The Power of Crisis in The Never Normal

Ian Bremmer truly believes that crisis forces action. And so do I.

Patrick Perkins R At Adolvcos Unsplash

Ian Bremmer is one of my top favorite political scientists. He is the president of political risk research firm Eurasia Group and the founder of the digital media firm GZERO Media, which I highly recommend as a fantastic source of geopolitical information.

His most recent book, The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats – and Our Response – Will Change the World, may make you a little nervous, though. It zooms in on a trio of looming crises - global health emergencies, transformative climate change, and the AI revolution - but it’s ultimately pretty hopeful. Because Bremmer truly believes that crisis forces action. And so do I.

It’s also pretty safe to say that we’re facing enough crises to really force us to act on them.

Take the huge synthetic opioid crises in the US, for instance, which – only in 2022 – was responsible for 120,000 people dying of an overdose. In fact, US life expectancy has declined 2 years in a row now - with babies born today expected to live about 2,5 years less than those born in 2019 - and the biggest contributor to this shortening of life spans is drug overdoses, especially from fentanyl.

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And let’s not forget the massive inequality we’ve been dealing with: on the one hand we have the Four Seasons’ private residencies selling for $2.7 million. And on the other, US supermarkets are putting 5 dollar cans of spam behind lock and key, because financially struggling people so frequently shoplift them that the police no longer comes around, unless there has been a 1000 dollar loss. I could keep on going, but I’m sure you understand where I’m getting at.

This is a social shock waiting to happen.

Multiple crises

It’s not like we have never dealt with that type of misery in the past. Just think of the “dark” middle ages. But there is one Big difference. As Steven Hawking so brilliantly described in one of his last op-ed pieces in The Guardian, we now have the means of communication where everybody who is in trouble can actually immediately see who has a better situation.

And then there’s the political crisis in the US, which has the country deeply polarized. The January 6 debacle of 2022 seemed like an isolated element, but we’re seeing more and more of these weird right wing groups and endeavors. One of the last times I was in the US, I saw these strange billboards, generally focusing on transgender individuals and crime, from Citizens for Sanity which claims to oppose "woke insanity". A few months ago, you could not even have imagined that in our “normal” society. And yet that is our reality today.

And let’s not forget about the Cold War between China and the US escalating and further polarizing. But perhaps one of the most disruptive crises of our times, is climate change. We have been able to minimize its effects for quite a while. But now the consequences have become palpable. The US, for instance, has sustained 348 weather and climate disasters (where overall damages and costs reached or exceeded $1 billion) since 1980. The total cost of these 348 events exceeds $2.510 trillion. $2.510 trillion over 40 years. Only in the US.

And perhaps one of the biggest challenges inside the climate crises is income versus carbon inequality. The richest countries carry the most responsibilities for the carbon problem, while the poorest countries suffer the most consequences. And we’ll see massive climate migration in the coming years because of that. We need to solve that. You may find some hope in the "historic” COP27 agreement on how wealthy countries will pay poor nations for the economic damage caused by climate change - like droughts and flooding - through a "loss and damage fund". But for the moment this is just a political statement. An intention without a financial commitment. So we'll have to wait and see how "historic" this really is.

Opportunities for optimists

The result of all of these crises is some kind of weird dichotomy: between those of us who are really excited about the potential of this Never Normal and then the others who are uncomfortable, anxious and would love to return to the Old Pre-pandemic Normal. I am definitely on the optimist side. I see these challenges as opportunities for creating better businesses, and better lives. I believe in people who can actually make a difference. I believe in scientists. I believe in innovators. And I really believe in the power of technology to support them with their missions.

But for me, the big question here is this: are we creating enough opportunities for these pioneers to actually make all of this happen in the current Never Normal crisis? I think we could do a whole lot better.

As a side note; that's why, to inspire the optimists of tomorrow and the next generation of innovators, my company nexxworks is organizing a Youth Tour in July which will be moderated by me. So that parents can take their teens and young adult children with them to some of the most technologically and organizationally advanced companies in London. The aim is to show them the possibilities of a new world of work and business and inspire them to help solve these crises and shape better companies, better lives and a better society. You can request the tour program here.