dot is having a bit of skin trouble. Skin? Well, the troposphere (where the weather happens) is about 12km high on a planet that is a bit over 12,000km in diameter, so what we consider to be the air around us is a mere 1/1000th of the planet’s thickness, which I liken to a quarter millimetre skin of paint on a basketball. Just picture that and contemplate how fragile our climate must be.
It’s no wonder that businesses, large and small, appear to be on a roller-coaster. Quick swings up as sudden opportunities arise from other people’s misfortune, and equally steep falls as those same misfortunes rebound in this hyper-connected world. Tariffs and barriers appear with alarming frequency, yet the negative consequences only seem to encourage more of the same. Critical thinking is in short supply.
Those with oodles of money in their pockets make bold claims about planning to leave the planet and settle on Mars, and while most of us laugh at such proclamations there’s an increasing number of people that genuinely wonder if this isn’t such a bad idea.
There’s always a “but”. Usually to burst someone’s balloon, though in this case to point out that all is not necessarily as gloomy as the picture above would suggest.
While the reports surrounding Brexit might give the impression that the British have gone stark raving mad, there’s plenty of contrary evidence that many of HRH’s subjects have taken the opportunity of the past two years to be more informed and do some thinking. The implications of acting upon the advisory referendum of 2016 are now more clear, and an enlightened majority appear to be pressing hard to act upon this new-found knowledge to avoid the shambles we’re increasingly referring to as the “no deal exit”. It remains to be seen if this emerging momentum can sway the machinations of those who govern, and do so in time, but at least there is hope.
Meanwhile, shifts in the balance of power (or at least influence) in the American continent, the USA in particular but not exclusively, could see completely new dynamics at play over the next 2+ years which hopefully will lead to better relations with their neighbours and easing of trade tensions with just about everywhere.
The churning in the world of commerce is ever-present, and when one venture flounders another launches. Even the recent alarm over the faltering fortunes of Apple could be no more than growing pains as it morphs into a predominantly services-oriented company. It’s also inevitable that the nature of work itself needs a big re-think, especially when so many “traditional” jobs are being replaced by automation and artificial stupidity. (Calling it “intelligence” is still a bit of a stretch for me.) Already we can see many universities proclaiming that they are preparing young people for careers that don’t even exist yet. No negative thoughts there for sure.
As for the impending demise of the planet, even that isn’t all doom and gloom. It may seem to some that the faltering Paris Agreement and related initiatives may be too late, the focus on big-picture carbon emissions (mainly oil and coal) may have missed some tricks: food, education and fridges. The Drawdown Project examines all the ongoing initiatives that are both inherently desirable and positively impactful on the climate, and has compelling data that shows that if we combine and maximise the best of these initiatives we can indeed deal with the climate challenges. In the food area the reports highlight food waste, better use of plant-rich diets and the mixing of trees with traditional pasture lands. Electricity generation includes having solar panels on roofs and on land that’s not good for food production, and there’s strong support for onshore wind turbines. Properly dealing with refrigerants when disposing of fridges and air conditioners will, according to the Kigali Accord, be the most effective industrial action to deal with climate change. But highest of all is the societal action of providing better education and family planning to millions of girls and young women who currently can only dream of such access, because the consequence of these actions would be to reduce population growth (and hence the carbon footprint), reduce maternal mortality, improve life-long health and increase productivity.
So, as we stumble into 2019 we find on the one hand that we have the potential to make a monumental mess of everything, and on the other hand we have the power to solve all our problems.
Or we could hitch a ride to Mars.