Mike Conley of Plymouth Warns The Perfect Storm is Brewing

By Rachel M. Anderson, Contributing Writer

(Plymouth, MN) – Mike Conley of Plymouth, Minn., has always considered himself an optimist; but he says the way things are going, it’s getting harder and harder to remain positive about the future. 

“I am very concerned about the toxic IOUs we are leaving for others in the form of our carbon, ecologic, economic and other footprints,” says the 77-year-old, who like a lot of his friends has grandchildren who may well live into the next century. “I fear today’s children will be wrestling with the time bombs we have left in their pathway.”

Conley currently serves as Chairman and CEO of the Conley family Foundation, an organization whose main mission is to support causes dedicated to protecting the environment, clean energy, and healthful, addiction-free living. However, providing financial support to organizations with goals similar to his own isn’t the only way Conley is hoping to be part of the solution. 

He is also contributing by doing research, sharing what he has learned through talks, writing articles and essays, and by writing and promoting his latest book, Mortgaging the American Dream: What Were We Thinking?  The book, as Conley describes it, is “a multi-disciplinary textbook with a personality.” 

It traces how we have systematically borrowed on the future to sustain the unsustainable paradigm that now exists and, in the process, have mortgaged the American Dream for future generations while jeopardizing our own. “Our intergenerational malpractice, and the ‘play now-pay later’ culture it represents has morphed into many of the existential threats the world now faces,” says Conley.

Among these threats, Conley cites pandemics, like the recent COVID-19 outbreak, asymmetric cyber-warfare, an economic implosion from runaway debt, climate change, ecological destruction, nuclear attacks and the like, as triggering mechanisms with a capacity to ignite a Perfect Storm. “With the Fourth Industrial Revolution now underway, we can also expect a new disequilibrium in our societal structures and workforce as we strive to adapt to new technologies,” he says.    

Through personal stories and reflections, the book also provides anecdotal accounts of how members of Conley’s high school class of 1961 experienced the American Dream through the Cold War; the atomic, space, digital, and internet ages; several wars, and 13 different presidential administrations.   

“It takes little imagination to plot out the destructive trajectories now underway, and it will take a  shocking event to shake us out of our lethargy and awaken us to the looming threat of the Perfect Storm,” says Conley, whose goal is to help people understand what the Perfect Storm is; why it is the biggest challenge we will ever face; how the mortgage we are taking on the American Dream will torpedo future generations and stifle our chances for weathering this storm; and where the Perfect Storm will take us if we fail to act while there is still time to mitigate its sharper edges.

Conley also sees opportunities once people awaken to the threats and turn the challenges into a catalyst for reenergizing the American Dream. The book provides a comprehensive plan for turning the corner in a revitalized new global effort as well a dreadful picture of how things could look if we fail to act and the Perfect Storm erupts in its full fury.

Mortgaging the American Dream is divided into three sections. Part I, The Perfect Storm Primer, examines the forces and dynamics in play as the economic, geopolitical, energy, technological, climate change, ecological, and behavioral forces build and collide to create a critical mass of catastrophic proportions. Part II, Pathway to the Perfect Storm, traces the forces and events that have historically transpired and systematically developed since World War II to produce the existential threats that now exist. Part III, Weathering the Storm, examines the steps that can be taken to re-energize the American Dream and keep it alive for future generations.

Conley is planning to use teh book as a textbook for a course he will teach at the University of Minnesota’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). He also plans to speak as often as he is able about the steps we need to take now to turn the tide.  

“My hope is that through my book, readers will discover the systemic nature of the threats we face as well as the need to address them in their totality. Within this framework, the book provides a number of remedial actions that can be taken on an international, national, local and household level to address the storm and reenergize the American Dream,” says Conley, who is pleased that early reviews for the book have been very favorable.

Will Steger, National Geographic polar explorer, and founder of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, said, “As a seasoned polar explorer, I’m drawn to challenges and seek out the edge on my adventures, where I believe learning occurs. We are on that edge in society, as R. Michael Conley makes clear in Mortgaging the American Dream. Conley’s book explores the systemic issues of climate change, debt, energy, geopolitical threats, and ecological self-destruction in a way that helps us see the interconnected impacts our actions are having now and for future generations. It’s not often an author can make clear the interrelatedness of these issues and the trajectories we are headed toward, but Conley does so in a way that connects the dots and motivates us to awaken to the threats and take action to change course.”

“Americans know down in their bones that things are deeply amiss and that the colliding forces of geopolitical strife, climate change, debt, and ecological loss cannot go on forever. R. Michael Conley’s Mortgaging the American Dream is a sober and disturbing read, but also uplifting in its vision for reenergizing the American Dream in a way that is profound and more authentic than the mythos of the past,” said Michael Noble, Executive Director of Fresh Energy.

“Sometimes a book comes along that speaks so deeply to what we all know in our hearts is true, that it permanently changes the way we see the world and our place in it. R. Michael Conley’s Mortgaging the American Dream is one of those books. Read it. Give it to your friends and every elected official who represents you,” said Rolf Nordstrom, President and CEO of The Great Plains Institute. 

Copies of Mortgaging the American Dream: What Were We Thinking? are available for purchase through both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as WeatheringtheStorm.net. Copies of Conley’s novel, Lethal Trajectories, which explores a terrifying “what if” Perfect Storm scenario based on extensive research and current geopolitical trends and world events, are also available for purchase online. 

 Learn more about Mike Conley’s work at WeatheringtheStorm.net.

About the Author 

R. Michael Conley, Chairman and CEO of the Conley Family Foundation and founder of Weathering the Storm, LLC, is a former senior executive of a Fortune 500 company and active on a number of boards and advisory groups. Conley graduated from the University of Minnesota, after serving in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War, and later completed a postgraduate business program at Stanford University. Author of the award-winning book Lethal Trajectories, Conley has taught college-level courses on the perfect storm and regularly posts articles on his website. He and his wife, Sharon, live in Plymouth, Minnesota with kids and grandkids in the Twin Cities area.

Book Description

The COVID-19 Pandemic has demonstrated the awesome power of exponential growth and how it can overwhelm our systems and a society conditioned to think and react in linear terms with linear solutions. In Mortgaging the American Dream, award-winning author, R. Michael Conley reveals a toxic mix of escalating threats that will ultimately trigger a perfect storm of unparalleled dimensions.

The book shows how this gathering storm has intensified over decades of intergenerational malpractice into the toxic mix of existential threats now growing by the day. The growth trajectories of climate change, ecological destruction, unfunded entitlement liabilities, crushing debt, and other pernicious byproducts of our “play now – pay later” culture are of an exponential nature, and they are being turbo-charged by aggressive feedback loops, denial, and our wasteful anthropogenic practices. Our tendency to apply liner thinking to exponential threats and address complex systemic challenges with quick fixes – a sure prescription for disaster – is examined with no attempts to sugarcoat the results. 

Feeling the storm’s early tremors, we are borrowing heavily on our future to sustain an unsustainable paradigm of living, and mortgaging, in effect, the American Dream for future generations while jeopardizing our own. The escalating tensions within this gathering storm and its claim on the resources that have made the American Dream possible are graphically explored; culminating in a frightful picture of what life will be like after the perfect storm erupts. A plan, Reenergizing the American Dream, is then provided to show how this threat could also be a catalyst for mitigating the storm’s sharper edges while getting positioned for a more sustainable future.

Personal stories from the author’s high school class of 1961 are provided throughout the book to show how the American Dream played out at a boots-on-ground level; living history, if you will.