On the one hand, we have everyone who would prefer the Earth not get warmer faster than civilization can possibly hope to adapt.
On the other, we have in the vicinity of $200 trillion dollars of infrastructure dedicated to the extraction, processing, and distribution of oil, gas, and coal and all the various byproducts available inside it.
And all the nations and states that rely on that revenue to feed their budgets and the men, women, and children who rely on all of it to feed and clothe themselves.
And all the intelligent and powerful men and women who have dedicated their professional lives to building, expanding, and maintaining the networks of value that run on these things we call fossil fuels, who know the world we currently live is not yet equipped to operate without them, but also have a whole lot of vested interest that they quite reasonably have no desire to walk away from.
And on and on.
From what one might call the standard perspective, it looks like we are dealing with a zero-sum game, where for one side to win, the other must surely have to lose, or at least give up a meaningful percentage of something they hold dear.
But what if there were ways that no one on any side of the equation had to lose?
More tangibly, what if…paths existed that could align the interests of every major player involved in the climate change issue and then some…which is really all of us…to collaboratively, transparently, and ethically:
..design, test, launch, and refine a set of solutions that generate renewable sources of oil for energy and byproducts, raw materials for textiles, and new and ancient medicines, all while pulling millions and millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the Earth?
…A solution that makes use of the oil companies’s massive and well-orchestrated distribution networks, the chemical giants’ industrial scale production capabilities, and the pharmaceutical companies extraordinary marketing machines…
…without trampling on the independence and autonomy of the pioneers in hemp and cannabis farming, who took major risks developing their expertise and building their businesses when those crops were fully illegal…
..without recreating another massive, top-down monopoly…
…Does all this while generating an unprecedented profit for everyone involved…
All while transforming some percentage of the melting ice sheets of the Arctic and Antarctic from an apparently fearful symbol of environmental collapse into an incredible, life-expanding opportunity to revitalize once-thriving ecosystems that became deserts because of human activity?
And even better than that:
What if we had reliable, testable, repeatable ways to write new equations…not only that allowed everyone involved to keep the essence of the economic value they have…
…but also produce so much more of it than they would have imagined possible before, but also do so in a way that the economic benefits AND the gifts of personal empowerment are shared abundantly across the whole spectrum of humanity AND actually improves the well-being of the planet.
That took the dynamics of power from the long-standing paradigm of “power over others” to a new application of “power to support, nourish, and empower others.”
Yes, it may seem grandiose. Too big. impossible. Maybe it is all of those things. Maybe not.
Regardless, I’m here to highlight some important questions:
- What if the solutions to problems that seem impossible only seem that way because we aren’t asking the right questions?
- What is required to demonstrate to all the relevant people and organizations involved…especially those with the most vested value…that there are ways forward that do not require sacrifices from anyone at the table…
- What if the whole thing was right under our noses this whole time but we were too busy assuming the worst things about each other to even notice?
- What happens when we begin to internalize the concept that so many of the stories we hold of hate and malevolence and evil and so on all persist because of something as simple and tractable as poorly designed incentives and presuppositions that made sense at the time but are no longer working well in this juncture of history?
- Then what? Then maybe long-time antagonists could work together to design new equations, tell new kinds of stories, and watch our whole world blossom.
As just one of the many examples we will explore over the life of this project, let’s start with the many millions of tons of the freshest water on Planet Earth currently collapsing into huge chunks of ice off of the polar ice sheets, melting into the oceans, and threatening to consume coastlines and inhabited islands the world over.
There’s a wonderfully filmed movie called chasing ice where a documentarian named James Balog goes to the Antarctic and captures breathtaking footage of ancient ice shelves the size of whole cities breaking off and collapsing into the sea.
The tone of this movie, and of so much of the dialogue around these things, seems to be a mix of helplessness and awe: “look at these giant forces so much bigger than we are! Look at us, wrecking our home planet! Maybe we’re all just doomed.”
Meanwhile, in many environmental circles, one hears talk of fresh water shortages and desertification…the transformation or previously green, vibrant areas into dry deserts…
And yet here we all are: millions and millions of tons of the purest fresh water available on Earth melting into salt and we’re freaking out about the threats to our coastlines and island nations and dwindling fresh water tables and considering massive investments in huge, energy-intensive desalination plants.
