The Bali Conference
As a futurist, I look at long term trends and waves of history. The three waves of history we know have been the Agricultural Age, the Industrial Age and the Information Age. The first age began some 10,000 years ago when man first began to literally put down roots. The second age began some 250 years ago with the invention of the steam engine. The third age began some 30 years ago with communications satellites, computers, the explosive growth of the white collar work force and the birth of the electronic global village envisioned by Marshall McLuhan.
We are now entering a new age, the Shift Age. In the months ahead I will write in some detail about this age because â€” shameless plug here â€” it is a name I have coined and is also the title of my book that will be published in the first quarter of 2008. For this column however I will focus on just one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Shift Age. The Shift Age marks humanityâ€™s last, at least on this planet, stage of evolution, the global stage. Humanity has ultimately and finally entered this global stage and there is no turning back.
In 1974, around the beginning of the Information Age, humanity reached 4 billion in number. We are now at 6.7 billion which means that our species has grown 66% in the last 33 years, an astonishing fact. This is one of the two primary drivers of global warming, the shear growth of the species. There are so many more of us. The second driver of course is the increase in per capita energy consumption globally. The continent of Asia, China and India in particular, has experienced an explosion of capitalistic consumption patterns. Many of the parts of the planet that have experienced some of the greatest population growth are now experiencing some of the greatest growth in energy consumption. Intertwined, these two growth curves provide the exponential human contribution to global warming.
Global warming is the first true global issue. What I mean by that is that it is the first issue that can only be addressed, or solved by all of humanity. It is not a problem that a few countries can get together and solve. It will take all of us. The prior issue that put humanityâ€™s survival at risk, nuclear proliferation was an issue that less than a dozen countries needed to sit at the table and discuss. Nine nation states had the bomb and the rest of the world hoped that these nations would act with extreme restraint. Compare that to the Bali conference on climate change which had some 190 nations participating. Addressing climate change successfully will flow from unanimity of all the nations of the world. No one or group of nations can solve it. It is the first great threat to humanity that is beyond the scope of the nation state to solve.
This is the filter through which I observed the United Statesâ€™ participation at the Bali conference. Sure the Bush administration has been brain dead on the issue of global warming and has only begun to realize how behind the curve it is relative to its own citizens (read voters). The U.S. contingent acted as though this issue was like all the others it has faced as the single greatest super power. Take a position and bring the world to its way of (non)thinking. This time it didnâ€™t work. No only was it not leading, but the other nations basically said that if the U.S. didnâ€™t want to lead, then get out of the way and follow the rest of the world. The Bush delegation couldnâ€™t handle that perception, so on the last day it capitulated and joined in, at least partially.
Global warming is the issue that is the first global issue of The Shift Age. It points the direction for humanity. Spaceship earth is a finite place. Unlimited growth cannot go on indefinitely. James Lovelock, the great visionary scientist, came up with the concept of Gaia that the entire Earth functions as a single living superorganism that regulates its internal environment. In his most recent book â€œThe Revenge of Gaiaâ€ he postulates that the organism is sick, is running a fever and that global warming is a self correcting mechanism to ride itself of a virus-like organism that is threatening the superorganism. That â€˜virusâ€™ is humanity. He further states, pessimistically, that unless radical steps are taken soon, the 6.7 billion of us may well dwindle to some 500 million by the end of this century. While that may or may not be a radical idea, it is clear that life as we know it historically has changed forever in part due to our shear numbers. While some still debate whether humans are causing the problem, it is clear that we must join together collectively to address, confront and ultimately do everything we can to reverse global warming. It is a risk management issue. It is a survival issue. It is a global issue that involves all of us, like it or not.