Our third trip around the sun
The month of February marks the beginning of Probable Futures’s third “trip around the sun.” If you are receiving this letter, you are part of this community that aims to increase the chances that the future is good. As we mark this milestone, I write to share our progress and our plans with you.
Since the public launch of our digital platform just a few months ago, you have helped Probable Futures reach 40,000 people across almost every country in the world and helped garner the attention of global media and social impact award recognition. Perhaps, more importantly, you have helped the ideas and tools behind Probable Futures reach people of power and influence—individuals who can use their voice and position to accelerate the many changes we must make to address the climate crisis. We are just getting started.
In March, we will release the next volume of our public platform, Water, including new educational content and interactive maps. We’ll follow this with our volume on drought later this year. We’ve also been building a new tool: Probable Futures Professional. Developed with the help of journalists, engineers, educators, and business leaders, this tool gives users the ability to combine Probable Futures maps with their own data to explore and share visual stories about the intersections of climate change and our societies. It will help communities and organizations explore their climate-related vulnerabilities and make a case for both mitigating climate change and building resilience to its near-term impacts. If you are interested in participating in the testing program for Probable Futures Professional, please reach out.
Meanwhile, at the macro scale, it feels as though we are experiencing whiplash on climate progress, particularly in the US. It’s unclear if the Biden administration and the current Congress will take decisive action. Corporations are making big climate commitments, but we don’t yet know if they’ll follow through in meaningful ways. Many people openly questioned the effectiveness of events such as COP26 and the agreements it produced. Yet the fact that the event dominated headlines, and was widely recognized and tracked, has been a sign of progress in public awareness.
In light of all this, we are unwavering in our commitment to the mission of Probable Futures. Since the launch of the first phase of the platform, we’ve received feedback from users and listened to stories about how people are applying the tools in classrooms, businesses, and in their communities. We look forward to sharing some of those stories in the coming year. Through these conversations, we’ve also gained a more granular understanding of what’s needed from Probable Futures at this moment in the climate movement. I am pleased to share some of this thinking with you today.
Democratizing access to climate data
Every person on Earth has the right to know what is coming. Probable Futures is built upon the belief that we should all have access to science that is material to our future, especially since that science was developed in the public domain with public funding. At the most fundamental level, Probable Futures provides access to this science by making it as understandable and useful as possible to the average citizen. Without such a resource, existing inequities in access to climate data would likely widen.
In a recent article on Axios, Andrew Freedman said:
The consolidation in the climate intelligence space threatens to lead to an asymmetry of access to information. If you’re a wealthy investor or large real estate firm, you can pay to find out which companies or regions will be safest from climate hazards, and make sound investment decisions. However, ordinary homeowners, such as those in the Denver suburbs who faced down a horrific, climate-fueled wildfire on December 30, 2021, may be left with fewer no- or low-cost options to find out detailed information about their mounting risk exposure.
With the existence of the Probable Futures platform, there’s a lot less “asymmetry.” Furthermore, the individual or company that elects to engage with a commercial climate data service can use our platform as a reference and guide, and become a more informed consumer.
Providing a framework for a new way of thinking: climate awareness
The most frequent question asked about climate change is: “What should I do?” It is telling that we haven’t easily answered this question after four decades of grappling with the climate crisis. It shows just how complex and deep the issue is, reaching into every corner of the earth and our lives. That said, if we are to address climate change with the scale, scope, and urgency it calls for, we will all need frameworks that help us make sense of the changes we need to make at the individual and collective level.
At Probable Futures, we believe that the most important action an individual can take is to adopt a mindset that we call “climate awareness.” Climate awareness starts with paying attention to the myriad ways in which a stable climate underpins our everyday life. This seed of mindfulness of the natural earth and our human-constructed world can quickly grow, helping each of us see the unique opportunities we have at work, at home, and in our communities to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and to plan for what is likely.
In a noisy and frenetic landscape of climate communications, Probable Futures aims to provide clarity of thought for those who seek it. We endeavor to provide the information, insight, and context needed to mindfully prepare for the unavoidable, avoid the unmanageable, and find different kinds of joy, wonder, and fulfillment in a changing climate.