Meanwhile, some savvy entrepreneurs are finding ways to bottle and sell this water to those willing and able to pay upwards of $150/liter.
We are a species that:
- Has traveled to the moon and back.
- Connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by digging a canal through allegedly impassable jungle terrain.
- Built giant, bustling diverse cities where there used to nothing but hills.
Along with the more famous pyramids of Giza, there’s a 1200 year old multi-story temple in India called Kailash that human beings literally sculpted out of a mountain from the top down…not carved from the bottom up like most sculptures, but dug into the mountain itself.
…a project of extraordinary precision, beauty and craftsmanship that any modern sculptor would like tell you ought to be impossible.
And let’s not forget that every single one of us here is alive today because those that came before us survived often extraordinarily difficult odds.
If sufficient ingenuity, resources, and conscious effort focus on it, surely the means exist to computationally explore the upsides and risks, and if the equations balance favorably, haul at least some of the newly created icebergs out of the oceans and transport them into desert regions with sufficient latent soil fertility.
After preparing the dry ground with the amazing part of a fungus called mycelium and a compost-like substance called biochar, we could then seed the ground with wide varieties of hemp, trees, and other earth-nourishing plants.
We now have something potentially extraordinary:
The foundation of a world-scale carbon capture system that with the cooperation, technical expertise, and distribution networks of the leaders of all the nations and industries that would experience the impact of such a project COULD also supply the world with carbon-negative sources of oil, raw materials for textiles, paper, and on and on.
Before we get to how THAT potentially draws the circle for everyone at the table, let’s talk about biochar.
Here’s Wikipedia on the subject:
“Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon, and can endure in the soil for thousands of years. Biochar is under investigation as an approach to carbon sequestration, as it has the potential to help mitigate climate change.
Independently, biochar can increase soil fertility of acidic soils, increase agricultural productivity, and provide protection against some foliar and soil-borne diseases.”
Along with absorbing carbon and increasing soil fertility, biochar also has another property that makes it just about ideal for planting large crops in arid regions: it retains water like a massive organic sponge.
This is useful because one of the central challenges facing efforts to “green the deserts” is rapid evaporation.
Even if you water the desert intensely, the thin, dry sandy earth has a low moisture retention rate and the blistering hot sun tends to quickly evaporate whatever water does get into the ground.
While a robust quantitative analysis needs to be done here, biochar could, in concept, reduce or even eliminate that challenge by mixing a dense layer of highly absorbent organic material into the dry desert earth…the perfect base layer for the crop that gets planted on top.
OK, but what about the chemical companies who have a whole lot of value tied up in their current fertilizer businesses?
We’ll get there.
Let’s talk about the remarkable, earth-renewing capabilities of mycelium.
I first learned about mycelium from a TED talk by Paul Stamets, an expert on mushrooms, aka a mycologist.
Decent metaphors for one of the functions of mycelium might be “the nervous system for plants” or “the internet of the forest.”
When mycelium networks are abundant in a forested region, the trees and other plants rely on it to share information with each other about soil moisture and mineral levels and encroaching leaf eaters, and distribute and share these resources from areas where they are overabundant to areas that could use a little help.
While mycelium has many remarkable properties and useful applications, it has two that are most relevant to the issue it hand:
First, it can distribute and manage the balance of moisture and nutrients across large planted areas while keeping undesirable crop predators and diseases at bay, potentially managing a task that normally requires heavy farm equipment and a fair amount of human labor.
Second, it can break down the hydrocarbons in oil-saturated Earth after an oil spill and turn them into plant food.
It’s worth watching Stamets’ TED talk above to see this process in action.
In one scene, he shows a big, toxic, sad-looking chunk of oil-saturated dirt infused with mycelium spores. Soon, the oily dirt begins to sprout mushrooms. Insects and other mushroom-eating organisms show up to the scene, carrying pollen and attracting birds that eat insects.
Hitching a ride on the bodies of the various forms of the life showing up to this party (and on the back of the wind), seeds from multiple species of plants find their way in as stowaways and gate crashers.
In a matter of weeks, that dead, noxious-looking piece of land teems with plant life. Flowers blossoming. Bees stopping by to get themselves some sugar.
