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)

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Dear all,

thank you so much for your comments and thoughts! As I read the individual comments from you, a symphonic music refreshed my mind….. a team-response to the original text. What a wonderful experiment! There are many thoughts, themes, and, if I may say so, moods in that music. Some examples:
Conversations with several people in the GCF community, including in the GCF board, have convinced me that it is worth the effort of further developing the initial cyberbottle message into a text that can speak to people who so far are not even aware of GCF. So here come a few remarks on a possible rewriting of the text. Comments, questions, objections, improvements are warrmly welcome. The resulting next version will then be submitted here for another round of collective, by no means anonymous peer review. Eventually we will find the right outlet for the resulting version.

The initial text was triggered by two sudden events that have radically changed the arena in which climate policy unfolds: the Corona shock and the European Green Deal.

The two events are connected by the fact that the Corona shock has suddenly broken the – German and therefore European – taboo against raising massive amounts of money via government debt. The European Green Deal has provided a mission, to use Mariana Mazzucato’s concept (The Entrepreneurial State, London, 2013), for turning that money into transformative investment (see the GCF working paper 1/2020 by Sarah Wolf et al.).

In the few months since the message was put in the cyberbottle, two further dramatic events have transformed the arena for climate strategies – be they political, industrial and intensely personal.

First, the appalling video of how one more black life was wiped out by white police officers was answered by the Black Lives Matter movement. Princetons Eddie Glaude expressed what millions felt: it’s time for imagining America anew (Begin Again, New York, 2020). Let’s not fool ourselves; this is about much more than replacing Trump, clown of Gotham city, with a more decent leader. We have to imagine anew the Western ways of life and how they relate to the large, “non-Western” majority of humankind.

It is in this situation that Xi Jinping has redefined the global role of China by declaring – at the 75th anniversary of the UN – that China’s net CO2-emissions shall peak no later than 2030 and be reduced to zero no later than 2060.

If, as seems plausible, Europe and China will make serious progress in the direction of their declarations, global climate policy will become not the only, but an essential aspect of something nearly unthinkable – that humankind will assume responsibility for its role in the Anthropocene.

This is certainly a “bigger than me” prospect: no single individual, be it the president of a superpower, the owner of a high-tech corporation, a researcher at some think tank, an ordinary citizen of the EU, or a stateless asylum seeker on a Mediterranean island, can master the challenges involved. But these challenges cannot be tackled without people of all walks of life helping to imagine human life on Earth anew.

The work we are doing at GCF will continue to deal with particular questions amenable to professional research. But we better investigate those questions without loosing sight of the “bigger than me” future we want to help realize.

Dear all,
while personally contrary to a 96 hour day (having experienced the recent phase where the day was suddenly supposed to have more than 24 hours worth of tasks – from home-schooling via a long list to getting enough sleep for not jeopardizing your immune system – as rather counteractive to productivity and creativity), I am all in favour of putting efforts into the issues and topics outlined by the “message in a cyber-bottle” and the previous comments. Thank you all for these inputs!

Indeed, the Decision Theatre promises to be an instrument for addressing questions in the realms of systemic risks, of sustainability transitions, and around shaping the European Green Deal (EGD) in such a way that it can not only bring down greenhouse gas emissions but also bring together Europe.

There is certainly work to do for all three corners of the DT Triangle: in terms of empirical knowledge, it is sometimes incredible how hard it is to get a coherent picture, or an overview, of relevant orders of magnitude from a huge literature that provides a lot of interesting results and myriads of details.
For the EGD this starts from a simple question: how does the emission reduction target compare to what has been going on so far? EU greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by an average of almost 1% per year since 1990; the annual rate needed for the coming 10 years would be about 5.5% to reach the goal of -55% by 2030. Equally important numbers for understanding where the EGD starts out from are in economic and societal empirics. Unemployment around 6% (pre-covid) in the EU gives a very different impression than national levels from 2.2% (Czechia) to 16.7% (Greece) and youth unemployment of up to 35% (again in Greece) (sources for these numbers in Wolf et al., 2020). Much empirical „big picture“ work seems necessary for any of the above mentioned challenges.

