Change, urgency, and new opportunities: talking about climate change during a pandemic

June 18, 2020
Photo by Deborah Diem on Unsplash

Photo by Deborah Diem on Unsplash

I have been thinking a lot about climate change during the COVID-19 times (and so have many many many others). Two things have struck many among us, and have repeatedly been brought up in discussions I have been a part of. The first main theme has been “nature returning”: clearer skies, cleaner waters (or in the case of Venice probably less silt being stirred up, but still), animals claiming their place in quieter streets. Here in Cyprus, I sometimes find myself missing the lockdown curfew: I could see owls gliding past my balcony then. The change seems immediate and considerable. The second theme has been the clear impression that citizens, governments, businesses, and pretty much any agent you can name are prepared to make radical changes in the face of radical and immediate threats. The relative scarcity of such changes (from all of us) in the face of climate change, suggests that we do not actually, truly, believe it is a radical and immediate threat, and those few who do (or who see it every day and are experiencing the consequences already) are lone voices shouting in the desert.

And now this has happened: a new virus has come, and the whole landscape around us has shifted. If COVID-19 and the lockdowns are an ongoing earthquake, then new paths have opened and we can now cross what used to be impassable mountains. Turns out a lot of the travel wasn’t really necessary (which shouldn’t come as a surprise to most of us). Turns out a lot of the lovely places of the world we are destroying bit by bit through our touristic presence would be much better off without us and that tourism is not a sustainable basis for an economy. Turns out there are lots of things wrong with the bases and assumptions of our economy (this REALLY should come as no surprise). And many of us have rediscovered the pleasures of home, and reading, and family. Now, none of these things is new, and just like with climate change people have been shouting them for ages. What is new is the number of people that have suddenly and vividly been made aware of them. In this changed and changing landscape, with its new rifts, valleys, and mountain peaks, we can do new things.

So I do not think there is a better time for me to return to some of the concerns Dave brought up last year, through what I have come to call the Acorn Study: action and inaction and the bases behind it, small actions and the shifts they cause, sideways approaches to the enormous monster of climate change. At the beginning of the year, when COVID-19 was still something most of us were ignoring because it was the problem of others far away (sounds at all familiar?), I and Ellie Snowden started working on compiling bibliography for the impact of small actions and the causes of inaction around climate change. This lead to a comprehensive whitepaper that is to become the background of the next phase of our climate journey: a series of approaches from different angles that are all meant to explore the routes, crags, and hidden paths of this new landscape, so we can all better find our way, available to organisations to use. 

You can can read it HERE, or email us if you want more information, want to apply parts of it, or want to work with us and others in developing additional approaches. 

HERE you can find a much shorter and lighter outline of our newly-launched fledgling programme.

I want to close with an extensive quote from Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, a book I read recently and that inspired the illustration for this post:

“The idea of the Anthropocene repeatedly strikes us dumb. In the complexity of its structures and the range of its scales within time and space – from nanometric to the planetary, from picoseconds to aeons – the Anthropocene confronts us with huge challenges. How to interpret, or even refer to it? Its energies are interactive, its properties emergent and its structures are withdrawn. We find speaking of the Anthropocene, even speaking in the Anthropocene, difficult. It is, perhaps, best imagined as an epoch of loss – of species, places and people – for which we are seeking a language of grief and, even harder to find, a language of hope.”
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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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