Five weirdest signals of change

Why do I find the picture at the top weird? Is it strange that a dignified woman would pose with a live chicken? Or that the chicken is fed a luminous green liquid with a straw? When things defy how we know the world to work, we are onto something weird. Here is my list of the five weirdest signals of change I’ve seen since working at the Futures Centre.

We think of signals of change as new emerging ideas or ways of doing things. These signals however weak they may be now, have the potential to shape the future. By tracking signals we learn more about what the future might hold and gain insight into what we can do today to steer us in a more sustainable direction.

Weird signals get me excited because they smash through known boundaries. By stretching the field of what is known to somewhere way out there, we gain more space to think creatively of possibilities. When someone raises the bar on what is possible by harvesting cockroach milk, I am empowered with knowing there is virtually nothing I cannot dream and do. What will I do?

What would life be without the weird? Put the weird out there — let’s get more people thinking about a sustainable future.

“The reason the future feels odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn’t feel weirdly unexpected, then something would be wrong.”
— Douglas Coupland

So here goes, brace yourself for the five weirdest signals of change:

1 // Amazon files patent for underwater warehouses

In a bid to harness ‘unused’ spaces, Amazon has filed a patent for underground warehouses to be built in lakes or reservoirs. In this dystopian future, acoustic vibrations raise items through the water to the surface whenever you place an order.

Top marks for thinking out of the box here, but has there been any regard for the ecosystems native to the water bodies, upon which we depend? How can we be smarter shoppers — buying only what we need — saving our wallets and negating capitalism’s encroachment into our last remaining natural spaces?

And how else might we challenge ourselves to think creatively about how we use our spaces?

2 // Cockroach milk: the nutrient-rich alternative that researchers want to scale?

Humans have long consumed the milk of other species — from cows and goats, to soy and almond. Scientists are now researching the viability of cockroach milk for human consumption. It sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but first let’s take in the facts:

  • The milk from Diploptera punctata, the only type of cockroach which gives birth to live young — is energy dense, offering four times the calories of cow’s milk.
  • How does it taste? Like nothing in particular.
  • There are two potential paths for development: cockroach farming for milk on the one hand, and lab-based milk production without the roaches, on the other.
  • Cockroaches are able to survive nuclear wars, surviving on decaying organic matter; they can even live without a head for more than a month.

The global dairy sector contributes four percent of total global anthropogenic GHG emissions, while plant-based alternative milks can also use large amounts of energy and water.

Can cockroach milk be the milk substitute which offers reduced impact on the environment? To satiate our tastebuds’ longing for milk, will we be able to stifle the horror playing out in our heads? (And what about the welfare of the new troops of cockroaches — how exactly are their milk crystals harvested?) How does this signal challenge our notions of and dependence on milk?

More on cockroach milk from 06:30:

3 // Flying cows: Australian cattle board 747 to China

We never imagined pigs flying, but neither did we cows. Last year, 150 live cattle were flown from Australia to China for slaughter via a Boeing 747 cargo plane. This signals the massive shift in diet that China is undergoing. Rapid urbanisation and the rise of wealthy middle classes are raising China’s appetite for premium fresh beef. Once known as ‘millionaire’s meat’, beef is becoming a common meal. China will eat an extra 2.2 million tons of the meat a year by 2025.

Globally the meat industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases, of which beef production ranks the highest. Multiply that by the carbon footprint of flying live cows and pollution levels hit the roof. How can we shift diets from wilful extravagance to planet conscious? The Protein Challenge 2040 offers some answers.

4 // Swapping showers for a daily spray of live bacteria

Would you think someone weird if he told you he has not showered in twelve years? If so you might want to avoid Dave Whitlock, founder of a biotech start-up that makes bacterial mist products that do away with showers.

For many of us choosing between an arduous shower and squirting on some spray before collapsing off into bed, the answer is a no brainer (but what did you choose?). Confronted with such choices we are forced to consider what it means to be clean. Soaps and shampoos are marketed as products that keep us clean and fresh, but are these actually making our bodies cleaner, or just sterile?

Could embracing a bacterial mist routine help us to reduce our daily water consumption? How else do bacteria and our microbiome help us stay healthy?

5 // Researchers patent seaweed that tastes like bacon

Finally! Scientists have developed a new strain of dulse, a succulent red seaweed that grows quickly and is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. It also has a high protein content, with twice the levels found in kale. Most importantly, it tastes like bacon when fried.

Seaweed is an interesting food crop for its ability to thrive in waters with greater concentrations of carbon dioxide. It extracts CO2 from aquatic ecosystems and uses it as a nutrient. Sounds like a tasty treat that could survive our increasingly warm and acidic oceans? What other sources of food will prove resilient in the face of climate change?

So there it is, my five weirdest signals of change. What weirds you out? If you’ve got a weirdar of your own, share with us what you’re picking up in the comments below.

— By dot


Liking our signal of change playlists? Get in touch with us if you would like to curate a playlist with your take on which 5 signals are most significant for a sustainable future.


This article was first published on the Futures Centre on 30 Aug 2017.

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