Posts filed under ‘Future trends’

The character of conflict

I found this very interesting report from the UK Ministry of Defence (Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre). It’s called the Future Character of Conflict and examines global trends out to 2029. I’m afraid it’s not very cheery reading and to save you wading through 40 or so pages, here’s the gist of it:

  • future conflict will be increasingly hybrid in character.
  • state failure will be one of the dominant, defining features of future conflict.
  • the access to resources (energy, food or water) will drive states’ security interests; control over these resources and their methods of distribution through the global commons will be a critical feature of conflict in the international system.  It may dictate why we fight, where we fight and thus how we fight (how many times on this blog have I raised the issue of skirmishes over food and water in the future?).
  • al-Qaeda and other extremists are likely to hang around and pose a threat.
  • climate change may create instability, especially in those states that are already vulnerable to other pressures.
  • the world’s population is rising and this will lead to increased demands for resources.
  • smarter adversaries have adapted to counteract the Western preferred way of warfare.
  • the risk of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) use will endure; indeed increase, over the long term.
  • if the character of the last military era was defined by the West’s ability to conduct precision strikes on enemy platforms and command nodes, the conflicts of the future are likely to be defined more by the centrality of influence eg influencing public perceptions. So the future will be a battle of narratives within a decentralised, networked and free-market of ideas.
  • in future conflict, smart adversaries will present us with hybrid threats (combining conventional, irregular and high-end asymmetric threats) in the same time and space.
  • in some conflicts, we are likely to see concurrent inter-communal violence, terrorism, insurgency, pervasive criminality and widespread disorder.

And here’s a really frightening quote from the report (p19):

The merging of state proxies, extremist ideologies and criminal interests into a toxic cocktail, along with the effects of globalisation, such as more porous borders, will make some non-state actors harder to counteract. They could employ a wide spectrum of military capabilities, albeit some at a limited scale, but they will nevertheless be capable of innovative tactics that exploit inherent UK vulnerabilities“.

Obviously, this report will lead to a huge debate over Britain’s defence forces and it was interesting to read in the report how social networking sites will become an important feature of future conflict (p.18). You can download the report here.

February 23, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Maps of the future

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) has produced some maps that look at signals of change, trends or disruptions in the future. The first map, 2008 Map of the Decade, looks at patterns and activity that help to make sense of our possible future within a ten-year forecast. You can download the map from the IFTF site.

There are five key foresights around:

  • diasporas: emerging new economies
  • civil society: the evolution of civic infrastructure
  • food: the flashpoint
  • ecosystems: management in the context of life
  • amplified individuals: the extended human reality

The diasporas cluster is interesting. With increasing global migration, diasporas will no longer be defined by geography. New disasporas will be defined by shared identities brought about by social networks, activities and events. And the future flashpoint (which I’ve said many times on this blog) will be the global food supply. As the climate changes and as our planet groans under the weight of a world population predicted to be 9.2 billion in 2050, global food supply will be disrupted and this will be accompanied by water woes. At the same, I certainly think that we’ll see the rise of localisation – a return to growing food in local communities and a call to return to the planet large areas of wilderness that were previously destroyed by humankind.

Also from Institute for the Future is a Map of Future Forces Affecting Sustainability that provides foresight for navigating “the complex business sustainability landscape from 2007 – 2017, with a focus on environmental health and safety strategies”. The Institute describes this map as a “sensemaking and provocation tool” to help businesses shape their strategies in a future world driven by sustainability concerns.

You can download and enlarge the map here.

As this map points out, we are moving from a world of problems to a world of dilemmas in which sensemaking capabilities will be important along with an ability to deal with uncertainty (yeah, well the GFHF is certainly helping us get this skill!). The map helps to identify dilemmas within the driving forces of People, Regions, Built Environments, Nature, Markets, Business and Energy and I think if you look at it carefully, you’ll see it can help businesses and individuals to elevate the conversation around sustainability.

Finally, from KnowledgeWorks Foundation and The Institute for the Future is the Map of Future Forces Affecting Education, which you can download.  The trends this map highlights confirm what I’ve been saying – a revival of localism but also of interest is Gen Y’s smart networking capabilities:

“Their experiences with shared presence through instant messaging and video chat, gaming as a structure for thinking and interacting, and multiple digital and physical worlds will create new modes of work, socializing, and community learning that stress cooperative strategies, experimentation, and parallel development.” 

You can view all the trends for this map here.

January 15, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Frugal Chinese

image_347I’ve said before that Governments asking us to spend, spend, spend is not what is needed. Because after the spending props up the ailing American-style Capitalist system – what then? Do we keep going with the bailout binges and rescuing financial giants or the auto industry? Did you read that porn boss, Larry Flynt, is asking for a $US 5 million hand out to save the sexual appetite of the United States?

