I was privileged to attend Ben duPont’s Non-Obvious dinner last night.  Ben assembles a wonderful constellation of brains from academia, business, government and media, and poses the challenge:  Postulate a scenario at least 5 years in the future and give us the implications, with emphasis on the non-obvious.  Fascinating stuff.

Attending for the second time, I always leave the event with enthusiasm and hope for our future.  Those that know me would agree I am an optimistic person.  And so I caution you that the scenario I presented last night, and share here, is uncharacteristic and dark for me.  It is a scenario sketch intended to stimulate action and prosperity, not to drive people into their bunkers.  It is not a prediction.  That said, you may not want to serve it to your dinner guests.

Here goes:

We Fail to Address the Cause of Climate Change Before a Major Upset, and Have to Shift to Mitigating Temperature

Greenhouse gas inventories and trajectories will awaken one of the so-called ‘sleeping giants’ (Prof. Laurence Smith, UCLA):

  • Disruption of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation
  • Melting of Greenland ice sheet
  • Un-sticking of the frozen Western Antarctic ice sheet from its anchor
  • Disruption of Indian Monsoon
  • Disruption of El Niňo patterns
  • Release of methane trapped in permafrost
  • Rapid die-back of Amazon forests.

Greenhouse gas mitigation arguments are abandoned in favor of geo-engineering projects instead, shifting from prevention of cause to mitigation of effect (temperature), e.g.:

  • Manufacture of bright marine clouds or marine cloud reflectivity enhancement
  • Dispersal of sulfur dioxide in upper atmosphere mimicking Mt. Pinatubo effect (20 million tons SO2 resulting in -0.5 deg. C. effect)
  • Space shield.

We have a global economy, but no global governance to address inequities and unintended consequences.  IF the funding for geo-engineering at global scale is assembled, the project organization will emerge as a global, quasi-sovereign entity.

National governments, including the U.S., failing to have addressed the run-up, will fail.  After all, in the U.S. we are conditioning the population to blame any incumbents for disaster – deserved or not. [Note: I grew up on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and experienced many hurricanes.  I was surprised to learn Katrina was, listening to media anyway,  ‘the government’s fault.’]  Regional governments will emerge and dominate as local populations band together to garner scarce resources and defend against climate refugees.

Meanwhile: Carbon Management will Force Redesign of Supply Chains

We may get carbon management legislation.  More likely, our industrial leadership will rise to the challenge of mitigating our fossil fuel appetite.  After all, this is too important to be left to our political process.

When we do, managers and stockholders are generally unprepared and unaware of the carbon distribution across supply chains. Our current supply chains are optimized for low cost without cost of carbon (and many other externalities) associated with burning fossil fuels.

Managers will catch on:  if you own it and it burns fossil fuels, YOU are responsible.

This insight will generate:

  • Massive de-construction and re-construction in different configurations of our supply chains
  • Divestitures and many new business entities
  • Lots of arbitrage in real, fuel burning assets
  • Trade in allowances and credits as everyone now expects.

Smart people are needed to do this work.