Christmas reflections, preparing for 2019

My new year resolutions often include an ambition to write more. This year, I’m keen to write shorter, more regular reflections on what I’m learning. Even if they are rough and perhaps unresolved thoughts. My current work and colleagues at Forum for the Future provide me with so much interesting sustainability fodder that I’ve been keen to capture and put into words, as a means to help make sense of what is important and true in creating a more sustainable future. Let’s see if I can keep this up.

The Christmas break provided space to evaluate my existing work and projects. Working at Forum has led me to focus on global-level sustainability challenges and developing strategies to catalyse system-level change. This inevitably requires collaboration between influential and prominent organisations. So we position ourselves as the go-to experts to deliver this, with the experience to design and lead a process that will identify the best strategies to accelerate systems change. The approach and ambitions are big and bold, grounded in pragmatism and deeply needed in today’s world.

I feel good about working with an organisation that has such a positive purpose. The work does require buckets of patience, perseverance and astute skill. Trying to get the right businesses who can influence a systemic challenge to raise their ambitions and play ball is no easy feat. Time is not on our side. We need to move forward at an impossible speed to avert the unraveling of a global ecological collapse. Yet the sense of urgency and scale of change we know is needed is often misaligned with the track-record of businesses, whose progress has traditionally involved small, incremental improvements. The trouble is, if everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little. Despite the warnings of an impending collapse of the planet’s ecosystems and human civilisation, many businesses are unable to move away from prioritising short-term profits over long-term viability. It’s a tragic situation.

But I’ll persevere for now. When I recently described one of our systems change collaborations to a friend, whose expertise and opinion I value, he responded with how draining such a project sounds to work on. I know what he means.

In 2018, we witnessed another year of extreme weather events. A new IPCC report and series of COP 24 climate talks helped remind us of the urgency to work together and step-up action. It’s hard to tell how much this sense of urgency is being felt. Certainly, the USA has taken many steps backward. Meanwhile, our diagnosis of planetary problems is becoming more sophisticated and systems thinking is being more recognised as a discipline to navigate solutions. The greatest challenge is moving influencers beyond a diagnosis of problems, to acting collectively and quickly, without getting paralysed through the process.

One of the interesting discourses for me in 2018 was the Deep Adaptation Agenda introduced by Jem Bendell. I wrote a little bit about it here. As I move into 2019, I feel drawn to thinking more about what resilience, relinquishment and restoration might look like for communities. It’s becoming increasingly likely that radical paradigm shifts will not come about in a managed process. We’ll see many chaotic disruptions. So how can we build resilience to cope with them? And what must we be prepared to relinquish in the world to come? In recent conversations with friends that work in sustainability, it feels like we are now mourning an imagined future we’ve held for so long, and searching for new dreams to fill the void left by the old ones.

Whether society collectively acts or not, the future is going to be highly disruptive. My hope in 2019 is to get a better grasp of this disruption and discover the pathways for responding to it.