When it comes to bringing our farming practices into the rest of this century and beyond, mycelium seems like it could be a powerful multiplier, creating a layer of natural intelligence under the large-scale hemp farming effort that I’m about to suggest, allowing nature do the heavy lifting work of moving moisture and nutrients around a network of large, diverse, inter-dependent crops, breaking down undesirable things in the soil and turning them into desirable things.
Now, much to their credit, the development of oil-derived fertilizers in intensive agriculture profoundly increased the amount of food a given plot of land could produce and was essential in preventing hundreds of millions of people or more from starving to death to the 1950s and 60s.
The challenge is that they also produced a range of unanticipated side-effects.
The runoff from farms that use these fertilizers ends up in the oceans and seems to have exacerbated the damage excess atmospheric carbon has been doing to the oceans.
Along with our modern sewage management practices…practices that sterilize and dispose of human waste instead of safely recycling it back into the Earth…our food production and waste disposal systems seem to have been depleting the natural mineral contents in soils around the world, reducing the nutritional value and positive health impacts that fruits and vegetables offer our bodies.
…but who on Planet Earth is best positioned to collaborate with mycologists and biochar experts on creating the exact right applications of those ingredients?
If you guessed traditional fertilizer and chemical giants, give yourself a kiss.
It might be helpful if someone more quantitatively adept than I, possibly with access to supercomputing resources and powerful simulation software could run the numbers on this.
However, if the hypothesis here is even close to correct, there ought to be hundreds of billions of dollars in completely new revenues and a significant number of new jobs available in shifting from oil-derived fertilizers and pesticides to highly organic, self-renewing compounds that generate dramatically greater yields and don’t have unfortunate side effects.
Ok, but what about the oil companies and the oil producing states?
After all, they have literally hundreds of trillions of dollars of value tied up in supplying crude oil, refined petroleum, synthetics and other oil derivates to various partners in nearly every industry in the world.
And the political clout to back it up.
Here comes the magic of hemp.
Because when one combines the massive quantities of superfresh water from the glaciers and the biochar and mycelium compounds in arid but fertile desert soils, what do you get?
Fertile, moist soil with a network of organic intelligence: perfect for planting thousands of square miles of hundreds of varieties of hemp plants…a high-yield, self-regenerative new source of oil that also happens to be a carbon capture system of unprecedented scale.
Hemp has many, many properties that make it potentially ideal for this kind of endeavor. Too many to list.
Suffice to say that it’s incredibly resilient, grows like a weed in a huge array of soil and climate configurations, and generates plenty of highly marketable byproducts. One of them is oil.
And who is well-positioned to become a market leader in the part of this enterprise that teaches the world how to most efficiently turn a well-balanced percentage of the annual hemp crop into oil and distribute it for all the dozens and dozens of applications that hemp oil provide?
There are many possibilities.
Here’s just one: a new, unprecedented form of federated, international cooperative venture, the result of the fusion of all the world’s great oil companies from ExxonMobil to Gazprom and the world’s leading independent hemp growers and botanists and tobacco companies…
If the CEO of a leading oil company or a leader of a major oil-producing nation could see this potential clearly, would he go for it? Would he use his tremendous clout and leverage to facilitate its orchestration?
I don’t know.
Maybe if he could pull back and see that what looks like an oil and petroleum and synthetics business is actually the business of using world-class expertise in extraction, refining, and distribution to leverage the gifts of the Earth into the substances that power the whole human civilization…
…and he could find it inside himself to to forgive the many various people and factions that have demonized him and his organization over the years…
Then why not?
Would there be significant upfront capital costs involved in retooling for all of this? For sure. Would it be fair to ask all the industrial giants to shoulder all that for the benefit of the rest of us?
Not a chance! But offsetting those costs with subsidies sounds like great role for Uncle Sam, Mother Russia, the House of Saud, the leading families of Iraq and the Ayatollahs of Iran.
And maybe we can go even further…
Instead of just hemp, maybe one of the influential leaders in the pharmaceutical industry fully grasps the pharmaceutical applications in naturally-derived cannabinoids, and from their position of influence starts to convince more and more of the governments of the world to relax their prohibitive attitudes towards the mind-altering version of the hemp plant.
