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Robyn O’Brien «Why Naysayers and Doomsdayers are Bad for Our Health»

06/22/2023 South Summit

The headlines are pretty damn dire, and it’s easy to become paralyzed in this quagmire of climate chaos, food system problems and grief.

Spain facing food shortages as severe drought leads to crop failure.”

The Global Food Crisis: Impact on the Asia Pacific Region.”

Do we really want to read these headlines? If we still have access to food, how much do we really have to worry?

Last year, U.S. consumers saw the largest annual increase in food prices since the 1980s.

Let’s say that another way: in the U.S., we saw the largest annual increase in food prices in almost 50 years.

With technology and efficiencies of scale, you’d expect the opposite. But that isn’t happening.

While food prices generally increased about 2% in prior years, they increased about 11% from 2021 to 2022. Inflation contributed to the increase. But there were other factors—like global disruptions to the food supply chain—that may have had a greater impact. And not everyone felt this increase the same way, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

I am from the South, Texas to be exact, and I absolutely love to host friends and family. It is one of my favorite ways to show people that I love them, so when I see headlines like these, I want to fix them.

There is clearly intervention needed at a lot of levels, economic, political, financial, social as well as an enormous amount of collaboration.

But none of that will happen without creativity which is the pulse of innovation.

Thankfully, we have resources and tools on hand today that we might have only dreamed of a decade ago.

Our ability to crowdsource, share, collaborate and innovate has never been better which is why an event like South Summit is so powerful.

One of the risks in business development is silos – political silos, social silos, economic silos, geographical silos. Silos are dangerous, and they can quickly become homogeneous echo chambers. And homogeneity is dangerous for any system, especially food and agricultural systems.

Research conducted in silos, policy devised in silos, financing secured in silos, are bound to fail. It does not capture the very best of us, because it discriminates against diversity.

In agriculture, we talk a lot about biodiversity. What is it exactly? Biodiversity or biological diversity is the variety and variability of life on Earth. According to the UN, “biodiversity forms the web of life that we depend on for so many things – food, water, medicine, a stable climate, economic growth, among others. Over half of global GDP is dependent on nature. More than 1 billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods. And land and the ocean absorb more than half of all carbon emissions.”

But biodiversity loss is threatening the benefits nature provides to people around the world.

From the most remote terrestrial wilderness to the most densely populated cities, according to 10 Pointer, humans are inexorably changing the planet. “We have put millions of animals at risk of extinction, degraded vast habitats, polluted the air and water resources, destroyed forests and coral reefs, exploited wild flora and fauna, and fostered the proliferation of invasives. Above all,the human beings have caused a global climate crisis.This planetary neglect and mismanagement helped pave the way for the COVID-19 pandemic. The disruption of natural ecosystems has escalated health crises.”

And it is so fixable, so fixable, with the talent, capital, innovation and creativity we have on hand.

According to Britannica, “biodiversity loss is caused by five primary drivers: habitat loss, invasive species, overexploitation (extreme hunting and fishing pressure), pollution, climate change associated with global warming. In each case, human beings and their activities play direct roles.”

Which also means we can play a direct role in solutions. Which is where innovation, creativity, collaboration and the fun comes in. if you’re a problem solver, a fixer, a do-er, this is the space for you. If you love water, oceans, wildlife, flowers, food, travel, this is the space for you.

Never before has there been such an incredible call to action. And not just for certain types of people and talent, but for all types. Solutions will vary depending on the region, the crop type, the soil, the infrastructure. What works in the U.S. may not work in Europe, let alone Africa. The goal is to scale regional solutions, not homogenous ones. We need educators, artists, musicians, tech geniuses, investors, creators, collaborators and believers.

Because the truth is that this is so fixable. We stand at the starting line of unprecedented opportunity with tools and technologies we’ve never had before, enabling ag+tech, water+tech, food+tech and so much more.

So while it’s easy to climb into a cave of despair, don’t. Step away from the naysayers and the doomsdayers. Find others who believe that change is possible, those whose eyes light up with possibility and hope. Those who believe that the only way forward is to believe we will find the way forward.

And join us in Madrid, June 7-9, 2023, where thousands of us will gather together with an energy so palpable that you’ll want to bottle it!


See you in Spain!



Robyn O’Brien is on Forbes’ Impact 50 List for her courageous and impactful work at the intersection of food and climate.
A visionary futurist, Robyn brings optimism, passion, integrity and fortitude to her keynotes and work with S&P 500 clients to help leaders transform and scale their businesses. Her story, inspiring the food industry to change, touches everyone.

Invited to give over 100 keynote talks, executives and teams value Robyn’s candor and unique abilities to synthesize and share what you and your team can do to build a creative, collaborative, resilient mindset, culture and roadmap for the 21st century and its changing landscape.

She is the co-founder and Managing Director of rePlant Capital, a financial services firm scaling climate solutions. She is a best-selling author and strategist who can speak to the critical importance of technology, data integrity, gender equity, courage, creativity and resiliency in any organization. Her work in impact and mission has defined her career.