Title: Adaptation: the long-term climate change strategy
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: David Drewry
Professor David Drewry argues that governments are dangerously fixated on climate mitigation to the detriment of adaptation. National mitigation plans have unrealistic projected emissions reductions that assume highly ambitious infrastructure transformations in a short space of time. As result, there is next to no chance of keeping global temperature increase to 1.5oC, with 2.5oC being more likely. It is now essential that we start preparing our societies and economies for what will be far-reaching climate disruption.Read Essay
Title: The Latest Middle East Explosion and its Global Consequences
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Rarely have trends reversed themselves with such lightning speed. Until recently, the received US wisdom on the Middle East saw a pattern of détente and reconciliation, undoing years of turmoil and conflict. The Gaza War, triggered by Hamas’s terrorist attack on 7 October, has already spread to the West Bank and southern Lebanon and Syria. Mat Burrows argues that if the United States gets more directly involved in the fighting, it could reverse the attempt by successive Administrations to retrench from the region, with far-reaching global implications.Read Essay
Governments should not assume that the only solutions to technological problems are ones we already know, especially when these have fatal flaws. There are potential solutions to hard-to-abate sectors that we are yet to explore, and that are not technological and environmental dead ends. Similarly, there could be ways of capturing and storing carbon dioxide that do not involve punitive costs and almost impossible timeframes.
The ideology of ecofascism can be traced back to the Nazi concept of ‘blood and soil’: a belief that the Aryan race was somehow tied to the land, and that manifested in a romanticisation of rural life. As environmental issues become impossible for far-right politicians to ignore, we can see it raising its head again.
Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 short story
Throughout the 1980s, industrial policy fell out of favour as developed market economies embraced the long era of globalisation and neo-liberalism. That era is now com-ing to close in the face of competitive challenges posed by China, global supply chain instability, and climate change and insecurity. Industrial policy is back.
Title: A World Beyond 1.5°C: why a new narrative is needed
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: Laurie Laybourn
There is growing debate over whether the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C is still possible. Fundamental changes to societies are needed to reduce emissions and restore nature—changes that many segments of society oppose. It is now highly likely that the world will breach 1.5°C. Laurie Laybourn argues that a new narrative is needed—one that better captures the existential threats to stability and life, and that seeks to reduce risks as quickly as possible.Read Essay
Title: A Republican Victory: a US that looks after itself
Approx. Reading Time: 11 minutes
Author: Mathew Burrows
Biden came to office vowing to reverse everything that Trump had done or stood for. Mat Burrows argues that while the partisan divide has deepened on domestic issues, there is something close to a new consensus on foreign policy, centred around a hardline against China and scepticism of free trade. There are still differences in emphasis and for most allies and partners, a second Biden Administration would be the easier partner. However, US-China tensions will grow whichever party holds the presidency, threatening a more fractured world just at a time when there is an urgent need for greater global cooperation.Read Essay
Title: Climate Risks are National Security Risks
Approx. Reading Time: 10 minutes
Author: Laurie Laybourn
National security risk assessments identify major threats to stability and wellbeing, but do not include climate risks. Yet the best available scientific knowledge shows that the collapse of key ocean circulations would have a catastrophic impact on food and water supplies and, hence, security. This could occur within decades, if not years. In keeping with Oracle’s guiding principles, Laurie Laybourn argues that governments have to focus on worst-case scenarios, as they do with other threats, and not the wide probabilities of climate change models. As the climate and nature emergency escalates, it is essential that risk assessments include plausible, high-impact scenarios.Read Essay
The UK is dangerously unprepared for current levels of climate change, let alone those made inevitable by continued global temperature rises. The government has consistently failed to spearhead adaptation and no sectors can comfortably handle current changes. Transformational adaptation—which simultaneously protects populations while reducing emissions—must become a central strategy.
Amid the growing chaos and uncertainty pervading everything, from climate risk to geopolitical instability and runaway artificial intelligence, resilience is the concept high on many leadership agendas. Yet resilience is a contested, ambiguous, and in some ways outdated word. What constitutes resilience in a future of chaos and catastrophic—even existential—risk?
In the face of worsening climate crisis, more people are questioning whether the world can afford economic growth. However, ending growth would be unlikely to put the world on a more environmentally sustainable course. Conversely, assuming that growth will simply turn green as the price of renewable energy falls is misplaced. Growth can be green, but the world is a long way from making it so.