And maybe then they get together with the alternative healing experts, and with the help of the cannabinoid derivates from this giant new garden and the public and private health insurers and policy makers of the world…
And together, they gently, mindfully pivot the business of healthcare from treating and managing the symptoms of various diseases towards patients and governments paying out a fair share of the social benefits in the increased productivity of a newly healthy, thriving population…from managing diseases to supporting people in healing from them.
Maybe with the guidance of a visionary CEO of a leading hedge fund, his peers across every great traditional human industry from oil, gas, and coal to heavy machinery and weapons to automobiles and shipping to pharmaceuticals and textiles and on and on that, they, too, could find deep veins of gold and diamonds in their industries simply by pulling back and readjusting their perspective on the businesses they are really in.
Because in oil, just as one example, some large swath of the trillions of dollars in value just happens to be mostly concentrated in a desert region that used to be one of the most fertile regions on Earth… where well-armed nations have been locked at odds for supremacy for as long as history itself…
With the intention of cooperation and collaboration instead of competition and conflict in the air, how long would it take for all that land to be repurposed and retooled into massive, self-sustaining hemp farms that absorb so much carbon that within just a few years, the carbon required to set everything up gets fully reabsorbed and the rains are coming back to the desert of their own accord?
Suddenly, the odds of a future of world-wide human thriving are better than even. They are strongly in its favor.
Suddenly, we’re no longer talking about venturing into space as a matter of survival but as a matter of expanding human consciousness to other planets, and eventually beyond.
It might take a little bit longer than any initial models assume for the revenues to eclipse the initial capital costs involved in pivoting the infrastructure this way, but given the risks to coastlines, the potentially ruinous impacts of mass migrations, and so on, maybe the wealthy governments and powerful families of the entire world could find it in their self-interest to pitch in and subsidize the difference.
Every minute after that would be gravy.
The best gravy anyone has ever tasted. The best gravy humanity has in its long history, ever produced: the gravy of sustainable planetary cooperation.
Can we, as a species, move beyond our history of antagonism and competition over scarce resources and make this and other ambitions projects of this nature happen?
Is any of this possible? Of course it is.
Will we do it?
Let’s find out.
Welcome to Dispatches From Our Abundant Future: The Story Of A Bright Destiny For Humanity, Life, The Universe, And Everything.
This starts with this essay, but the intention is to evolve it into a podcast, a series of videos and even virtual reality experiences about our shared road away from the anger, scarcity, conflict, and fear of today to the forgiveness, abundance, peace, and elegance of tomorrow.
The road where everyone wins together for perhaps the first time in our collective time on Earth. Where nobody gets left behind.
Over the course of this project, we will search for all sorts of potentially elegant solutions to seemingly intractable problems and seek to demonstrate that the more intractable a problem seems, the larger and more rewarding an opportunity it actually presents for everyone involved.
That concept for combining hemp, melting ice caps, biochar, and mycelium to plant a highly profitable carbon capture system and re-vitalize desert regions is just the tip of the iceberg.
Like how, within the next decade or so, it’s possible to combine the coming wave of virtual and augmented reality technologies with a federated network of next-generation communication satellites and begin to make world-class wellness and education systems nearly free and accessible to almost everyone on planet Earth.
We will push into the frontiers of our understanding of consciousness, and explore how greater scientific awareness of the extraordinary connections between the mind and body light the way to effective, scalable approaches to healing multi-generational patterns of trauma and fostering widespread health and well-being.
We will seek to show how this approach offers a path for the traditional power brokers in healthcare…pharmaceutical companies, public and private insurers, large medical systems and medical lobbying associations to make and save unprecedented sums of money by helping to reverse, heal, and eliminate diseases rather than simply fight and manage them.
The thing about all the potential solutions we’ll explore is that they are all rooted in the concept that everyone on this planet is in this together.
Accordingly, they’re designed to expand the size of the pie and every slice of it so the people and organizations with the most value vested across the world’s keystone industries have the opportunity to keep the essence of the value they’ve built and expand it exponentially while everyone else also benefits tremendously.
We will explore concepts that may seem like they’re straight out of utopian science fiction but are technologically and economically practical to begin right now and expand over the course of the next 10 years.
