The question is not whether we are going to trash the planet. The question is whether we are going to trash ourselves as a species. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from last week’s publication by the United Nations Environment Program of GEO-4 (available online here, news article summary here). What’s interesting is that we’re now seeing cultural responses to our potential extinction.
I spent some of the weekend in Newcastle (or more precisely Gateshead) at the DOTT ’07 exhibition which marked the close of this ambitious two year project. Three essential lessons for me, which won’t be surprising to those who know the work of John Thackara, who directed the project:
- Sustainability is about flows, not stuff
- Those flows have to include knowledge as well as materials
- Sustainability needs social, public, and community engagement
The project has been well-documented on the website, but it’s worth pulling out a few personal moments of illumination.
I’ve been meaning to blog for a couple of weeks on David Bowen’s intriguing article in the FT about General Motor’s uncharacteristic response to strong criticism by New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman. Instead of calling their lawyers, they went online. Bowen’s article draws some lessons from the story.
If this is true, it’s alarming. The German energy consultancy Energy Watch Group [EWG] says in its latest six-monthly oil report (report and executive summary can be opened in pdf from here) that global oil production peaked in 2006 – and has since declined quite sharply.
EWG’s conclusions are based on production data rather than information on reserves, which they note “are difficult to assess and to verify and in the past frequently have turned out to be unreliable.” Production data, in contrast, is easier to observe and more reliable. The study looks at each region in turn, and concludes that all producer regions except Africa will be in decline by 2020, and all – Africa included – are declining by 2030.
I have a chapter in Scenarios for Success, edited by Kees van der Heijden and Bill Sharpe, and just published by Wiley. The book came from a meeting of the Oxford Futures Forum aabout eighteen months ago, and includes, I think, quite a lot of innovative material on scenarios techniques and methods. (The editors were pretty tough in getting their contributors – well, certainly this contributor – to develop their thinking).
The World Future Society has released its top ten trends for ‘2008 and beyond’, from its journal The Futurist. It’s a slightly odd list, and – as with all such lists – in a slightly odd order. I’ve grouped them below to try to make some of the obvious connections, and added my own commentary.
If good futures work is about understanding your filters and bias, it’s hard not to read it as a rather American list, however. The WFS version of the list and their summary notes can be found here; the whole report can be bought here for a negligible $5.
What happens if the pervasive chemicals in the everyday products we buy and use are the reason that we generally feel below par so much of the time? It could cause a backlash by consumers who increasingly regard their well-being as important to them. The thought comes both because of the wave of stories about product recalls from Chinese factories, and the recent House of Lords Select Committee report which said that allergies were reaching “epidemic proportions” – without their experts seeming to have much consensus as to why.
Remiss of me not to mention that 6th October – last Saturday – was the day when the planet went into ecological debt this year; or in other words that we’re now using up resources which the earth isn’t able to replace. The new economics foundation (nef) marked the date with a report (free, but registration required).