Running on ice


Imagine you’re standing on a hill near the edge of a huge frozen lake. Hundreds of people are skating on it, having a great time. As the day goes on, more families come down to the shore with flasks of hot chocolate, put on their skates, and head out onto the ice. By lunchtime, as the sun is high in the sky, there’s music and gluhwein and a party. It’s awesome fun, the way things should be: outside, enjoying simple pleasures, together.

But then the ice starts to break. Whether it’s the weight of the skaters, the bass from the speakers, or the warming from the sun isn’t important. What is important is that by now thousands of people are standing on something which is crumbling quickly. Already there are people in the water, but with the noise of the party, and the density of the crowds, most people are unaware of what’s going on.

Through your binoculars you can see the open mouths of those nearest the hole as they cry to those in front of them to “MOVE!” as the crumbling edge gets closer and closer. A ripple of movement spreads like a half-hearted Mexican wave, but there are too many people not paying attention, and the crowd stays where it is.

As you run down to the shore to get people nearby to come off the ice you start shouting to people to “Come help! The ice is cracking!” As old and important looking man – the local Mayor? – says as you run past “There goes another one! Every year they shout, ‘the ice is cracking!’ and it’s always just a few cracks from someone ice fishing.”

Getting closer, you try to come up with a plan. From the flat of the lake people aren’t going to have the vantage point to see for themselves, so you’ll have to convince them. But if you create panic, people will trip and fall preventing more from getting off safely. You need to get everyone to link arms and walk briskly, purposefully, and calmly in the direction of safety.

How do you do it?


Meanwhile, in other news:

This is a five-degree C trajectory. It’s absolutely tragic for humanity to be on this pathway.

Burning of fossil fuels added a record 36 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2013, locking in even more heating of the planet.

Global CO2 emissions are projected to rise 2.1 percent higher than 2012, the previous record high, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Global Carbon Project.

“Perhaps this represents cautious progress. This is the second year in a row of below average emissions – slightly less than the 2000-2013 average of 3.1 percent.” Le Quéré told IPS.

Still, these hard numbers demonstrate that the U.N. climate talks have failed to curb the growth in emissions. And there is little optimism that the latest talks known as COP19 here in Warsaw will change the situation even with the arrival of high-level ministers Wednesday.

Global emissions continue to be within the highest scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), she said.


Image source: NASA Goddard

Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons


  1. First, don’t think about the “people” as a homogenous group, an English man, a Chinese man and German are out ice skating, and each will respond differently to a crack in the ice. Of course it’s not about race, it’s about knowing the differences between people and using them to the advantage of the situation. You are one, the mayor is another, but “everyone” is thousands (billions) of individuals, but more excitingly, thousands of groups.
    How do we start the chain reaction?

    1. My thoughts are a free-flowing, interlocking mass rather than neat, coherent threads, so finding the place to begin is difficult, though here goes. I believe that humankind is inherently self-regulating, we know that within an environment we can find the way to survive, we are having difficulty right now, finding a way to live within limits on our planet. This is a new problem for humans.
      As a species we need to understand our happiness more profoundly. To do this we need to shift our values (simplistically, for example, we need to distinguish greed (wrong) from selfishness (right)*, and we need to let go of shame and fear to be able to be honest with ourselves). To shift values we need to know more //this is the part I think we’re at now and its where I get really excited//, to know more we need to share more, to be privy to content, opinion, discoveries, facts. I think for those of us over 35 we can remember the world before the internet, and know that this has at least begun to happen.
      One big problem in the process of dissemination of past learnings, as Stephen Fry pointed out many years ago, is that our greatest thinkers/storytellers (the ones that can take a jumble of thoughts like mine and weave coherent and shareable stories), are selling plastic watches or making movies about cars.
      Ok, so lets not be so greedy ok? (Corporations, Pharmaceuticals / Petrochemical / Mining, making money… I think we are on to this nugget but it will be one of our greatest challenges.)
      Lets recognise that we should not be ashamed of selfishness. People who love you will be most happy if you’re happy.
      Without fear and shame we can be honest creatures, we will communicate better.

      Side note? I was just showering, reflecting on this thinking that we need to see this mass of information in a more organised way – for example, to see it over time, the way the shape of the information has changed, is changing, and can be changed by us in our future, the patterns that remain and the ones that have been lost – maybe humankind needs a way to talk and think about the 4th dimension – can we have a new school of thought combining physics, history and philosophy?

      I feel lucky right now thinking about people I know who are teachers, aid workers, artists, health practitioners, lawers, politicians, activists, writers, students and musicians and supportive friends because they all have a role to play. And here’s where I’m a bit lost, and also hopeful, surely our engineers, scientists, designers, economists… are working to find the solutions? If we can all talk to each other openly and honestly wthout fear, but all we have to say is “we will die”, well…

      Thinking positive:

      Armed with an enhanced awareness of those around us and our self preservation made newly shame and fear-free, I don’t think it would take a second for the duel message of impending doom coupled with the best solution (everyone shuffles gently off the cracking ice to the nearest bank) to spread through the thousands and be done.

      *In my humble opinion, selfishness is to evil what rats were to the plague.
      Rats do not cause death, they’re simply the unfortunate carryer of the culpable bacteria. Sure, if we kill all the rats it may not spread, but that’s xenocide, and hankies, soap and closed sewers do the job just fine.

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