Co-creating a Climate Resilient World in 2030 and Beyond

Resilience Frontiers, Korea Global Adaptation Week 2019. Photo by the UNFCC 2019

What might a day in the life of a person feel like in a climate-changed world? If you were to wake up in a climate resilient futures Ala Rip Van Winkle say in the year 2050 and was given the privilege to ask at least ten questions, what questions would you ask? What might a climate-changed future be or how might a climate resilient world look like from a futures standpoint? How can emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, big data and blockchain strengthen people, and communities resilience to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change? If technological growth is exponential, are humans and systems capacities to adapt exponential enough to meet new challenges of a fast-changing climate? In what ways can emerging technologies drive innovations in climate change adaptation? How might futures literacy or the future impact people and institutions perspectives on climate change? What new visions, new questions, and leadership thought streams could emerge when visionaries and thought leaders apply anticipatory tools to innovate and imagine alternative future worlds?

These among many other frontier issues were explored, imagined, debated and deliberated by 100 global visionaries and thought leaders in five-days of collective intelligence and brain-swarming sessions at Resilience Frontiers of the Korea Global Adaptation Week from April 8-12, 2019 held at the Songdo, Convensia, Incheon, South Korea.

The sessions employed UNESCO’s Futures Literacy Laboratory Framework and Futur/io’s Moonshot Approach to deconstruct and reconstruct climate change futures.

Resilience Frontiers is an inter-agency effort undertaken by the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Secretariat in collaboration with Canada’s International Development Research Centre, EIT Climate-KIC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Global Water Partnership, the Green Climate Fund, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

According to the UNFCC, climate change adaptation means solutions or actions that respond to current and future climate change impacts. Adaptation is systemic and structural (social, technological, economic, political, cultural, ethical) changes in responding to mitigate the impacts of and create opportunities from climate change.

Waking up in a Brave New World: Rip Meets Sophia 12.0

Imagine you were Rip Van Winkle who was deep asleep for the last twenty years; wakened up by Sophia, 12.0, an advanced AI, in a brave new world. Wandering, perplexed and confused, you’ve begun asking people what, how and why the new world.

Using a technological frame and imagining themselves as Rip Van Winkle struggling to make sense of the new world, participants were asked to ideate and list 10 personal questions about the future in which they woke up.

The participants were clustered around four emerging technology themes: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, satellite technology, and sustainability ethos. The groups were asked to ideate, write or list their questions about the world in which they woke up. Anchored on the probable impacts of the fourth industrial revolution, participants reflected on the convergence points of these technologies to explore probable futures.

I was tasked to facilitate one of the four Artificial Intelligence (AI) groups. Questions below were the most compelling that participants came up with. These were shared with the group and later to the plenary. The questions were also shared via social media:

  • Are there still programmers?
  • Is AI opensource and creative?
  • Can we trust data? Can we trust AI?
  • Are AIs used under human supervision or are they completely autonomous?
  • Was AI the best solution to climate change problems?
  • Can AI help mitigate the causes and impacts of climate change?
  • Was AI able to help reduce global temperatures to 1.5 degrees?
  • Do we have augmented human intelligence – body/machine interfaces?
  • Do most people work to make a living?
  • Do we have the resources we need to build and deploy AI tools and solutions?
  • Are Big Techs owning AI?
  • Are algorithms certified?
  • Is AI empathetic?
  • Do you trust AI?
  • Has quantum computing broken through?
  • Do AI technological solutions currently exist to solve some of the problems related to climate change?
  • Has general AI been developed and deployed?
  • Are we dependent on AI for survival?
  • Is seed AI a reality?
  • Has technology helped us in preventing/countering famine, wars and other global challenges?
  • Have machines taken over power?
  • Has politics become AI?
  • Do we have AI continents?
  • Are governments in charge of designing AIs we are relying on?
  • Is there a stable and effective to enforce global cooperation?
  • Am I living in a liberal-democratic nation-state?
  • Is China running the AI show?
  • Is AI regulated?
  • Are AIs regulating resource allowance? Work assignments? Schedules? Politics?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Influencing Futures of Basic Needs

The next session had the participants reshuffled around five basic needs to survive and thrive in a climate-changed world: Food, Water, Nature, Human Security, and Health.

