CO2 and the rising middle class: making our way forward through designing for abundance

While abundance is a very real possibility, we are also in a race against time. Can some version of today’s world handle a population of nine billion?

Peter Diamondis, Abundance: the future is better than you think[i]

I subscribe to the following line of thought. It is supported and perhaps best articulated by Ray Kurzweil and others who have made extensive studies of the progress of science, and the progress of applying scientific advances to the problems found by particular fields of knowledge such as neuroscience, finance, genetics, physics, etc.

  1. Knowledge is improving at an exponential pace. Indeed the pace of overturning foundational paradigms in every discipline is itself increasing. Paradigms change regularly now.
  2. Knowledge can be guided by human wisdom and used to create a world of abundance for all.
  3. All includes the entire planet, and all of the people.
  4. Achieving abundance requires business organizations that we have not yet created. We do not have the luxury to seek abundance at a slow pace. We are in a race against climate change and a host of associated problems. In business terms, we have to make a turnaround.

Let’s put our challenge in stark light. We as a world society must accomplish two things, or we face extinction:

First, we will achieve environmental sustainability. Our industry, our infrastructure, our agriculture, our populations and we our selves will live in harmony with the planet.

That means among many things reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, measured by the amount of CO2 in comparison to other gases. As illustrated above, we are at 400 parts per million today, and need to get to 350.

I understand that our political, economic and personal momentum runs counter to achieving this.

On the other hand, I fully expect that at some point we will realize that winning the sustainability race is the moral equivalent to war, multiplied by at least a thousand times. And just as we converted the entire output of the United States auto industry to making only military vehicles during World War II, and did the same thing with every other major industrial system in the United States—as did every other industrial nation on the planet during this same period—we will as a humane society develop the will to overrule special interests and make the changes required. The change will be dramatic, but I am willing to bet on the almost unlimited power of human ingenuity and human determination when they are combined.

Second, people around the planet will enjoy a dramatically higher standard of living, shared much more broadly and equitably than it is today:

We will have a global middle class of many billions of people. Our current unsustainable economic system is on plan to provide roughly middle class standards of living for many more billions of people—and these people know, expect and will be able to demand it.

Rightly or wrongly, billions of the world’s poor believe that substantial change will come, if not for them, than for their children and grandchildren.

Rightly or wrongly, from a carbon footprint point of view, the large industries of the global business community are gearing up to serve them.

Thus the populations that are on the cusp of being able to secure decent lives for themselves will not be denied. Bet with the many, they are not going away.

You can see these aspects of the future as horns of a dilemma and despair. However, if you are a prudent person and are willing to bet your future that both will actually be accomplished, then I suggest that another response is rational: Plan for success. Design and develop your role and that of your family and community based on a conception of the future that is both sustainable and shared by billions of people

If you are a businessperson, consider that your business is unlikely to thrive unless you design products and services that will be part of the future.  And more and more, the design considerations you face will center on solving our most profound problems, including social inequality and carbon dioxide buildup.  Your products and services, in addition to the “job” they solve now, will be asked to pull their weight in the broader race. Said slightly differently, if we assume success at shaping a positive future, there will be little tolerance for products and services that do not measure up.

Implausible?  Pound into your head the admittedly counter-intuitive presumption that in your lifetime demand will successfully drive supply. Demand will overwhelmingly favor survival over self-destruction. The new supply will be far beyond what we can conceive today, as it always is. This is the nature of human thinking and society.

This new context will be what you will live in. What will your role be?

[i] Diamondis, Peter H., Abundance: the future is better than you think/ Peter H. Diamondis and Steven Kotler, 2012, page 217