However, as Hans Rosling (et al., 2018) so rightly pointed out „The world cannot be understood without numbers. And it cannot be understood with numbers alone“. The other two corners in the DT triangle are a dialogue format that brings together researchers and stakeholders, as well as mathematical modelling and simulation. In order not to push the boundaries of this comment, just a few points, partly questions, mostly on the latter:

The agent-based model we have used in our Decision Theatres on sustainable mobility allows participants to identify with agents in the model – persons and households – as these take the same kind of mobility decisions (combustion engine car, electric vehicle, public transport, car sharing, or active mobility, i.e. walking or biking), and as they are distributed on the map (of Germany in our case) as well as in terms of household types (single, couple, more people) and features (gender, income, mobility demand profile) like the real-world population is.
Developing models with such a level of detail, however, takes a long time. Setting up DTs for other challenges or regions should not take a few years each time. Here, mathematics has a role to play in defining concepts that can be reused for building models and methods for analysing their dynamics.

The infinite freedom of the agent-based modeller in defining a model (agents, their environment(s), their interaction patterns) is blessing and curse: so what are recurring elements for the agents (e.g., preferences, beliefs, resources, ties with others, a geographical position, in some cases a balance sheet, etc), for their environments (geography, infrastructures, but also norms and narratives, etc.), for their interaction patterns (family, friendship, professional network structures, etc.)? All of the above seem essential for describing complex social systems; many other points may be as well, in particular for socio-economic, -ecological, or -technical systems.
In computational terms, the significant concepts of a domain can be expressed by a domain specific language, a programming language that makes model code easy to write and read, avoiding unnecessary clutter (Warnke et al., 2015). Defining significant concepts for the domains of systemic risks and sustainability transitions – and where these domains overlap or how they differ – should be a part of the work to be done for modelling and simulation in a DT context.

As to the analysis of modelled dynamics, there are mathematical concepts, methods and tools for the analysis of complex systems made up of many interacting elements, though mostly simpler elements than humans, for example, molecules. Another part of the work to be done should be finding out which pieces of these can be applied, extended, or refined for helping us understand dynamics like tipping – whether for helping to avoid it, like an outbreak of pandemics or riots, or to achieve it, like a shift to clean technologies or healthier lifestyles.

Finally, towards the dialogue corner of the DT triangle: Gransche (2017) describes simulations as somewhere between being imitations of something real and being creations of something fictitious or imaginary, and points to the issue of simulation literacy. In a DT, how can simulations best support an awareness of the open future, e.g. with the help of which visualisations?

The cyber-bottle message mentioned reorientation in a world that has suddenly changed. In a world that we want to change, these are just some of the questions that may need answering to support groups of researchers, citizens, and decision makers as well as experts from the fields of business, policy, administration, and civil society in processes for co-creating plausible and desirable future pathways. Looking forward to your questions or comments on mine in the GCF conversation / reflections / research! S.

Wolf S., J. Mielke, F. Schütze, J. Teitge, and C.C. Jaeger (2020) About the European Green Deal – Key Numbers and Mechanisms. GCF Working Paper 1/2020.

Rosling H., O. Rosling, and A. Rosling Rönnlund (2018) Factfulness. Sceptre, Hodder and Stroughton Ltd, London

Warnke T., A. Klabunde, A. Steiniger, F. Willekens, A.M. Uhrmacher (2015) ML3: A Language for Compact Modeling of Linked Lives in Computational Demography. Proceedings of the 2015 Winter Simulation Conference.

Gransche, B. (2017) The Art of Staging Simulations: Mise-en-scène, Social Impact, and Simulation Literacy. In: M.M. Resch et al. (eds.), The Science and Art of Simulation, Springer International Publishing AG.

Dear Konstantin,

I applaud your wisdom in focusing on the Green New Deal and the need to have that accepted, both for the sake of Europe and for that of the wider world. Glad that the DT can play a positive role in this! As mentioned earlier, I am too old to be of much help in getting or carrying our any research projects, but if I can help in an advisory capaciy, please let me know! GCF is doing an excellent job!

