In the flood of information and news, now another text from GCF?  Yes – because our cellphones and computers keep flashing up with news about the coronavirus pandemic, the global economic and social disruptions it is triggering, and about the climate crisis lurking in the background. The result: information overload, calling for a calm effort to develop the understanding needed for reorientation in a world that has suddenly changed.

Read the complete message HERE (printer friendly version HERE)

6 replies
  1. Sander van der Leeuw says:

    Dear Carlo,
    This messsge reaches me at the same time as ASU’s message that it has established the College of Global Futures, combining SOS, SFIS and a newly to be created School of Complex Systems – for me a long-held dream come true, and a wonderful new window for the collaboration between GCF and ASU, for which Manfred and you have been working very hard. Your message is, as usual, strategic and to the point. I am beyond the age of applying for grants, and thus to participate wholly in what GCF does, but I enjoy following that trajectory and occasionally contributing to it, as with Green Win and now the paper that Armin, I and Mike Schoon hope to publish on your website.
    All the best, and maybe we’ll once more have occasion to meet face to face (In France, they advise our age group to stay in confinement until the end of the year at least). If not, maybe a ZOOM or Skype meet would be nice. Best

  2. Antonio Ruiz de Elvira says:

    Dear Carlo: “Long time no see!” Here is my comment.
    We are in the middle of a pandemic, not very dangerous, but disruptive of life as we know it. We are in the middle of a course to warm the planet and change the atmospheric circulation patterns and the sea level. We pass from an economic crisis to another in a see-saw relaxation system.

    Starting in 1600 we became, by stages, confident in linear science, and the ability of prediction, including probabilistic prediction. We are very fond of statics and not so much of dynamics, as for instante, of steadily changing the probability functions that are needed to confront steadily changing conditions.

    At the end, and although we are trying to model climate and society, we use models to provide with more or less unique solutions: We are still very adept at thinking os “the” solution.

    We should embrace incertitude. We should recognize that we have neither the right assumptions nor the correct models for the task.

    What can we do?

    We should have many different solutions stored for different casas and steadily change these as time evolves.

    Many (probably most) patients of Coronavirus have died in the hospitals: The existing protocols and medicines were designed for other attacks and the health community was fully unprepared for the actual viral attack. And there was, and there are no alternatives in stock, but the mediaeval one of quarantine.

    As we advance in our intent of trying to reduce the climate change, we are proposing solutions that seem already fixed. I would like to read about different strategies to be chosen dynamically along the years, as the feedback changes conditions.

    I can put down and example: Many theories in physics are rather outdated, because professors are expounding now what they learnt in their youth. It is very difficult to tell people that the ether theory WAS CORRECT before Einstein, or that Boltzmann ideas could have been accepted by their contemporaries.

    After 400 years the ideas of risk are more or less the same that were proposed in 1744 in Scotland by Webster and Wallace. The idea is to mutualize the risk. This idea carried on to the retirement funds, and is still today the same idea. But what happens when this fund is wiped? In Spain there is today no fund to pay retired workers. Simply each active worker pays them some part of her salary. But the old idea remains.

    In summary, what I am suggesting is a dynamically way of thinking, steadily adapting our assumptions, theories and model to a reality that these assumptions, theories and models are steadily themselves changing.

    It is the way of a surfer navigates the waves.

  3. Diana Mangalagiu says:

    Dear Carlo and all,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    What I find particularly interesting during these times are the landscape and competition of (conflicting) narratives and associated battles for people’s attention span. From ‘who is to blame for the origin of the Coronavirus’ to ‘what negative oil prices really mean’ to ‘opportunities for low carbon economy are finally here and real’ and so on.
    It reminds me of the 2008 financial crisis, when after the cacophony of blame has died down and the somewhat haphazard and disconnected investigations have lost momentum, a more general kind of narrative emerged that both explained the past in an overall way and also projected a path forward for regaining the trajectory of economic growth that the world was following before the global financial crisis erupted. There were quite a few attempts and narratives that going back to the trajectory of economic growth was not a viable option, but they slowly died out. With our group in Oxford, we made an attempt to make sense of what was going on and explore alternative scenarios post-crisis (Beyond the Financial Crisis: The Oxford Scenarios, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254819561_Beyond_the_financial_crisis), which led to lots of insightful conversations and sometimes also bits of action.

    Just before the Coronavirus crisis, even the World Economic Forum’s own research – released at its 50th meeting – blamed entrenched inequality across the globe for “a growing sense of unfairness, precarity, perceived loss of identity and dignity, weakening social fabric, eroding trust in institutions, disenchantment with political processes and an erosion of the social contract.” (Global Social Mobility Report, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/Global_Social_Mobility_Report.pdf) and the Forum had a hard time answering the question of its usefulness and impact for half a century.

    Is the Coronavirus crisis a tipping point for changing the fundamentals of our societies? It is too early to say, but we – the GCF-community – can definitely contribute to and activate the scientific and societal imagination – as Carlo puts it – by combining our modelling, Decision Theater, scenario planning and other tools with lots of engagements with policy-, decision-makers and society.

    • Sebastian Gallehr says:

      Dear Diana,
      thank you for telling also my main concern:
      “What I find particularly interesting during these times are the landscape and competition of (conflicting) narratives and associated battles for people’s attention span.”
      Controversies are logical in these times. No one really knows the root cause, how to handle and how to overcome this pandemic in a way to strengthen the co-evolution and civil rights at the moment.
      The Global Climate Forum with its trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary skills and tools like the Decision Theater can support the current path of recognition with a more science tested approach in between all the appropriate and needed controversial debates.

