The standard assumption about the future is that it will resemble the past. Often, we adopt the standard assumption because it is a useful heuristic in everyday life. In the context of contemporary risk assessment, however, maintaining the standard assumption is blue sky thinking at best and ruinous at worst. Contemporary trends, historical precedent, and scientific models strongly suggest that our collective futures will be shaped by institutional collapse, natural disasters, and political decay. Collectively, we take very few steps to offset any of these risks. Already, we are living in the midst of an ecological crisis that only threatens to intensify, and such a crisis functions as a force multiplier for many other breakdowns. Ignoring these findings and projections because they are unpalatable makes us irresilient and risk blind. It contributes to the increased probability of systemic collapse. It also results in the potential loss of tremendous amounts of economic, human, and natural capital.
Instead of blue sky thinking informed by the standard assumption, gray sky thinking generates speculative engagements with new assumptions. These assumptions integrate realistic assessments of existential risk with a theoretical framework that dispenses with our reliance on the assumption of civilizational continuity. In other words, gray sky thinking assumes that the future will not resemble the past – indeed, that present conditions already are misperceived when viewed through the lens the standard assumption provides. The distinction between blue sky thinking and gray sky thinking is not like the difference between optimism and pessimism, nor does it have anything to do with whichever future we prefer. Rather, the distinction is almost purely pragmatic. We prefer blue sky thinking – especially if it comes credibly disguised as realism or revolution – because confronting the possibility of negative events generally proves distressing. In contrast, gray sky thinking intentionally navigates such distress in order to project alternative practices of worldmaking given the reality of existential risk factors.