Dear members of the GCF community,

let bee follow up with some thoughts about where, in my opinion, we need to be heading with an ever-increasing urgency. Globally societies are experiencing a multi-dimensional stress test and many are failing https://medium.com/@asuglobalfuture/covid-19-the-ultimate-stress-test-for-our-global-futures-af5c2d478e0c . COVID-19 is revealing how societies are crossing what we called “societal planetary boundaries (https://medium.com/@asuglobalfuture/societal-planetary-boundaries-when-global-society-endangers-the-future-of-our-planet-ce6af69e17ff ).” These currently unfolding dynamics lead to increased polarization and are very difficult to stop. (An example for optimism, imperfect as it is, is the recent EU summit, which led to a compromise (insufficient as it is) that at least offers the potential for a different future trajectory.) So, we as the GCF community, are called upon to do everything we can to intervene. We have, in principle, the knowledge and ability to understand these processes and design possible alternatives—not top-down, but in a participatory fashion exemplified by the Decision Theater approach. We, have the collective institutional depth to realize this—and our new structures at ASU can help here https://scas.asu.edu . All we need is to really commit to is and to quadruple our efforts! The day can have 96 hours.


Dear Manfred,
thanks for your encouraging approach. My personal anticipation also is, that our human measures to combat COVID-19 will lead to a stress test for our entire system.
Our cultural, socio-economic, political and psychological belief systems and coordinate systems are being tested and need to be reassessed.
Personally, I see this as a great opportunity for humanity. In recent months, we humans have shown globally and across cultures that we can do much more if we only want to. Here (https://sebastian.gallehr.de/18-die-zukunft-ist-offen-jetzt) I tried to articulate, at a very abstract and high altitude, what kind of vision of humanity might lie behind it.
So yes. Let us as GCF help to review this stress test and to support a participatory approach to future promising measures and coordinate systems.
Do you have concrete ideas?
Cheers, Sebastian

Dear members and friends of GCF, dear Manfred and Sebastian,

Apparently, it is possible to quadruple efforts. Investor Peter Thiel ask questions like this: How can you achieve your 10-year plan in the next 6 months? You can do that. You just need the right disruptive element for that.

After the hype has died down a bit (for now…), one can wonder: was Covid not a big enough disruptive element? We managed to get some things under way (changing the German austerity paradigm is not a small thing), but we might as well have already wasted a perfectly fine crisis.
Adam Tooze pointed out that “we are living through the first economic crisis of the Anthropocene” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/may/07/we-are-living-through-the-first-economic-crisis-of-the-anthropocene): Humanity’s impact on nature blows back full force and globally destabilizes socio-economic life. Systemic risks with anthropogenic drivers will keep stress testing our truly interconnected global society.

What we have learned is that in order to survive these attacks we need (a) leadership that is capable of coordinating adequate and effective risk responses; (b) legitimate institutions, capable of rapid action and smart, forward-looking responses; and (c) social trust and empowered civil societies. Not an easy combination in a multiple-pandemic landscape (zoonotic pandemics, pandemic of dramatically bad leadership, global inequality pandemic, etc.).

How can GCF help develop a sustainable trajectory in this landscape? Clearly, we are in need of visions. The European Commission has presented one in form of the European Green Deal. Also, civil society movements are gaining importance and are formulating visions. With the Decision Theater, GCF possesses a methodology that is fit to (a) help leaders to take informed decisions, (b) help institutions (and companies) to enlarge their scopes beyond departmental short-term visions, (c) co-create knowledge at the interface of science, practitioners, and, explicitly, civil society.

Even though GCF is a node in a network spanning from Shenzhen to Arizona and has the minds to formulate visions regarding all mentioned “pandemics”, for me the obvious concrete thing in front of us is the European Green Deal and the risks it is facing (including the direction the Euro flows will be taking).

What we are doing in this regard is carrying out research projects in which we use the DT to talk to those affected by energy transition policies (see the project ‘Energy Transition in Social Space’ starting on 01 August), proposing sound research ideas to funding agencies (including the upcoming Commission’s calls on Green Deal), and opening the Forum in the spirit of the founding ideas to civil society, decision-makers, and the corporate sector alike (for the latter the connection to you, Sebastian, is highly important).

Coming back to the 96 hours. I think that GCF should help certain stakeholders to achieve exactly this pace. But this will be a steady process and we will need a lot of endurance and patience in doing so. I, for my part, have a couple of decades reserved, and being a member of GCF is quite therapeutic in view of the challenges that humanity is and will be faced with (Thank you!).


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/


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

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.

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.

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.

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