We will share the perspectives of people who have conceived entirely practical paths to turning mass scale automation from a harbinger of social decay and mass inequality into an opportunity to transcend scarcity of all kinds, shifting the concept of work from “jobs we work to pay for stuff” to “discovering one’s specific gifts and applying them towards both individual and collective health, happiness and well-being.”
Depending on the narratives and belief systems you subscribe to, it’s possible that along the way you may encounter concepts that seem illuminating and exciting, difficult and painful, inflammatory and upsetting, and in some cases possibly even debased.
If we had access to an artificial intelligence that could instantly translate across concepts and beliefs so we could quickly find the common ground between seemingly conflicting perspectives, we would use it in a heartbeat.
But for now, like with the case we’ll make in Season 2 or 3 that forgiving ourselves, the most brutal moments in history and finding compassion and love for the people (often men, but women too) who perpetuated them and continue to do so is the most direct and low-risk way to a safe, healthy, and peaceful world.
Or the one where we explore the long forgotten healing practices of sacred prostitution and religious sexual rituals and make the case that the world would be a dramatically happier, less alienating and violent place if we brought them back in a big way.
While we hope that the general feelings here are inspired, optimistic, and empowered, we cannot promise that everything here will be comfortable, or easy, pleasant, and fun to contemplate, hear about, or confront.
In fact, there may be occasional moments that are the opposite.
But we do promise that everything comes straight from the heart, a place of relentless love and compassion, with as little ego as we can muster and still believe we have something worthwhile to share.
Because if we do this even approximately right, the story we seek to uncover is about humanity forgiving itself and each other and through that simple, powerful, not always easy act becoming much more humane.
It is about making way for the flow of life and the remarkable things that unfold when the gifts of the empowered feminine are fully supported and women achieve their rightful places as the guiding lights of the world.
It’s about all the abundance that becomes possible when we apply the nurturing, supportive, collaborative aspects of the healthy feminine to the re-design of major social systems, so we align the generation of wealth and power with human well-being, and both of those things with the health of the Earth and all of the other life we share it with.
Accordingly, some of what you will discover here may test and sometimes break the conventional boundaries between science, spirituality, and metaphysics.
Because the central thesis that led to this podcast is that we, individually and collectively, already have the solutions to every single one of the most pressing, threatening, and allegedly impossible challenges the present and future seem to hold.
While I cannot say for sure because no one seems to have run that experiment yet, the hypothesis is that each and every one of them…
…all the mysteries of creation, life, the universe, and everything else are accessible in varying degrees of depth to every human being with a brain and a heartbeat willing to do the work necessary to face ourselves, process the pains and traumas and rewrite the stories of victimization so many of us carry, and upgrade our perspectives.
….to work on forgiving ourselves and everyone that has ever hurt us, including our families, ex-lovers, persecutors, perceived enemies, ancestors and enemies’ ancestors.
…to open our minds, face down the fears and insecurities, find ways to process and release the traumas and doubts that we’ve collectively been carrying for far longer than most of us know, and yell, roar, scream, and cry it all out.
Depending on your personal experiences, the process may involve A LOT of crying.
But one day…maybe you’ll be going inward and imagining someone you loved who broke your heart or whose heart you broke, or who hurt you in much deeper ways…engaged in an activity they love…
…and you’ll be crying intensely for their pain and your pain and suddenly you may hear something you’ve never heard before: that the sobs surging through your body actually have the sound and weight of laughter.
And then maybe after the tears subside you’ll just start laughing…
…because sometimes, even through the hardest pains, life suddenly reveals itself as so mysterious and extraordinary that you can’t help wonder if whatever deep creative forces put this whole thing together have an absurdist sense of humor…because how else does one explain all the features of the duckbill platypus?
And then…as the crying recedes and you take slow, deep breaths deep into your belly and chest and eventually find your calm, grounded, centered happy place, come up with a question you’ve always wanted an answer to and fill your body and mind with the sensations of curiosity, wonder, and love.
Keep doing that and maybe no matter where or who you are, whatever bad, evil, horrible, unforgivable things you think you’ve done, the answer may eventually make itself available to you.
If this hypothesis is correct, here’s what may happen: one day, you will spontaneously discover that somewhere inside, some part of you has the answer to the big question you’ve been asking or it’s been revealed to you in another way…like a highly relevant book recommendation from a friend or stranger or an item in your newsfeed.
