The Janus moment…looking back and looking ahead

The core real-world problem all seven billion of us face? Threefold. Coaxing out some of Earth’s resources for our daily use. Protecting Earth’s habitat and lifeforms from our collective clumsiness and missteps. Minimizing Earth’s hazards.

Doing all this deftly.

Deftly? That means, addressing these three challenges not separately, but as a unified whole. Locally and globally. At every moment in time. And for the long haul! In ways we can sustain, even as the world’s population grows and social change and technological advance accelerate. Quickly getting much better at all this going forward.

Meeting this threefold challenge is not an option for humanity. We can’t choose whether or not to play. Like it or not, we’re all in this game. We can’t opt out. The real world doesn’t let us off the hook. And we have to play by real-world rules, not by an alternative rule set we happen to prefer. [As an aside, consider how this plays out with respect to the new rules for the U.S. House of Representatives. Which are more realistic? Rules that require the federal budget be balanced (pay-go)? Or rules that exclude tax cuts from such a need for balancing (cut-go)? Americans will be wrestling with these and related questions for quite a while.]

Moreover, we’re all in this together. At the end of the day, there are not going to be a few of us who are haves-, living happily and somehow oblivious to a surrounding sea of have-nots. We’ll either all have more [the path we’ve been on for the past century or so], or we’ll all have less.

This blog seeks to articulate this challenge, through frequent posts that deal successively with particular aspects. For the world’s peoples, time is limited and the problems are urgent; therefore any approaches must be viral. As for the blog, we take it as axiomatic that the starting point is community-wide, worldwide awareness of the challenges in their broadest sense. Two reasons. First, because such awareness can be relatively quickly achieved. Second, to be aware of our situation on the real world is to be motivated, and to start making progress.

We also take it as given that the real-world challenge is not hopeless. In fact, just the opposite is true! We have tools we can use; we are able and equipped to succeed [not in the sense of “solving” these problems for once and for all – that will never be a luxury we enjoy – but rather handing over a continuing challenge to the next generation no more daunting than the one we inherited from our forebears].

Equipped? In what way? The key challenge we face is not the individual decisions and actions we must take so much as creating a framework for making these decisions and taking these actions more quickly, effectively – constantly improving our skill and quality control. Globally, the world’s peoples have stumbled across four tools that look to be especially useful for this purpose, especially as we exercise and improve them. The four tools are:

–         public policy;

–         IT, including but not limited to the opportunity it offers to bring to bear social networking, and swarm intelligence on problems;

–         leadership;

–         and a foundation of facts, knowledge, and understanding.

Each of these four tools is potentially powerful; each needs continuing refinement and development.

With this background, and given that it’s early January, 2011, LivingontheRealWorld might appropriately look back, and look ahead. [Wikipedia tells us that the Roman god Janus, the god of doors, doorways, gates – and in the 21st century, web portals? – may have gotten this gift from the god Saturn for showing hospitality. Perhaps if we show a little more hospitality to one another, we’ll get a better handle on this gift. We could sure use it!]

Looking back. In the posts since August we’ve introduced many of these topics, especially those relating to policy. We’ve done a bit with respect to networking, and we’ve started a series of posts on leadership. Thank you for reading these posts, and for your ongoing encouragement! Thanks especially to those of you who have posted comments. Remember, colloquy is better than soliloquy. Contemplate submitting a guest post. One of our aspirations for 2011 is to broaden and deepen the dialogue.  

Looking ahead. As things stand now, the next few posts will continue to unpack the leadership theme. However, we’ll then turn to posts exploring the essential importance of a foundation of facts, knowledge, and understanding for any hope of living successfully on the real world.

Starting sometime around the 22nd of January, and running at least through the 27th, the posts will comment on various aspects of the upcoming AMS Annual Meeting in Seattle.

Why focus on this meeting? After all, it’s only a few thousand people coming together for a few days. In truth, however, this brief gathering, and all such AMS meetings, are far more significant than the numbers suggest. Why? Because the meetings focus not just on knowledge and understanding, but also on harnessing that knowledge and understanding to benefit all humankind. Because participants will wrestle not just with the science questions, which are daunting enough, but also with issues such as being as disciplined in our approach to communication as we are to our science, standing up improved public- and private-sector climate services, the integrity of science, developing future generations of scientists and scientist-leaders, and much more.

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