Gathering of the clans at Centre for Complex Systems in Transition


Last Friday we brought together all the academic staff and postgraduate researchers who are affiliated to the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition in one way or another. My Co-Director, Prof Jannie Hofmeyr (systems biologist and complexity thinker), gave a history of our institutional evolution, and I introduced our intellectual project. Jannie and I see the CST as the home of the ‘Stellenbosch School of Thought’ because CST is quite unique in bringing together complexity thinking, sustainability science and transdisciplinary research. All the staff and postgraduate researchers then briefly introduced themselves and their research topics. It was a truly inspiring occasion – as the saying goes ‘build it and they will come’. Doing this kind of advanced research on African soil is a great privilege indeed. No-one can predict the synchronicities that will emerge from the connections that will be made between people with such diverse disciplinary backgrounds rooted as we all are in the challenges of the African context. But one thing is for sure, five years from now we will have made a significant impact!

The Class of 2017 completes their first module

Eve Annecke and I have just completed teaching the Sustainable Development module of our Masters Programme in Sustainable Development for the 15th time! – yes, we cannot believe it, this is the 15th year that our masters programme has been delivered. And this year the class was the largest ever, at 53 students (selected from nearly 150 applicants who qualified for entry). Of the 53, only 13 are men (mainly because of the low number of men who applied) and nearly 60% are black. More significantly, 33% of the group were non-South African – the highest ever. Of the 17 non-South Africans, 14 are from various African countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Ivory Coast and Namiba. The other non-South Africans are from The Netherlands, Spain and Australia. Most are from the private sector – 24 out of 53, followed by 11 from the public sector, and 5 from the NPO sector. Ten are full-time students, and the other 3 are a mix of consultants/unemployed. It was a high energy module, covering a lot of ground including ‘long histories’ from 13 billion years ago, to inner histories of what it means to be human in today’s transforming world. The strong non-SA African presence influenced the direction of the discussions, including questions about the implications of the Bannonist coup in the US for the future of Africa, and in particular what it means to be African in a world where racism is on the rise, humanism may be dying and environmentalism is on the defensive. We read Achille Mbembe and Ben Okri to help generate some answers to this question.

Thanks to all the wonderful people at the SI who supported us, and to the families who have supported the students as they commence a journey that is bound to transform them.

(The pics below from the top left: walking upstairs for class after the gong, sticking up pics of their respective ‘homes’, group work, class discussion, working in the gardens, Eve facilitating discussion, and end of course party in the hall.)

UpTheStairs HomePics GroupWork GroupDisInClass Gardening EveTeachingjpgFriParty


New book by my colleague Lorenzo Fioramonti – The World After GDP: brings together his recent on governance innovation and makes a very convincing case for transcending GDP as our way of measuring progress.

FLYER – The World After GDP

Renewables, oil peak and the crisis of banking

Today I posted three items on FB which are clearly linked in ways that I would love to explore further. The first is an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper that reveals that wind power generated more energy in 2016 than coal power, and that coal power generated less in 2016 than in 2015. However, what was more significant than this to me is a reference in the article to the construction of a vast new infrastructure of “thousands” of wind farms – in other words, a new decentralised energy infrastructure to replace the centralized fossil fuel-based energy infrastructure. The second post was a remarkable article by Nafeez Ahmed entitled Brace Yourself for the Oil, Food and Financial Crash of 2018.  Using a recent report confirming oil peak by HSBC bank, Ahmed argues that the peaking of conventional oil production in 2005 will not only prevent global economic recovery it also contributes to a debt-driven finance bubble that will burst in 2018. The only alternative, he argues, is to prepare for a post-fossil fuel and post-capitalist economy. However, what will prevent this is the fact that global banks are capable of creating money via debt to sustain growth rates that are necessary to protect the value of the debt. Hence the significance of the third article which is about the remarkable – albeit gradual – acceptance of the notion that it is indeed banks that create money via debt financing. Quoting Mervyn King, former UK Governor of the Bank of England, the problematic role that banks play in the global financial system is lucidly explained and highlighted. It makes so much sense to connect the dots reflected in these three articles: the success of renewables that exacerbates the crisis of fossil fuel production by preventing scarcity from pushing up energy prices; the coming financial crisis exacerbated by debt-financed strategies to artificially compensate for the recessionary implications of oil peak – a strategy that the new Trump Cabinet is bound to reinforce and back up with military force; and the search for alternatives to the current system of money creation via ‘too-big-to-fail’ private banks, including either greater centralisation of control of money supply by central banks (e.g. as already started in India) or the promotion of localised (ideally non-profit) community banks (as has been prevalent in Germany). Surely the Trump Presidency is about defending the existing globalised financial system and the centralised fossil fuel-based energy system it is based on? Will the devastation caused by a possible global economic crisis in 2018 wreck these plans? Will alternatives to financialised capitalism and fossil fuel-based energy emerge on scale to replace the existing system? What alliances of forces are needed to make this happen? And what role will the construction of a decentralised renewable energy system play in creating a new global space economy of literally millions of renewable energy power plants? What is the relationship between the emergence of this new global space economy and the alliance of forces needed to bring about a global transition to a more equitable and ecologically sustainable world?  Herein lie glimpses of future trajectories.


Welcome to the age of anger

A truly remarkable brilliantly written critical overview of the root cause of the current global political crisis in historical perspective. A quote from Musil’ The Man Without Qualities about why we face the outbreak of irrationalism the world over says it all: this man suffers “immense loneliness in a desert of detail, his restlessness, malice, incomparable callousness, his greed for money, his coldness and violence” is “the result of the losses that logically precise thinking has inflicted on the soul.” I cannot see how anyone can comprehend the current historic moment – both globally and in SA where a once noble liberation movement has decided to retain a thief as President – if they cannot grasp this deep profound truth. Reconnecting a politics of the soul to a reconstituted theory of the economy and nature must surely lie at the heart of the new struggle for freedom in the c.21st – click on this link to the FB post. 


Eve Annecke’s TEDxtalk and TEDxCapeTownWomen

Eve Annecke talking at TEDxCapeTownWomen on becoming invisible, and how to be a worthy ancestor at the interface between a loving universe, her African roots and a world made mad by too much visibility. As is always the case with Eve, every word and every idea in this amazing talk is utterly original – something so rare in this world where social media has turned us into mass replicators of other people’s tropes. Redefining sustainability as the art of being a ‘worthy ancestor to the future’ is pure genius. It establishes a new way of anticipating the future that connects who we are, how we be in this world, and what the future could be. If forecasting is about predicting the future, and foresight is about compiling narratives of the future, then anticipatory thinking is about the evolutionary potential of the present, i.e. the future is connected to action in the ‘thick present’ (as Roberto Poli puts it). Eve’s talk is a brilliant rendition of this way of thinking-being.


Chinese growth and useless spaces

According to my colleague Serge Salat from Paris, as much as 40% of Chinese GDP growth is driven by investments in new buildings and associated infrastructure. However, there are now 80 million empty apartments. This bubble is going to burst, no doubt. But from a resource use perspective, this means up to 40% of Chinese growth that is, in turn, a major driver of global growth, is based on sinking money into cement. For the past 20 years over 50% of all cement use was in China. China used more cement in the three years 2011-2013 than the USA used in the whole of the c.20th. Cement demand in China is dropping, according to the largest cement company HolcimLaFarge. Mix all this together, add so political salt, and you get a looming crisis. Is anyone aware of the oncoming brick wall that Chinese growth is inevitably going to hit relatively soon?