  4. J. David Tàbara says:


    Among the countless psychological effects that the new pandemic has provoked in Western publics is their realisation that ‘another world is possible’, although most probably one which very few ever expected, or sadly, ever wished to occur. For many, the corona virus has become a kind of unexpected Latourian hybrid actant, emerged from the persistence of inadequate and uncoupled relationships with the natural world; and in particular, one resulting from mounting practices which prevented the necessary and constant adaptive learning across the continuum of individuals, organisations and social structures in the face of accelerated global environmental change. The present situation could also be framed as a tipping point, which by definition we could not have known exactly when or whether it was going to happen. However, one also which we could have anticipated somehow if we had been able to read the many signs received from all instances of the negative effects and the underlying trends derived from our unsustainable personal lifestyles and economic growth dynamics. Furthermore, had we availed more coupled Human Information and Knowledge Systems (‘HIKS’) [ref1] to orient collective action, we might have realised earlier that such non-linear events are likely to happen. Anticipatory action is urgently needed to address the ultimate causes of such events rather than only minimising their final unwanted effects.

    From complexity thinking we have known for decades that, very often, the least obvious and most ignored parts of systems are the ones which are most likely to determine their overall dynamics, their new configurations as well as the emergence of future shocks and the agents’ capacities to cope such perturbations. Moreover, global economies seem to have grown till now ignoring another major tenet of complexity thinking: that ‘more is different’ and that as economies grow, their configurations also change and their dynamics become increasingly subject – contrary to what often assumed- to multiple interdependencies with the (now altered) natural world. Contemporary societies are now increasingly affected by the accumulation of unwanted consequences from past purposive actions (in the Mertonian sense); and that such effects are usually materialised in the form of multiple irreversibilities (e.g. loss of biodiversity and the global spreading of ‘zombie landscapes’, those which can no longer sustain non-assisted superior form of life), and also as stocks of pollution (e.g. GHG emissions), which constitute the unavoidable system memory which turns up as our daily reminder of our previous excesses in the form of climate crises.

    It is therefore worth examining how different kinds of institutional cultures, in science, governance and public management have responded to this complexity shock. Some have simply tried to ignore it as much as possible and even still now resist accepting it and doing something about it; others, perhaps because their cultures or education systems were already more open to it, managed to embrace it fast and reacted accordingly; and of course, between these two basic extremes many variations exist. For instance, in science, new open and collaborative practices emerged as a need for urgent responses, although some other reactions from corporate science were mixed and actually resistant to such openness. In some nations, the corona virus was also seen as an opportunity to increase centralisation, erase democratic rights and freedoms and impose an even more pyramidal and ‘simplified’ management structures which, for the sake of efficiency, ignored the basic Nobel Prize Elinor Ostrom’s call for the need for institutional redundancy, polycentricity and diversity as a condition for complex systems learning. One could expect that the future of what comes next will depend to the extent that such complexities – and in a broad sense which includes the complexities of the biophysical world- are embraced widely for the reconfiguration of new institutional practices eventually leading to a more equitable redistribution of rights and responsibilities among generations in a global regenerative development mode.

    At the GCF we have now a unique opportunity to reflect on these trends and to explore how such systemic risks can actually be turned into systemic opportunities for alternative development trajectories which consider the planetary conditions of healthy life-support systems. We will do so within the new EU-funded project TIPPING+ (https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/884565) where we will try to unveil the actual meaning and significance of the concept of ‘social-ecological tipping points’ in order to learn about why at one or several points in time, regional economies – and in particular those which are most dependent on the intensive use of carbon and coal – flip into a fundamentally different development trajectory and embrace clean-energy and sustainable transformations. Our work will be necessarily transdisciplinary and empirical, bringing over 20 case studies and multiple disciplines into dialogue covering, among others, geography, demography, anthropology, social psychology, gender research, public policy, economics, political science and sociology, as well as other cross-cutting approaches from sustainability science or transitions research. There is still too much that we don’t know about how and why such tipping events and processes occur, and even less about the kinds of tipping interventions which could not only prevent the occurrence of the most undesirable consequences of them but instead contribute to building the world we want to live in.

    The ‘green world’, if it ever comes to happen, is therefore likely to be a more complex one, not a simpler one. But one in which our capacities and efforts to create, handle and realise the multiple kinds of complexities derived from our development patterns –and their associated uncertainties and their systemic effects- can be reoriented towards more regenerative and restorative social-ecological relationships; or simply, towards turning possible negative social-ecological tipping points into positive ones [ref2].

    [Ref1 ]: Tàbara, J. D. & Chabay, I. 2012. Coupling human information and knowledge systems with social-ecological systems change. Reframing research, education and policy for sustainability. Special Issue on “Responses to Environmental and Societal Challenges for our Unstable Earth (RESCUE)”. Environmental Science and Policy, 28: 71-81. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2012.11.005

    [Ref2]: Tàbara, J.D., Frantzeskaki, N., Hölscher, K., Pedde, S. Lamperti, F. Kok, K., Christensen, J.H., Jäger, J., and P. Berry. 2018. Positive tipping points in a rapidly warming world. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Special Issue on Sustainability Governance and Transformation, 31: 120-129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2018.01.012

  5. Sebastian Gallehr says:

    Dear Christiane, dear Carlo,
    thank you for these interesting thoughts. As usually you have been able to address inter disciplinary aspects to a world wide main concern. This is the main reason for me to support GCF since nearly 20 years an why I feel honored about being an elected board member of the GCF.
    I would suggest to spread your thoughts to a wider community. After a necessary cleaning up this piece from all GCF advertisement you should post it e.g on https://medium.com/


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