In 1978, Peter Matthiessen published “The Snow Leopard,” which detailed his quest to find a snow leopard. It is a “great cat” that inhabits the forbidding heights of Central Asia, so elusive that it is called “the ghost of the mountains,” so rare that it had only been seen twice in the previous quarter century. Matthiessen’s tale is a moving and powerful read. It won two National Book Awards and is invariably ranked among the best travel books ever written.
Peter Engelke, who works on strategic foresight at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, tracks “snow leopards,” a term he uses to describe “known but underappreciated — perhaps even forgotten — phenomenon.” His snow leopard lurks in the background until it sneaks up “and vividly reminds us that it exists.” He contrasts the snow leopard with the far better known “black swan,” noting that the snow leopard isn’t necessarily a single discrete event and its arrival is preceded by ample information that is readily available if looked for.
The snow leopard is a useful metaphor as we head into 2022 and brave (or foolish) analysts make projections for the year ahead. Engelke is keeping an eye on the growing role of cities in the fight against climate change, the “dawn of lab meat” and the resurgence of environmentalism and mass activism on a global scale, among others. Other studies highlight the takeoff of electric vehicles, digital currencies and space travel, along with low-orbit satellite infrastructure and connectivity.