“During Crises, great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order.” (Strauss, William, and Neil Howe. Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: Morrow, 1991.)
The 4th Turning began at the beginning of the Great Recession. According to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research (the official arbiter of U.S. recessions) the U.S. recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, and thus extended over 19 months. As a general statement, the current 4th Turning began in 2008.
According to Strauss and Howe’s book “The Fourth Turning” this would align with the prior 4th Turning that started with the Great Depression in 1929 and lasted until the end of WWII, about 17 years. A Turning might last more or less than 20 years, with the overall cycle averaging out over time to four turnings with a total of 80 years.
The current Fourth Turning, if 20 years long, would extend to 2028. The rhythm of the Fourth Turning begins with a major crisis like the Great Recession and ends with an all out fight to the death at the climax. Between those bookends in time, a crisis begins to spread from one area of the world to others. In our case, the consequences of climate change are going to cause people worldwide to adapt, mitigate and demand leadership.
In 2015, we arrived at a societal consensus on the main topics of the culture wars from the past to close the final chapter on the prior Unraveling, the 3rd Turning. Gay marriage is legal, there is health care for everyone through the ACA (Obamacare), and abortion, contraception and women’s health care are available. There are still a few locations where these issues might not be completely settled. Even though our politicians are still attempting to divide people into red and blue voters, society has moved beyond the old culture wars and is beginning to build momentum toward the climax of the crisis era.
During this 4th Turning, we are experiencing a growing societal consensus about adapting, mitigating and responding to Climate Change. In 2015, the increasing support for climate action means the annual meeting schedule for December in Paris has everyone’s attention. A global coordinated response to climate change means helping those most effected by the consequences. The Pope stated on June 18 in his Encyclical that the poor are going to experience the consequences of climate change while those who can adapt and mitigate the consequences will not suffer or sacrifice.
The second element is an ethic of personal sacrifice. Here are four quotes (bold is my emphasis) from the Pope’s Encyclical (On Care For Our Common Home, June 18, 2015):
“…Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up…”
“Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.”
“…we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works…”
“By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1).”
President Obama has called for shared sacrifice more than once.
“America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place. Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” May 2, 2011, President Obama’s Statement on the Death of Osama bin Laden.
“If everybody took an attitude of shared sacrifice ... we can solve our deficit and debt problem next week, and it wouldn't require radical changes.” August 17, 2011 as reported by CNN.
“Acts of sacrifice and decency without regard to what's in it for you create a ripple effect. Ones that lift up families and communities, that spread opportunity.” May 13, 2009, President Obama Gives Commencement Address at Arizona State University.
As we continue to move deeper into the 4th Turning, the demand for shared sacrifice will increase. During a 4th Turning the demand for leadership increases but the supply is low in the beginning. Aligned with this, the supply of sacrifices offered by people has been limited however the demand for shared sacrifice will increase. During the climax of the 4th Turning, the Pope and the US President are just two leaders who will emphasize shared sacrifice.
Strong Institutional Order
To deal with a global threat like the consequences of climate change, strong multinational institutions are going to need to be created and old ones reorganized. For example, a new organization is Plan B (http://bteam.org/planb/) includes a multinational team of business executives investing in climate actions. An existing organization, the Catholic Church, is pivoting toward being a leader in advocating for the poor in the fight against the consequences of climate change that are going to fall disproportionately on the poor.
The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015” will be from November 30 to December 11, 2015. COP21 will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. The Pope’s Encyclical, President Obama’s agreement with China on reducing GHG emissions and many meetings leading up to the COP21 event have all contributed to strengthening the UN as a leading institution.
As we move forward from 2015, we will experience increasing alignment of institutional goals and objectives with those of consumers, voters, businesses, governments, non-profits, religious organizations, and many NGOs that support the poor and refugees.
The 4th Turning climax crisis will play out across the whole planet. Decreasing food from the oceans and land, increasing heat waves and floods, violent gangs rampaging within unstable countries, will all contribute to tens of millions of people migrating across borders. We are about five years away from a catalyst that will mark the beginning of the climax to the crisis. Just like WWII had a beginning, this crisis climax will have a beginning and an end. Somewhere in the 2020 to 2028 time frame the crisis era climax will intensify across the whole earth. We will be navigating a strait, the very existence of which is denied.