Friends and colleagues, I need your help. If you aren’t already wearing them, please find and put on your future-tinted glasses.
20 years on from the launch of the triple bottom line, long symbolised by the trinoculars shown below, I am head-banging again—working on the early stages of the next phase of the Volans Breakthrough Capitalism program, with core funding now secured from the Generation Foundation.
The word breakthrough may trip off the tongue, but it begs the question: Breakthrough to what? For us, the Breakthrough Challenge involves capitalist societies embarking on an accelerating market transition to a future powerfully shaped by a new scientific worldview—the Lovelock Paradigm.
Anyone who wants a quick dip into the world of paradigm shifts, would be well advised to at least skim this blog by David Weinberger.
Our emerging scientific paradigm was sparked by the work of James Lovelock, particularly his invention of the electron capture detector, his work for NASA on the detection of life on Mars, and the evolution of his Gaia Hypothesis and Theory. It encourages us to view the Earth as a single, integrated system, to a degree self-regulating—but surprisingly vulnerable to actions that adversely impact critical elements of the system.
Like earlier paradigm shifts (to the Copernican view of cosmology, for example, or the Darwinian view of biology), the new paradigm—evolving since the late 1950s—is already transforming markets, business, finance, government and politics.
My assumption in all of this is that, as Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions way back in 1961, paradigm shifts take place on generational timescales. They proceed one death at a time. Time has to remove both those who were deeply infected by the previous paradigm, and all the memes that went with it, and many of those they infected in their teaching careers.
As a result, I have always assumed (I read Kuhn’s book when I was 13 or 14) that a true paradigm shift would take 70-80 years to effect. If that is the case here, and Lovelock’s invention of the crucial piece of technology, the electron capture detector, happened in 1957, then we are talking about a timescale out to the late 2020s or 2030s. In the next phase of our Breakthrough work we are reining ourselves in a little, focusing on what we are dubbing the Breakthrough Decade, from 2015 to 2025.
Among other things, I see the Lovelock Paradigm assuming that:
- We are moving into the Anthropocene era, where our economies, technologies and lifestyles have impacts on a geological scale
- Everything on Earth is connected, with complex and difficult-to-predict feedback loops
- Humankind has already exceeded some planetary boundaries at 7 billion people—and is predicted reach 9-10 billion later in the century
- New technologies and transparency processes are making these loops, connections and boundary conditions increasingly visible
- Global governance mechanisms struggle to cope, but by the 2050s activities that damage the self-regulatory mechanisms of the planet’s atmosphere, oceans, land surfaces and biosphere must be brought back under control
- A core strand in future politics and business will be the reconciliation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities
- New types of capitalism and market mechanism will be central
- Demand for policies, technologies, products, services and investment that protect and regenerate natural systems will grow exponentially
- New types of market research and intelligence will be needed to track the value and wealth created
- Core disciplines of business, including accounting and economics, must undergo unprecedented change to adapt to the new paradigm.
These 10 elements of the emerging paradigm are those that occurred to me as I thought all of this through, but I would be fascinated to hear what items you would add to the list – and which you would take away, and why. Answers to me, please, at john [at] volans [dot] com.