Roughly half the Amazon’s carbon store is in its soil. The other half is in its trees, billions of which have been felled to make room for mining, logging, farming and ranching. Parts of the Amazon—mostly in its southeast—have become a carbon source rather than a sink. A global agreement certifying the provenance of products from the region could form part of the solution. Another would be for Brazil to take a cue from the parts of the Amazon that are cared for by Indigenous peoples.
Political, media and technological landscapes are dominated by contests about the future—a defining feature not only of culture, but of power. Political, corporate and Big Tech leaders battle over their own visions of ‘technologies of the future’ to create hope and aspiration, and to set agendas. For populist leaders like President Putin, Prime Minister Modi, former-President Trump and many more, the contests are fought not on the battlefields of imagined futures, but also in the re-imagined past—a world of history, myth and false memory.
While the likelihood of an asteroid wiping out life on Earth has been much exaggerated in fiction, scientists have begun to take the prospect of a catastrophic impact seriously. NASA has been investigating the viability of deflecting the path and momentum of smaller space rocks, but as yet there is no solution to the bigger one. Indeed, in 2018, Stephen Hawking wrote that he considered an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet.
The delay to decisive and urgent climate policy action means that the necessary transformation will now be more disruptive than it needed to be and, hence, more politically challenging. Climate policy can either become another wedge issue, feeding culture wars and exacerbating the politics of distraction, or an existential one that societies can unite around. For a host of reasons, our politics are poorly placed to deliver the latter.
If central banks continue to raise interest rates, they will soon be adjusting them down again in the face of rapidly weakening demand and, hence, inflation pressures. However, going forward the world faces 4D inflation pressures, driven by de-carbonisation, decoupling, defence and demographics. Maintaining inflation at 2 percent in this context could be economically and politically costly. Pressure will mount to raise inflation targets or to move to the targeting of nominal GDP growth.
Inter-systemic failure is fast becoming the primary source of catastrophic, potentially existential, risk. Fragile political systems, economies and urban infrastructures face a short-term reckoning. Cascading failures are exposing the pervasive lack of foresight and strategic resilience across all geographies, states, cities, industry sectors and political systems.
Most of the time change seems to happen imperceptibly or not at all. As a result, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that things always remain the same. However, sudden change does happen, as history clearly shows. Given accelerating climate change and huge geopolitical, cultural and technological shifts underway, far-reaching change is more likely than continuity.
Climate change-linked ocean heatwaves are breaking records. They underlie the connectedness of risk in a rapidly warming world and will have profound consequences. Ocean heatwaves pull apart the delicate web of life of marine ecosystems, raise sea levels, melt ice sheets, and threaten changes to the ocean circulations that send nutrients around the world and mediate the climate. They are a sign of the new, ever-shifting normal of the planetary-scale climate and nature emergency.
Two years ago, in The Big Adjustment, we wrote that the world did not have 30 years to reach zero-carbon and that the process would therefore be more disruptive than assumed. We were too optimistic. Despite the rapidly worsening climate crisis, the pace of transition continues to disappoint, further squeezing the time available to stop emissions. There is a growing risk of a shift from prevarication to panic, leading to something akin to a war-time economy. This is the original piece.
Climate change could trigger unprecedented migration. Despite coming from regions that have contributed least to the crisis, migrants are unlikely to be met with solidarity. Green fascism, an ideology that blames overpopulation and immigration for environmental destruction, is likely to gain ground: dehumanising migrants will make it easier to treat the issue as ‘us or them’. There are already precedents.
Almost two years ago we published a short essay on ‘speed and time’, exploring how seemingly ‘long-term’ threats became clear, present and extreme dangers. Since then, the governance failures surrounding the geostrategic world order, climate change and artificial intelligence suggest that little has changed. Unless and until state, corporate and financial leaders reinvent how they think about the future, escape endemic short-termism and find some imagination, the world faces cascading, runaway crises.
The US is highly unlikely to default. Even if the Republicans and Democrats fail to reach a deal, the latter can find a way around the country’s self-imposed debt limit without reneging on debt or slashing spending. However, recourse to any of these ‘workarounds’ promises to exacerbate the country’s deeply polarised politics and increase the chances of a second Trump presidency. This, in turn, would further aggravate environmental and geopolitical stress.
Europe’s climate is changing rapidly, with 2023 shaping up to be the hottest year on record. This will worsen an already protracted drought, and the cascading effects could be far-reaching: food shortages and power outages may disrupt industrial production, pushing up inflation and making it harder for central banks to cut interest rates. This, in turn, could start to focus investor attention on the sustainability of various sectors, and even the future of vulnerable population centres.