As change resistors, we tend to think of major influencers as both negative and external to ourselves (ie: something or somebody else causes our problems). However, both show up as biases. With respect to climate change, this usually plays out in headlines such as these: “Top 3 Industries Hurt by Climate Change.”
First off, note the ambiguity in that above statement. Were three industries hurt? Or are we wondering whether three might be hurt? Next, consider what, if anything, we mean by ‘hurt.’ Sometimes, we try to dodge that by asking which businesses will be affected and with what likelihood. Unfortunately, that doesn’t improve our situation much. As an economist should tell you, we live in a competitive system, so every change affects everyone everywhere.
Ask Better Questions
Next, someone usually asks (sometimes with a bit of exasperation) “Well, which ones will be affected most, and will the effects be positive or negative?” As questions go, that’s slightly better, but still not great. After all, what do ‘most,’ ‘positive,’ and ‘negative’ mean in this context?
For example, people often give winemaking as an example of the ‘negative’ effects of climate change, but is that true? What is true is that the recent lengthening of the warm season made it hard to find products like ice wine, which depends on frost for its sweetness—at least until growers established vineyards in places that still had frost. Meanwhile, total vineyard acreage has been stable at about 18.6 million acres, according to Forbes. Evidently, warming has had no net effect.
Likewise, you could look at a relatively new and small industry like e-cigarettes, note that greenhouse gases degrade the oceans, possibly infer that the eco-conscious will seek to avoid all contributors to ocean destruction—including pollutants like cigarette butts, and conclude that some of them will protect the environment by picking up an electronic cigarette starter kit. If the growing environmental movement to tax cigarette filters (or ban them) outright succeeds, the effect could be enormous.
In other words, the one case that everyone talks about the net effect has been zero. In another scenario few people talk about, the effect may be relatively large and significant. By that point, of course, the client’s head explodes.
The Business Analyst’s Credo
The first two commandments have always been the most essential. First, thou shalt make assumptions. Second, thou shalt not make client assumptions for them. In saying this, we’re already assuming that climate change doesn’t cause our extinction.
The Unknown, Exploratory, New, Adaptable, and Non-Adaptable
Marketing students get ingrained with the idea that questions have many answers, and life comes in grades of adaptability. Within limits, engineers can give some idea of what’s possible with current technology, and finance people can help rule out irrational decisions. All of that comes with assumptions.
Change Your Assumptions. Unleash Innovation
-Maybe climate change will eventually inundate southern Florida, but what is ‘land’ anyway, but surface area above sea level? Maybe Miami will become a vast, floating metropolis, or sit on pilings to become a sort of New Venice.
-Lloyds of London has predicted that climate change will affect the insurance industry. Maybe. On the other hand, people are naturally risk averse, so maybe we will act to decrease our exposure by an offsetting amount, rather than pay higher premiums.
-Maybe the climate will warm sufficiently, so that man-made snow will no longer be able to keep up at resorts like Heavenly, outside Lake Tahoe. Or, maybe we’ll be skiing indoors. There are already plans afoot to throw a geodesic dome over Houston, Texas. Among other things, that would protect it from serious weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes. On the other hand, it would also create a climate-controlled environment. No HVAC means fewer coal fired power plants and less greenhouse gas.
In many cases, these are already questions. Not of inevitability, but of innovation, marketing, engineering, and financing.
Greg Dastrup is a world traveler and professional writer with a passion for learning new languages. He’s spent most of his career consulting for businesses in North America.
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