The groups were asked to take the discussion points from the probable futures of technologies session and explored their convergence points and impacts to futures of basic needs. Each participant were again asked to ideate individually, reflect on them and share their ideas and insights to the group. The group would then report back to the plenary to share the group’s output.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon addressing the Korea Global Adaptation Week. Photo by UNFCC 2019

I facilitated one of the groups that tackled food futures. Below is a summary of the groups’ output on the future of food in a climate-changed world:

  • Technology or ethos discussed: Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Blockchain
  • Key points that summarized their discussion: 1) Technology, when it aids for production, is promising! 2) There is a need for an integrated farmers systems that universalize access to trade and markets and that helps and sustains them to stay resilient; 3) There is a need for a technology enabling global food system that guarantees food safety, security and sustainability.
  • Hashtag for each key points: 1) #foodcanfixit; #osmosis; 2) #resilientto1.5C; 3) #unchainedfood; #ALOHAS; #singularfood
  • Brief Thematic Title: Resiliocene or Sustainology

Envisioning Desirable Futures via Moonshot Thinking

Climate change, its magnitude, and multiplicities of impacts, real or imagined, to people and communities are huge wicked problems. Business as usual solutions is usually not enough to solve complex global challenges like a pandemic, food crisis, water crisis, species extinction, terrorism, etc. Simplistic or one size fits all solutions makes wicked problems even more wicked. Tackling wicked problems such as climate change requires individuals, people, organizations and systems to imagine and do the impossible. In other words, you need to shoot for the moon or create wicked opportunities to address wicked problems!

Moonshot thinking according to Google X is the creation of ridiculous ideas or solutions that borders between reality and sci-fi! Moonshot thinking is all about taking on global-scale problems with radical solutions through some form of breakthrough technology with 10X more impact. Netflix disrupting streaming, AirBnB disrupting hotels, Uber disrupting public transportation, Tesla PowerWall disrupting energy storage, self-driving cars, power loons providing internet to everyone are examples of moonshot ideas and solutions creating more impact.

The first moonshot sessions enabled participants to learn foundational moonshot via future/io’s structured, design thinking inspired and Zen-like approach to moonshot thinking. Building on Day 1’s discussions and output of probable futures, participants envisioned their desirable futures, individually reflected on it and designed moonshot ideas in breakthrough technologies to solve food, water, security, nature and health problems. Here are some of the participants’ moonshot ideas in a climate-resilient world:

  • Remote sensing energy irrigation systems and aggregation platforms that facilitate sustainability and that support smallholders farming/farms access to fair markets, manage climate shocks and avert losses;
  • Transparent pricing systems for agricultural products through blockchain and application based systems that compute agricultural carbon emissions. The system transforms consumer choices and empowers them in their investment decisions supporting climate-resilient food systems and choices.
  • Outdoor working transport pods connecting people and nature to create healthier homes and a better working world. Less physical and more virtualized services reduce carbon emissions during construction and operations.

Reframing: Breaking Free from the Business as Usual Trap

The moonshot thinking session allowed participants to imagine their desirable futures by conceptualizing, inventing or improvising a breakthrough technology or new sustainable practices to create a climate resilient world. Building on their previous discussions on the convergence points of emerging technologies, they were able to reflect on some radical solutions to some huge problems facing food, security, water, health and nature futures. What I have shared here was just the tip of the iceberg as participants might have roughly conceptualized around 50 moonshots.

Now the reframing session was about enabling participants to question their probable and desirable futures. By identifying the gaps and making upfront their biases about the future of basic needs and knowing what informs or drives them in perceiving alternatives and in imagining a climate resilient world, participants were able to distance themselves from their probable and desired futures and think of alternative ideas and questions their assumptions of the future.

Questions such as was our probable and desirable futures a used, purchased or default futures? Was our moonshot ideas driven by the status quo? Were our assumptions about desirable futures business as usual driven? What are the gaps or what were our biases in imagining probable and desirable futures of a climate resilient world? Were our moonshots bold, daring, radical or ridiculous enough to create 10x more growth and 10x more impact? Or were these moonshots a byproduct of trends? were asked to trigger conversations at the reframing session. Tools such as the Causal Layered Analysis and the DESTEP framework were learned and applied to push the boundaries of extrapolation, map and deepen participants analyses and insights and explore the unimagined or unthought of.