Building useful tools and demonstrating their applications
The proximity of climate change is causing more people each day to seek out tools to help them manage its implications. Companies are making emissions-reduction commitments and disclosing their physical climate risks exposure to their stakeholders. People are moving away from communities that are highly vulnerable to flooding, fire, and volatile weather. And schools are beginning to bring climate change education into classrooms, in recognition of the responsibility we have to prepare students for a changing world.
As these new applications of climate science become more common, Probable Futures will provide practical, intuitive, and effective tools that are flexible enough to be used across industries and disciplines. We intend to make our tools as accessible as possible, support people and organizations as they experiment and explore their uses, share successes and failures to help build a collective understanding of the applications of climate science, and evolve our offerings to meet the needs of the communities we serve.
While the feedback thus far has been extremely positive, we don’t expect to get everything exactly right immediately. We see our work as evolutionary and responsive. We’re here for the long haul.
Training the trainers, inspiring the storytellers
We envision a world in which climate awareness is part of the cultural narrative of every community on Earth. But this kind of social change won’t be achieved by one person, company, or organization. It will require thousands of ambassadors and thought leaders across government, business, philanthropy, entertainment, and the arts. We aim to help orient those people and institutions, so that they can share their insights—from their perspectives—with their communities.
This could take many forms: a formal educational module in a company’s climate training program, a workshop with artists and screenwriters, or perhaps an informal climate-oriented mentorship with a CEO or government official. We intentionally built Probable Futures to be both nimble and scalable, so that we could meet people wherever they are.
Modeling a new kind of institution
Climate change is underway, and as a result, our society is going to change. We believe that traditional, siloed institutions are unlikely to adequately address the many facets of this change, which span from energy to industry to culture to morality and ethics. We need institutions in the private and public sector that can fluidly operate across these boundaries—institutions that have a nonprofit’s humanity and sense of purpose; a corporation’s capital, ambition, and organizational effectiveness; academia’s rigor; and a creative’s aesthetics and inventiveness. Our ability to innovate our institutions is limited only by the bounds of our imagination.
Probable Futures seeks to be a model for this new kind of institution. We are a nonprofit initiative building well-supported software that is useful across disciplines, and that has purpose and ethics encoded within it. We unapologetically resist the urge to pinch pennies; instead, we choose a clear scope of work and then recruit and fairly pay top-notch people to help us execute that work, adhering to the highest standards. And we believe strongly that our team must be well rested, well nourished, and well read in order to do their best work, so we see to it that their roles build in time and space to tend to these necessities. Relatedly, we encourage everyone in the Probable Futures community to get out and experience the best parts of this civilization that we are trying to save.
I share this with you today in the spirit of transparency and gratitude. Spencer and I have always known that this endeavor would be audacious—perhaps even absurdly ambitious. But each one of you has done something unique to support our mission, and as a result, this community is growing and our offerings are expanding.
As I reflect back on these past two years, I am struck by the most basic element of what this community has done: We built something that did not previously exist. I am not talking about the platform—the zeros and ones that make up our digital tools—but about the Probable Futures community. We have no sign on the front of an impressive building, nor shared offices or a salon-style gathering space. Probable Futures is a construct of people and ideas. I find it beautifully simple and simultaneously miraculous that humans have the ability to coalesce around ideas so strongly that it can form a community, sometimes even a movement, and with any luck, can change the future for the better.
In the meantime, each of us are making our own trips around the sun. February is the anniversary of the launch of Probable Futures, but it also happens to include my birthday. My mother often recalls the story of when I was born, 39 years ago in a New Jersey suburb near New York City, during a historic blizzard. Over the years, my family and I typically celebrated with some kind of winter activity such as sledding or skiing. This year, I laid awake the night before my birthday listening to a punishing rainstorm on the roof above my bed in my home in Massachusetts.
The fact that February weather in New England has become less reliably “winterlike” is not inherently a bad thing, but it does mean that I need to change my expectations for future Februarys, and find new kinds of joy and wonder in our changing world. Thank you for being a part of that joy.