Seeing the future through the fog

August, the month known as “Fogust” around these parts, is a pleasant reminder of my fondness for fog. For the past sixteen summers, it has been a welcome presence. Now, when I look outside my window, I could be convinced that there is no climate change, and everything is fine.

But it is not fine. Greenland is melting right in front of our eyes. I am sure, like everyone who is on social media, you have seen the video of gushing rivers where there is usually snow. And it is not just Greenland: Alaska is burning, Siberia has a problem, and Europe is experiencing temperatures usually reserved for India at the peak of its summer heat. To pretend that there isn’t a climate catastrophe happening around us is just childish.

Our leaders, both political and corporate, have failed us. Their cavalier approach to climate change, including a willful ignorance of the consequences and warnings of pending problems from the scientific community, are a collective failure of our planet’s elders. In many ways, it is too late to reverse change. It is time to start living with the reality of climate unpredictability. How do we incorporate super hurricanes, high temperatures, dying fishing stocks, and rapidly vanishing water resources into our future?

As a society, we have to stop this culture of denialism, especially in the political circles, and especially in countries like the United States. The next step is determination — because that is what it we are collectively going to need in order to find answers.

Honestly, it doesn’t help that we are currently living in a moment of dystopia chic. The meme in popular media is that all technology is evil and bad. And sure, there are bad actors that have us trapped in a web of data and advertising. Yes, there are monopolies that are champions of consumption and surveillance. But should we lose faith in the hypersonic capitalistic approach to science and technology?

Call me a believer or an optimist, but I do believe that science and technology are going to find us ways and means to cope with the change we are experiencing. We can and will find new ways to find a better future. We certainly need to invent new technologies and come up with clever science, but first, our society could use an infusion of bold and radical thinking. That means more rapid adoption of the technologies that we have already developed.

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson recently shared a graphic about the U.S. adoption of connected thermostats. The penetration rate is projected to rise from 6.5 percent in 2017 to 21 percent in 2023. Why so slow? Why do we have to take forever for near universal penetration? Sure, it isn’t the optimal product. But it is enough for us to start metering energy usage and to help us get smarter as a collective about planning for our needs.

Are there problems with the devices we have? Of course there are. But large scale brings better data — and hope for a better solutions. I’m not saying thermostats are the answer. There are other devices we could consider, some of which are even simpler. For example, self-regulating and self-adjusting bulbs can play a role in what should be viewed as smart management of our energy production and consumption. If expanding their use was a societal priority, this could be an effective approach. But for whatever reason, it isn’t even near the top of the list.

As an investor in connected technologies, when it comes to getting smarter, I have witnessed and heard about foot-dragging in all industries. Food production, for example, is so full of waste, and yet, the industry’s biggest names have failed to figure out how to optimize the production. This may be the least we can do, especially as our farmlands come under extreme pressure from constantly changing weather events and lack of water. Optimization is the need of the hour, allowing for improvements to be made while others work on figuring out bigger solutions like urban farming, lab-grown meat, or vegetable-based proteins and food supplements.

We have to stop living with the delusion of unlimited everything. Our collective mentality is driven by a capitalistic system that is becoming more and more short-term oriented. Making as much money as possible in three-month increments has become the dominant philosophy. No thoughts are spared for long-term consequences, though that is where our focus should be. At some point, we need to realize that it is getting late around here. It’s already past the point of returning to what was, and there is less and less time to figure out how to live with what we are going to be contending with going forward.

We don’t have unlimited resources, unlimited time, nor unlimited money with which to fix our problems. What we have is unlimited potential as species and an ability to put our collective brain to work. As venture capitalist Tom Baruch put it, we need “an entrepreneurial blitz against climate change.” This is an area of interest for me, and I am looking forward to helping find, curate and even invest in ideas that both help us cope with climate change and present opportunities from a business perspective.

In order to proceed with a clear focus, we have to remove the noise around us. Ironically, this is the kind of focus that comes with fog, nature’s own Dolby system. In addition to bringing an attractive level of simplicity to my photography, in a very tangible way, it makes a messy world less cluttered. It is a good metaphor for how we need to be thinking about our future — without distractions.

This first appeared on my weekly newsletter dated August 4, 2019. If you like to get this delivered to your inbox, just sign-up here, and I will take care of the rest

A letter from Om

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