Category Archives: Hope

Journal: Dear Future Generations

Originally published in 2015 on my personal Facebook page.

Dear Future Generations:

I’m sure it’s obvious to you — you can see things better than we can, in hindsight — but I want to report to you that we are living through a time of dramatic change. Historic change. The kind of moment where everything seems to be balanced on a knife edge, and it could tip either way.

I am writing to you from Stockholm, Sweden. I’ll start with what is happening here, then I’ll paint you a global picture. Because it’s all connected.

Not long ago, this was a quiet little corner of Europe, a place where everything “worked.” There was essentially no poverty. No homeless people. There was a shared belief in something we called “solidarity.”

We don’t use that word much any more. In a few short years, we now have beggars on every street corner. There are people here who have fled from poverty or war, only to wind up living in tents, or sports halls, or outside on the street. Many thousands more war refugees, after traveling thousands of miles, are knocking on our door — so many that our government just decided to close that door. This is a pattern being repeated in many other countries, too. (Though one country, Canada, just decided to open their previously closed door. Good for them.)

Meanwhile, our “Western” part of the world is reeling from a series of small but extremely violent, deadly, and scary attacks — we call it “terrorism” — whose purpose is to strike fear into people’s hearts, ratchet up tensions, and provoke us into global war. The strategy is almost working. Our extreme right wing political groups are gaining strength, countries are rattling swords, and demagogues reminiscent of the 1930s are rising up amongst us. (Unfortunately, these populist rage-baiters have access to technologies far more powerful than the microphones used by Hitler and Mussolini.)

Meanwhile, it’s warm this winter — again. According to global data, this year is the warmest our modern, industrial civilization has ever measured. And we (as you well know) are the ones warming things up. That’s not all we’re doing to the planet, either. Huge alarm bells are ringing for Nature, everywhere. Some of us are trying to wrestle down our overall “footprint” on this Earth. But so far, humanity’s “foot” keeps pressing down harder and heavier, pinning us to the mat.

We’re also struggling to leave a bit of wildness for you to enjoy, but it’s extremely hard work. All it takes is a small number of uncaring or greedy or needy or ignorant people to destroy wild Nature — by setting fire to Sumatra, say, or poaching African elephants. I’d like to be able to say about these people, “They know not what they do.” But in fact, they know exactly what they are doing. And there are global markets ready to absorb the “profits” of their illegal activities. They are extremely clever about getting past our increasingly desperate defenses, too. It’s starting to seem obvious why the mammoth, the dodo, and the passenger pigeon are no longer with us: it only takes one of us to kill the last of anything.

That sounds like a pretty bleak picture, and it is. A dismal thought crosses my mind at least once a day: we could all too easily tumble into an abyss of war, political dystopia, and ecological catastrophe.

But that’s the bad news, one side of the knife edge. The other side — the good news — is, well, surprisingly good.

Despite dangerous and viral pockets of poverty and war, our human population is overall getting less poor, and less violent. We have made amazing strides in providing people with education, better access to food and energy and health care, a sense of hope for their children’s future. We have far to go — hundreds of millions are still living in misery — but many trends are moving rapidly in the right direction. We just need to figure out how to keep those positive trends going, while not destroying the planet’s ecosystems, and before social instabilities make the challenge insurmountable.

But there is good news on the action side, too. This year, the world’s governments completed an unprecedented series of global agreements. Recently, they finalized a new deal on climate change that was better than most of us hoped for — even if we know it is still not enough and will have to be improved later. We also have, for the first time, a truly global vision and a set of global goals for where all of humanity should be heading. You probably take the idea of “SDGs” (Sustainable Development Goals) for granted by now. For us, they were an unprecedented historic breakthrough.

We are even starting to understand the fundamental principle that “everything is connected to everything else” — and we are starting to build that principle into our government policies, corporate strategies, and community development programs. It’s not just talk, either: I am watching serious change happen, with my own eyes, every day.

Given everything happening now in our world — the good, the bad, and the ugly, to borrow an old movie title — I find myself thinking about you more and more.

It seems like this time, this specific time, is really going to be decisive for you. Our descendants.