It may even show up in much more interesting and coincidental ways…
For those us that are fairly far along the path to self-Illumination, some or many of the concepts, ideas, and solutions presented over the course of this podcast may be an echo of something that was already bouncing around inside your head. You may have thought of them yourself in some form, and sometimes even verbatim.
If so: awesome. You probably have improvements, refinements, and other great solutions that aren’t yet in here and should be.
If you’re working on one of them, reach out and let’s talk. Who knows what’s possible when like minds connect?
For others, the experience of hearing this may feel a bit like a sense of remembering, like “yes!!” as if the words you encounter here are merely giving structure to feelings or insights you had, but had not yet developed into words.
If what you encounter here strikes you as totally novel, intriguing, or exhilarating, but feels like something you doubt you would have ever considered yourself, that’s ok, too.
It simply suggests that you are beginning to open up, and the further you go inside that feeling, the more you will discover how much of it was already there.
And if your reaction to these concepts is well-informed skepticism…not to be confused with reactive cynicism… that’s great, too!
It means that you are officially invited to play the role of red team: meticulously picking apart every claim, finding every hole and inconsistency, and revealing to the rest of us everything that is legitimately implausible or riskier than it seems.
Through the refinery of your skepticism and your passionate desire to find the truth, every worthwhile concept here becomes stronger, more resilient, and more practical, and everything that cannot adapt to the fire of scrutiny gets reconsidered, re-evaluated, redesigned, or disposed.
In the first season, we will take the bird’s-eye view, flying over the landscape of seemingly intractable challenges to human and planetary well-being and presenting rough drafts of potential opportunities to develop win-win-win scenarios among all the players involved.
Given that the United States is my nation of origin, a country I love deeply, whose internal challenges and legacies of trauma I’m most keenly aware of, much of the first season may inevitably focus on the challenges the US faces, even as the perspective remains planet-wide,.
Like in one episode, we’ll look at the apparently dense briar patch that is healthcare in the United States.
And explore a beautifully simple, elegant potential solution to one of the most seemingly intractable issues in that industry:
The misaligned incentives between doctors, health systems, private and public insurers (like Medicare), pharmaceutical companies, and patients, and seek to show how with the right designs, the seemingly impossible challenge of sorting things out so everyone profits together is not nearly as impossible as it looks.
In another, we’ll survey the justice system and the intersection of seemingly intractable impasses that have resulted in one of the highest incarceration rates and multi-generational patterns of personal and cultural trauma in the whole world…
…and explore how just a little bit of clever reconsideration of incentives has the potential to transform a system of relentless punishment into a system that promotes revitalization and well-being at a significantly larger economic return to every player involved.
We’ll explore how integrating the values of compassion, forgiveness, and redemption into systems design can end homelessness, gently break cycles of drug addiction, and foster widespread mental health. We’ll also wade into education, child welfare, and food.
When possible, we’ll do so through the lens of a startup, foundation, organization, individual, or large company that in their own small, large, and occasionally epic ways, embodies the logic of win-win-win cooperation this podcast seeks to uncover:
This logic says with the right mindsets, approaches, and sufficiently well-designed technology, it’s possible to rebalance incentives so that everyone with a vested interest can win along together with everyone else…making unprecedentedly large profits by supporting, nurturing, and improving the health and well being of our fellow human beings and the planet we all share.
So season 1 will tell the story of conscious, mindful integration instead of mindless technological disruption. A story of the potential of cooperation and creative re-construction, rather than the old win-lose pattern of creative destruction.
As we intend to suggest in an episode on the under-appreciated and often unfairly demonized role organized crime has played in the world, there are no villains in this story, no anti-heroes…only heroes and heroines in various disguises…disguises that inevitably dissolve once we realize who and what we really all are.
This is an ambitious goal. A tall order. Is it grandiose? Yes. Unrealistic? Maybe. Maybe not.
My hope is that somewhere inside, everyone and anyone who listens will sense even a glimmer of the notion that with revisions, refinements, and upgrades, a cooperative, collaborative, peaceful, abundant world is entirely possible.
See you in Season 1, coming soon to a podcast app near you.
Originally published at Exponents.