The session began with the head of UNESCO’s futures literacy Riel Miller’s short video explaining the context and intent of reframing via the futures literacy laboratory framework. According to Riel, reframing is all about imagining the future without paying attention to probabilities or desirability. Reframing is about abandoning the idea that the future is something that we want to get to but rather reframing is the place where we play by using our imagination, a critical resource, the future. It is an attempt to rethink without being constrained by reality. Reframing is an exercise where we invent a world that we have not seen before. It has to with unique creations and acknowledging that the future is fluid and open requiring a change in the conditions of change. For more about UNESCO’s futures literacy laboratories and the learning intensive society, check and download https://www.routledge.com/Transforming-the-Future-Open-Access-Anticipation-in-the-21st-Century/Miller/p/book/9781138485877

Questioning Assumptions about Food Futures via Causal Layered Analysis

CLA or the Causal Layered Analysis is one of the most powerful foresight theory and tools used by futurists and policy analysts to analyze and integrate diverse modes of knowing reality to explore plausible futures. The tool is applied not for its predictive value but it allows end-users to peek layers of, vertical and horizontal, plausible futures. The real or the future can be deconstructed, understood and re-imagined at different levels namely: the news headlines or the litany and quantitative trends; systems – STEEPLE analysis or technical analysis backed by data; worldview – the deeper values that are actor-invariant or discourses we use to understand or frame an issue; and the metaphor or myth level of analysis that incorporates emotional feelings, the narrative that constitutes reality or the inner story level of experience that gives meaning to beliefs, values or cognitions. For more about the Causal Layered Analysis, check or grab a copy of CLA readers at http://www.metafuture.org/product/cla-reader-and-cla-2-0-pdfs/.

The group that deconstructed their assumptions of probable and desirable futures, the food group, in particular, acknowledged their biases in that each of them interprets the problem as they’ve experienced them. The fact was that they were influenced or that they’ve held onto some deeply held views or value propositions to what and how must the future of food be and should be like. It was difficult to distance oneself from the analysis and it was even more challenging to imagine the future beyond the business as usual. Via the CLA, knowing our cognitive biases enabled participants to not just be aware of them but to open up, disclose and share these biases for a deeper and more inclusive, sublime or perhaps a more spiritually or emotionally connected, or for lack of a better word, mindful or being-full conversation.

Youssef Nassef, Director, Adaptation, UNFCC welcomes the facilitators and participants of the Resilience Frontiers. Photo by UNFCC 2019.

Participants were able to individually and collectively reflect on what their biases in their assumptions were and questioned them. The breadth and depth and the layers of the group’s reflections revealed a previously dormant futures assumptions. The quality and inclusiveness in the conversations, the content and contexts were surprisingly different from what was imagined or discussed on Day 1. Some unique ideas and perspectives of alternatives hit the group and me, as a facilitator, to the core. The group began to re-frame the future by questioning them at different levels of reality.

News headlines – What if there are no one way of getting people or farmers organized to scale and upscale their interests in production, consumption, trade, and markets, etc. at the local and global levels? What if singularity or homogeneity leads to oppression or authoritarianism? What if our choices evolve into something more heterogeneous and not homogeneous? What if all that has been or that what we’ve had previously assumed or imagined are disrupted by some certain events like a global catastrophe that leads to global food crises? What if this one singular desired future or breakthrough technology increases single point of failure types of risks? What if suddenly our body mutates into something that requires lesser physical food? What if the food we eat becomes weirder? What if the way we produced and consumed food evolved into something really strange (something that was un-imagined in 2019)? What if we humans due to some human body induced, tech-altering human natural biology suspends or totally ends the feeling of hunger or need of food in human bodies (i.e. neural food ends human hunger in 2040)?

Worldviews – The bias of scalability is in itself a problem; The bias that I have the solution to every problem and jumping straight to a solution or our tendency to commit ourselves to a singular solution blinds us from knowing what the problem really is, is the problem. This holds us back from being, from knowing, from experimenting and innovating; Being super optimistic or being overly pessimistic is a negative cognitive bias.

Metaphor – Our tendency to upscale, intensify; the human addiction to speed and growth; the pursuit for excellence is our fatal flaw. The strong belief or the mindset to expect an outcome is a perceptual and behavioral bias. The expectation of an outcome is a corrosive cognitive bias. It shuts us off from imagining an alternative story of the future; of life and progress. (To be continued…)

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