So I just want you to know: things are really, really shaky just now. We’ve had global war before, kicked off by similarly unstable conditions. So we know, unfortunately, that it’s all too possible to fall into that huge and deadly trap.

We also know what it’s like to fudge and hedge and not do what is necessary to secure the health of Nature, and the wellbeing of People — because we are seeing the consequences of insufficient action, on the global scale, right now. We are finally waking up to the fact that these two things, human happiness and ecological integrity, must go together. When they don’t … well, among other things, we get the conditions we are struggling with in Sweden, and many other places, right now.

Basically, we know what failure looks like. And we can see all too clearly that failure, when it comes to managing our presence on planet Earth sustainably, is still a possibility.

But we also know — because we are starting to experience a little of it — what success feels like. Setting clear goals. Working together to achieve them. Maintaining an optimistic vision and intense effort, no matter what. Tackling problems head-on, intelligently, compassionately. Working on making systems better, not just symptoms.

I just want you to know, dear Future Generations, that many of us are working very, very hard to try to make things better. More and more of us, all the time. Working for you, for ourselves, and for all life on this planet. And I believe we are starting to tip that balance in the right direction.

But please — if you can — let me know how it turned out.

Love,

Alan

 

Video: Transforming the Future: Anticipation in the 21st Century

This short video — a collection of short interviews with professors and consultants — summarizes a forthcoming UNESCO book that covers the field of “anticipation,” the latest way of framing foresight and future studies. It draws on the work being done in UNESCO Futures Literacy Knowledge Laboratories, all around the world.

Here are some notes from the video. Actual quotes are marked; otherwise the notes are summaries of statements made by the named expert.

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Transforming the Future (Open Access): Anticipation in the 21st Century (Hardback) book coverAnticipation is a new name for concepts like future studies, foresight, though there are nuanced differences in these terms. (Lydia Garrido Luzardo)

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The work of this group is based on the groundbreaking work of Robert Rosen, a mathematical biologist who was trying to understand “what is life.” Rosen developed the idea of anticipatory systems. He found “most of reality is anticipatory in one way or another.” (Roberto Poli)

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[Anticipation] is not about looking at a target future; it is about looking differently at the present. (Luzardo)

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“All our actions are based on predictions of their consequences. We see the world as a meaningful world, not a collection of objective atoms. We see the world as a set of possibilities for action. We see objects and things where we think that we can do something. This is the meaningful world that we operate in. But the meaning itself is all the time based on what would be the consequences of my action. The world is not out there to be discovered, but it is actually constructed by ourselves.” (Iikka Tuomi)

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“What people say is the future is just their story of the future. So storytelling, the words, can becoming important tools for imagining and creating the future.” (Kewulay Kamara)

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“You can only make sense of things after they actually exist. So you have to try to create the future — and then try to think what it means.” (Tuomi)

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We are trying to get people to the insight, I am *using* the future. Then they will ask, “if I am using it, what is it?” (Riel Miller)

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Foresight is used by both policy (“la politique”) and politics (“le politique”). … “There is autocratic foresight: you construct the future, and you require people to follow it.” These kinds of foresight — autocratic, ideological — always end badly, often in catastrophe. (Kais Hammami)

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“If we become better at appreciating complexity — seeing uncertainty as a resource, not an enemy (because of course it is an enemy of planning) — we can shift the origins of our fear, and construct our hope in a different way. And if we can do that, it allows our identity to be more whole with respect to our origins, that is the past, but also our aspirations. And that will make people happier, and more at ease with who they are, in this universe that has this amazing potential to change.” (Riel Miler))

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“Anything that perpetuates the status quo is basically a colonisation of our futures.” (Roumiana Gotseva)

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“It’s a very inclusive way to create knowledge, because no one has better knowledge than anyone else.” (Lizard)

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Forces from the past are just half the picture. There are forces, feelings, etc. coming also from the future, so to say. “The social sciences need to be rewritten to give equal weight to the past and the future.” (Poli)

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We tend to think that if we change the structures, we will change the way people think and behave. For me, it’s the other way around. If we change the way people think and behave, we will bring new structures naturally into existence. For the why is changing the assumptions underneath what we think change is. (Gotseva)