February 9, 2011
Of all the things that need compressing, the most urgent is the time wasted connecting the dots of global “issues” with decisions that working organizations need to make today. We need to get on with them. Compression Thinkers have to be alert spotting items and seeing connections beyond markets. For instance, these past two weeks, connections between crop growth, food, and have-not pushback on “the system” finally began to trickle into news media backwaters.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow even compiled some data showing that food might be affecting Arab street eruptions. It’s too early to ring loud alarms, but this could be the year that long-forecasted global food shortages come to pass, predicted to be when multiple global weather disasters first hit in the same year. Latest in the strings of failures, Australian crops are flood-damaged, and without relief soon, Chinese wheat will be draught-damaged.
However, this year a third or so of American corn will be grown for ethanol, while at the same time recent studies reinforce that, whether for food or fuel, crops can’t be grown on fertilizer forever without letting the soil replenish. The ancient hazard of topsoil loss is still with us, and you can only grow so much from soil without letting it recover. That’s a variation of basic physics: when energy must be concentrated from more dispersed sources, energy yield drops. In addition, natural processes replenish at nature’s speed, not ours, although we can help nature a bit.
And so the food story connects to energy use projections, showing consumption of primary (marketed) energy rising by at least 40% by 2035 (projections were market-based), while another leak suggests that energy reserves are not as high as proponents tout. Energy will affect virgin materials availability too, for most depend on copious use of energy, as Robert U. Ayres concluded in detail in 1997. Not much dot connecting is needed to see that clashing trends will head either to chaos, or to migrating expansion thinking toward Compression Thinking. That’s obviously a huge change. Our most critical time line is our own learning time.
Once into Compression Thinking, we can deal with these clashes, using much more systems insight and imagination than short-term marketing logic. For example, Copenhagen is building a novel trash incinerator, and Scott Brinks has ideas on logistics.