It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

December 11, 2017

And so, in the blink of an eye, another action-packed year has hastened past sowing turmoil and peace, fear and love, trauma and healing, decline and growth, and leaving some lamenting the path of seeming destruction they’ve had to walk, and others celebrating an incredible journey. We live in a truly dichotomous world, and the way we process and interact with our environment plays a massive role in both how we view and interpret what is going on around us.

2017 has seen some colossal events take place that will quite possibly shape the future of humankind in ways we may only know through future generations. Elections within several European countries saw the rise of a growing sense of nationalism, which threatens to derail the European Union, and has triggered heated reactions on the streets of “civilized” nations such as France, Spain, Portugal and Holland. Economic instability mixed with rampant looting and corruption across the globe continues to threaten any chances of closing the income inequality gap, and bridging the divide between first and third world countries. Research done by ClimateWise, an international coalition of insurers, brokers and industry service providers indicates that extreme weather events in 2016 cost the global economy an estimated $170 billion. This was up $65 billion on 2015, and once the final numbers are tallied up for 2017, expectations are for another hefty upsurge. Closer to home South Africa has experienced severe droughts and extensive flooding, political shenanigans and private sector complicity, ratings agency downgrades, and widespread looting and corruption. We are only now starting to get insight into the absolutely horrific disaster that resulted from the Health Department’s handling of the Life Esidemeni debacle, and Parliament has also brought to light the downright dirty dealings that take place on a seemingly daily basis within our state owned entities.

On the opposite side of the doom and gloom spectrum, some absolutely awe-inspiring events transpired in 2017 that give me so much confidence in where we are headed as the “dominant species on the planet”. If you’re a semi-geek like I am, nuclear fusion is one of those great movie plot items where the world’s energy woes can be instantly reversed by some crazy scientist in a tiny underground laboratory generating nuclear plasma, and trying to keep the idea out of the hands of the bad guys. Well, such tremendous advances have been made in the field, that MIT scientists have predicted an energy grid supplemented by nuclear fusion as early as 2030. That’s just 13 years away. Related to the energy field, in January this year, scientist managed to create metallic hydrogen. This is the first time Hydrogen has existed in a metallic state on earth, and is fascinating research I’d encourage you to go and take a look at. In a metallic state, hydrogen has the potential to act as a substantial superconductor, with immensely wide reaching benefits.

A sore point for our friends down in the Western Cape right now is massive water shortages. Whenever I think of water shortages, I imagine an alien flying in from a distant galaxy, and upon seeing earth, marvelling at the massive expanses of blue ocean, interrupted here and there by strips of land. Learning of a water shortage on this predominantly water covered planet might seem strange to them. In April this year a research team from the University of Manchester led by Rahul Nair released results that showed the use of Graphene-oxide membranes to desalinate salt water in a laboratory environment. They are confident that this technology can be deployed on a larger scale, and although at one stage Graphene was the most expensive substance in the world, new technologies have drastically reduced the cost of production, and this novel technique is starting to be considered an extremely viable way to turn one of the world’s most abundant resources, salt water, into one of the world’s most scarce, clean drinkable water.

All of these scenarios touch on some of the risks highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2017. Some illustrate the huge impact the realisation of these risk scenarios has, and others exemplify how human ingenuity can turn a catastrophic event, or potential event, into considerable opportunity for growth. This duality of risk (both threat and opportunity) is something we all need to take greater cognisance of when getting down to the nitty gritty of achieving the objectives we’ve set ourselves as organisations and as individuals.
Whether you are in the field of risk management, compliance or audit, you are in a truly unique position to ensure that events such as these are considered, rationalized where possible and analysed effectively when taking into account the future success or failure of your organization. I’d like to encourage you to do so with as much of an open mind as possible. Always analyse the upside to your threat analysis, and never discount the downside in your opportunity analysis.

And as we all embark on some much needed rest and recuperation over the festive season, may the path ahead by smoothed by the knowledge that humankind is poised, more so than at any point in history to follow a trail that is to the benefit of all life on our beautiful blue space rock.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

Author – Paul van der Struys
December 2017