52 / The Happy Accident

For F*ture's Sake!

Hi there, welcome to For F*ture’s Sake! It’s a brief edition this week, so let’s get stuck in.

Reading time: 3 minutes

Part 1 - Essay

The Happy Accident

“Discovery needs luck, invention and intellect - none can do without, the other.” - Goethe 

Back in the day, anyone worth their salt wore a beaver fur hat. The Wellington, the Paris Beau, and the Regent, were all totemic head lids for gentlemen of note.

To keep up with an insatiable demand for the silky sheen of a beaver’s pelt, trapping forts were set up all over North America.  And inevitably, by the 1850s, these semi-aquatic rodents were on the verge of extinction.

Since then however, the paddle-tailed architect has made a comeback. But it's also regained its dubious reputation as a fantastically dense pest. With a couple of felled trees, beavers can clog up the waterways, building homes so impressive, they’re visible from outerspace. 

So what happened? What triggered the bothersome beavers revival?

Well, it wasn’t for the power of people protest, or environmentalists chaining themselves to beaver-dams. And it was no thanks to the actions of fur trappers either. 

If the industrious beaver was once sacrificed for fashion, eventually, it came to be saved by it too: 

The silk top hat was invented, and with it, the more obliging silkworm became the milliner’s chapeau of choice. 

Overnight, the dammed beaver's “duvet,” went from top hat to old hat, while today, its reputation as an exceptionally important member of a thriving ecosystem, is finally beginning to be understood.

Serendipity Rules, OK

The beaver-skin hat story is one of accidental social change.

In the context of the climate crisis, maybe there's value in this tale. When it’s possible to inspire behavioural change through serendipity, perhaps we rely too heavily on science and storytelling as tools of persuasion.

“People ask for data, but believe stories." says Sustainability Strategist, Dr Jeff Leinaweaver. And he's not wrong. It’s just that, too often, we don't act upon them.

A recent survey by YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project and The Guardian highlighted a major disconnect between people's beliefs and actions: While an overwhelming majority accept human responsibility for climate crisis, many still plan to drive and fly more post pandemic than they did before.

Old habits die hard — if you have to dictate, legislate or cajole. Yet the tiniest tweak in a story, can instantly transform people’s values. And when that happens, change is easy.

The challenge is trying to trigger it.


Part 2 - Leaving a legacy

Doughnut Economics

In Ireland, it’s hard not to like our President, Michael D. Higgins. We even have a best selling book about his glasses! Last month, he became the first head of state to endorse the Doughnut, an exciting alternative to growth economics. He argues, “A radical paradigm shift is required in the connection between ecology, economics and society.”

Online Public Parks

Much of our communal digital spaces feel public, but they’re not. They’re walled gardens where the corporate owner has complete control. Eli Pariser has an idea to change this. “We need parks, libraries, and truly public squares on the internet.”


Part 3 - Random Bits

  1. It might be satire, but The Endless Doomscroller — a context-free, string of dread-inducing clickbait — is actually therapeutic. Just like Twitter then!

  2. Mike Shine

Take care — Scott.