The black swan: it challenged ancient ornithologists and spawned a modern theory. Analogous to unexpected plumage on a common bird, Black Swan events are those that occur which:
1) are difficult, if not impossible, to predict, 2) have a huge impact and, 3) are retrospectively rationalized.
Black Swan theory has been applied to everything from financial systems to fashion. Many will point to the 2016 election as an additional example, and as I write this, the reflection on how wrong the prognosticators were as well as the veneration of those who “called it right” accelerates. Regardless of whether this was expected or inevitable, everyone can agree that the impact is huge.
In Second Nature’s sphere, this impact centers on the global climate challenge. More specifically: can the collective action of higher education continue with scalable, innovative climate solutions within a country where federal leadership on the issue will likely tack in a radically different direction? Federal alignment clearly benefits the work, but it is equally clear that it isn’t sufficient; the past eight years have shown that. The challenge is global, the scientific necessity for the response to change is rapid, and the levers for change must be cross-sectoral, cross-institutional, and cross-governmental.
In short, the climate challenge has always been, and will continue to be, a “wicked” problem that no single entity, program, or initiative can solve.
When presented with the possibility that our federal government may not continue to recognize the scale of the problem, it only puts a greater onus on other parties to step up: now is the time for us to do just that. We have a strong Network of leading schools committed to climate action, and many of our schools have joined with businesses in supporting the recently adopted Paris agreement. The economic case for investment in clean energy and cleantech is strong. And mayors and governors are moving ahead with energy transition efforts that were already going beyond what was proposed in the Clean Power Plan.
November 8 may have been seen by some as a Black Swan event; but it could also result in a Black Swan response. Could the lack of federal leadership actually accelerate progress faster than before? Can we mobilize solutions across jurisdictional boundaries in a way that was previously unthinkable? Can we go beyond placation or platitudes to continue the deep grind and hard work needed for systemic and transformative change? Have we challenged our own assumptions frequently enough and with enough rigor to ensure progress isn’t simply a fragile or brittle truce but a long-term, robust solution?
Climate progress has been demonstrated to be possible and necessary. This moment ensures its urgency.
The Presidential Climate Leadership Summit in 2017 will bring together senior leadership in higher education to discuss this very purpose. We have intentionally connected with GreenBiz to further the cross-sector conversation. Join us in Tempe, AZ from February 13-15 to be part of the conversation.