I’ve been presenting on the future of work all over America – recently on a weekly basis. The standard presentation includes a decidedly stark, black and white opening slide that states, in huge letters: “AI is the great story of our time”.
It certainly is...
But lately, I’ve been adding to my commentary the following: “... with the possible exception of climate change”. There’s NO doubt that climate change is happening – fast. In fact, in Tom Friedman’s wonderful book “Thank You for Being Late”, the great New York Times columnist couched global warming (or, “global weirding”, as he put it) and AI together with market change from population growth as the strategic trifecta of the future, a sort of “troika of tomorrow” we need to confront NOW. (Who knew that Nigeria’s on pace to become the world’s third-biggest country by 2050, passing the USA -- and joining India and China)?
Yet given its potential to despoil the big blue bubble around which we all travel in outer space, climate change is the biggie of these three. But sometimes the most frustrating part is the tendency to “admire the problem” – or cower given its sheer terror. (Anyone who’s listened to David Wallace-Wells jaw-dropping interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast may be forgiven for asking the last person to leave planet earth to please turn out the light....)
Stop Admiring the Problem, Find Solutions
So where are the solutions? And how can technology – and our use of it -- help? I recently attended the inaugural Grounded Summit in Santa Rosa, California (a town that was itself victimized by the changing climate, as a massive firestorm literally sent up huge swaths of it in a puff of smoke in late 2017). What was so different about Grounded – as its name suggests – is that it’s not enough to “admire” the problem anymore. We have to identify and get grounded into solution mode – fast.
And that means using technology.
World leaders like California’s Jerry Brown and Iceland’s former President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson were impressive of their command of the levers of public policy. If we have to slow warming to less than 3 degrees Celsius (a threshold over which consequences would be catastrophic), knowing how it’s successfully done in the world’s fifth largest economy (California, which is booming – sometimes too much...), or the world’s largest producer of geothermal energy (and what it can teach a country like China on a much more massive scale) offers a helpful template in the macro.
Find the Technology to Scale Algae – Stat!
One of the best presentations came from Paul Hawken. You may remember his name as being one part of high-end gardening retailer Smith and Hawken. But he’s also the author of “Drawdown”, which brilliantly offers the top 100 solutions (everything from educating girls to biomass to alternative cement) that we can take NOW to mitigate global climate change. The former Gartner analyst in me immediately sees the potential to take Hawken’s proposals, lay then out according to Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute (ingredients for any good Magic Quadrant!), and rate them by order of magnitude and GET GOING. Let alone provide distant early warning alerts to any VC or hedge fund looking to make a fortune on the industries – and jobs – that will drive solutions to (one of) the greatest stories of our time.
The real trick, of course, is in the ability to execute. This is where we’re stuck today, but there’s bright spots and points of light happening. And some may come about by accident – like that one time a cow wandered onto a beach and starting munching (a type of) kelp. Weird? Well, of huge potential is Asparagopsis taxiformis, a species of red algae, which, according to Hawken, when mixed with cattle fodder, “reduced their methane production by 99 percent—and required a dose of just 2 percent of feed to do so. In live sheep, the same dose led to a 70 to 80 percent drop in methane. Tests have yet to be performed with live cows. With more than 1.4 billion cows and nearly 1.9 billion sheep and goats inhabiting the planet, scale is a major challenge for this solution.”
Get the scientists and grad students at Davis, Cal Poly, Clemson and Texas A&M, Purdue – and everywhere else in the world – working on this one issue, right away! And if scale’s an issue, how can Silicon Valley (and Big Tech in general) provide critical lessons learned on the path to doing that? Maybe that’s where Tesla’s mighty struggles with scale will actually provide the greatest adjacent benefits to climate change, and the impetus for jobs of the future.
Jobs of the Future will be Critical
In fact, jobs of the future will help push the needle in the “Ability to Execute” in all these scenarios. For example, if the idea of a “Carbon Farmer” sounds outlandish, guess what? It – and the science behind it – is real, and it’s happening today. My friend Loren Poncia of Stemple Creek Ranch in northern California is a real life Carbon Farmer, and whose operations happened to be cited by Calla Rose Ostrander of the Marin Carbon Project as a case study at the Grounded Summit. (Loren also happens to produce delicious grass-fed beef served in some of SF’s finest restaurants – and public schools. Perhaps in the future Stemple Creek cows will also be fed with a seasoning of methane-reducing seaweed?).
New technologies absolutely will play a role in execution. Conservation International produced “Under the Canopy,” a film that can be viewed in fully immersive VR via an app, which is intended to educate people on the natural wealth and sensitive lands of the Amazon. Google Maps has been working to help enforce – in real-time -- international fishing exclusion zones in marine sanctuaries. One of my favorite examples to talk about is the Nature Conservancy’s automated software – for fish – called FishFace that provides an efficient analysis of threatened fish stocks using facial recognition and digital photos rather than manual counts on boats or processing plants.
Vertical Farmers are greening – and feeding – the urban cores of the world, helping to reduce temperatures. Tidewater Architects will help mitigate the effects of sea-level rise, by working WITH nature – not against it. Grounded featured as speakers two real-life practitioners helping do it today, Paul and Marta Kephardt of Rana Creek.
Without a doubt, new jobs of the future like these and many more will fuel and turbocharge innovation so that new solutions can be applied -- at scale. Just check out the Environmental family of jobs in our Cognizant Jobs of the Future Index to see the real-reality of this, today. After all, climate change is (one of) the great story of our time. It’s a story that is a (big) problem, but the solutions are out there. Our ability to stay grounded, and execute at scale will be a near-term challenge (and opportunity!) in the future of work.