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No Man is an Island: Confinement Reading

No Man is an Island: Confinement Reading
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About the Author

Chris Stoate

Chris Stoate

Chris Stoate holds degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Toronto. He founded and operated LaserNetworks, an international IT services firm in the print space with a significant environmental contribution. Chris has an interest in public education and served on the Halton Learning Foundation Board and the United Way Board, chairing the Oakville United Way campaign in 2012. He has also been an Oakville Town Councillor.

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The Covid-19 emergency is giving us all time to think, and to read, perhaps more than we have in decades.

For me, it has highlighted in an unignorable way how interconnected we are, how no amount of wealth or technological advancement can eliminate our dependency on a livable planet, a sustainable, reasonably safe and predictable environment, and a coherent society in which to make our plans and fulfill our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families and our friends.
 

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No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main,” wrote John Donne in 1624.

Scientists warned us of a potential pandemic.  They suggested ways to reduce the likelihood (among them the elimination of wet markets in Asia, whence this pandemic is believed to have originated).  They advised preparedness.   Different countries listened to the warnings to different degrees, and the variations in outcomes so far seem to map pretty well against the levels of readiness from one place to the next.

The scientists were right about this.  The next train coming down the tracks they are warning about is climate change.  Quietly, but insistently, speaking moderately so as not either to be dismissed or to incite a useless panic, they have been releasing the results of decades of research by countless experts around the world, from countries of all ideologies, from international bodies, private foundations and national research institutes.  It makes sense to assume that if the scientists were right about the pandemic we should take their warning about climate change very seriously.

Their warning is that we don’t have much time now to avoid a tipping point where at the very least unpredictability of a kind we have never experienced becomes the norm, and where the disruption we are experiencing now doesn’t end in a few weeks or months and makes a mockery of hopes and dreams for the future.

Could there be a better time to learn more about what this might mean, and what actions we can take to work together to avert the worst consequences of the effects of our fossil fuel powered economies on our children’s futures?

Here are a few reading recommendations…to be read in the order below if you want to feel empowered and hopeful rather than despairing at the end!  All of them are readable…there are some technical discussions, but none are dense or boring.

The Wall

Author: John Lanchester

A dystopian novel of a Britain after “The Change”, beaches replaced by a perimeter sea wall against the risen ocean, where everyone serves a term of national service guarding against boat-borne refugee “Others” attempting to enter the country.  Unsettling, frighteningly believable.  A picture of life in a perfectly changed world, with social structures adapted to the new reality, and human relations altered.  Many who lived before The Change are still alive, and the inter-generational dynamic is predictably tense.  One scenario grounded in scientists’ predictions as to what inaction today might mean to everyday life in the not too distant future.

The Uninhabitable Earth:  Life After Warming

Author: David Wallace-Wells

Wallace-Wells describes in great detail the consequences of different levels of global temperature change on different parts of the world, subject to the actions we choose to take and to how quickly and aggressively we take them.  Chapter titles like “Heat Death”;

“Unbreathable Air”; “Economic Collapse” give a flavour of what is in store for us depending on our actions right now.

For all the book does not sugarcoat the issue, it is immensely readable.  It is unflinching about the risks we face and clear about how we can and must guard against the worst outcomes.

The Green New Deal:  Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028 and The Bold Economic Plan To Save Life On Earth

Author: Jeremy Rifkin

Jeremy Rifkin wrote The Third Industrial Revolution, which has been enormously influential on governments in Europe and Asia, and that book and this new one underpin the policies advocated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other young Democrats in the United States.  The book has garnered praise from people as different as entrepreneur Richard Branson and Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

The Green New Deal is a blueprint for the transition to a post-carbon society, harnessing free-market economics and self-interest juiced by wise government policy.  Its recipe for saving the world from the worst impacts of climate change is compatible with a continued drive for greater world prosperity, individual freedom, including freedom from fear and freedom from want for more of the earth’s population.  After the first two books on my list, this one fills the reader with hope, and informs us about how to use our democratic and economic power to foster policies that will leave future generations looking back on us as responsible ancestors.

 

Drawdown:  The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming

Author: Paul Hawken

Assembling scientists and experts, Paul Hawken lays out 100 ways the world can change, with our individual actions, the marketplace and government policy, not only to stop putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but eventually to draw them back out to reach pre-industrial levels.   Like The Green New Deal, Hawken’s project both helps you be informed about how best to influence—and choose—your elected representatives, and what economic and investment choices will enable you to support a transition to an economy that puts our home planet less at risk.  At the same time, it helps you to prepare to benefit from it both personally and as an inhabitant of a more sustainable world.  Our judgement is only as good as the information we bring to it.

Conclusion

One thing you learn as an entrepreneur and business operator is that no matter what you do there will be things out of your control and influence, and events and changes you could not have foreseen.  Many leaders and managers right now are coping with just such an event.  The key principle is to ensure you are proofing your business against those risks you can foresee.   Even if they might never occur, being prepared for them is prudent:  if they do, when the unforeseen comes along, at least it will not be compounded by a weakness in something you could have been ready for.

That is why we have budgets, and when we go outside them and risk the business—or household—with too much debt or leverage, we take action to get these things under control, lest an external event like the Covid-19 crisis bring us down.  (As Warren Buffet put it, you don’t know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out.)

Right now, we are way over budget in greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to cut our overspending and start to pay down the debt. I think the books discussed here can help you understand the extent of the risks we are running, and the steps we can take to help get our carbon emission house in order to withstand whatever other shock Mother Nature or our own feckless behaviour may throw our way.

 

 

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