Or do we start doing some really serious reflection and realise that change starts within? The second-half of the 20th Century was an era of extreme individualism fueled by free market policies. Community-minded values disappeared. The greed for individual wealth does not result in a healthy society. I often wonder if postmodernism is to blame for our current state – postmodernism resists definition but questions all narratives such as family, society, art, religion and morality. And so you live by your own rules, you don’t care what others think, your only focus is the self – in other words, extreme individualism. Shared rules or understandings no longer apply. I must think on this more and do a post.

But I think that this might be part of Obama’s appeal.  As a community organiser, he was focusing on common problems, common values, common issues. His speeches have been about a common-based society that challenges the wealthy, capitalists and the entrenched corporate power that dominates our economic model. This is my hope: that Obama can successfully introduce a new discourse that speaks of a society of common values. He’s already talked of a Robin Hood-style plan to tax the rich and redistribute the wealth to the middle classes. Of course, accusations have been flung at Obama about socialism (the economic philosophy of which involves taking property from the rich and redistributing to the poor). You only have to read his father’s article, Problems Facing our Socialism, to work out what Prez Obama’s ideals are going to be.

Seems though that young Chinese might better Obama when it comes to organising people and restoring a quality of life at lower cost. China’s phenomenal growth has resulted in the rise of a consumerist society dominated by The Brands. But the global financial crisis has hit China – factories are closing; the manufacturing sector is taking a deep dive; China’s aviation industry is in need of a bailout; the country is bracing itself for social unrest in early 2009 because of rising unemployment; and export growth is shrinking.

So young Chinese office professionals are calling for frugality and a return to a simpler life. Wang Hao, a 24-year-old Beijing office worker, has so far organised 55,000 young Chinese in his campaign to curb living expenses. He has a blog, which offers advice on how to spend less on clothes, fast food, The Brands and various consumer goods. Wang Hao says that young people should try to prune their spending back to just 100 yuan per week (around US$ 14.62; AUD $20.00 ; Euro 10.89). There are other sites and blogs, some offering recipes for meals that cost under 10 yuan.

At the same time, the Chinese Government is urging consumers to spend to boost the economy and announced a US $586 billion economic stimulus package. Much like Australia and the US, the Chinese Government is hoping to create jobs by spending money on infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, housing and power plants. But whilst Chinese officials are determined to “protect eight” (meaning 8% growth in 2009), young Chinese are tightening their belts, which is much as I predicted in a recent post and shows a decline in consumer confidence.

Now, I would certainly be hard-pressed to live on AUD $20.00 a week (especially when my weekly train ticket has just taken a hike up from $63.00 to $66.00. Hello? CityRail how do you justify this cost when the trains continue to be reminiscent of the Third World?). So how far can a young Chinese go on 100 Yuan? Apparently, you could buy nine McDonald’s Big Mac burgers, half a tank of petrol or two movie tickets.  Limiting oneself to 100 Yuan might be a bit extreme but young Chinese need to do something when you consider office workers spend an average of 2,500 yuan a month whilst their income is approximately 2,192 yuan a month (US$320; AU$454; Euro 238).

Wang Hao now cycles to work and eats steamed buns for lunch instead of scoffing down pizza. Another young Chinese, Lin Yufei also 24 years old, has launched a group called “Let’s have a 100-yuan week” on popular Chinese social networking website douban.com. Lin says: “The point is not only saving money, but to lead a quality life with lower cost”. The website shares ideas and experience amongst participants, which obviously could lead to a more communal approach to living in the post-global financial crisis world and the younger generation practicing thrift could educate society in general.

I think this is just one example of a conscious shift towards a better, lower cost, emotionally and physically healthier, more frugal lifestyle – the post-GFHF economy.  I am considering starting a new blog that would do much the same – tips for leading a frugal life.

January 11, 2009 at 1:06 am 1 comment

Out of print

I told you recently that I was going to be self-publishing a book of my photos. Well, I have my head around the software but I’m still grappling with designs and themes, so I’m still a few weeks off publishing. But it got me thinking about the rise of the self-publishing industry and how this must be affecting mainstream book publishing and journalism. So I snooped around and discovered a few statistics, which led to a question about democracy.

Apparently, December 3 2008 is known as Black Wednesday in the book business. Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books, folded five of its divisions into three and axed two top editors in the US. Simon and Schuster laid off 35 people; Thomas Nelson axed 10% of its staff; Houghton Mifflin laid off employees; and Penguin announced pay freezes. The Chairman of Barnes & Noble lamented in an internal memorandum that “never in all my years as a bookseller have I seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in.”

The newspaper industry is also in serious trouble. The New York Times is mortgaging its own building to ease cash flow and raise $225m (£153m); whilst Tribune Co, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Advertising revenue has dried up; online ads have declined; newspaper readership has gone south; and the internet has spawned many online newspapers such as The Huffington Post (which ironically repackage news originating elsewhere).

Meanwhile, the personal publishing business is booming. The particular self-publishing site I’m using boasts over 750,000 books published in 2008 and $300,000 in profits paid out to people who elected to offer their books for sale on the site’s bookstore.  Many of the books published on the site I’m using are personal books along the lines of wedding albums or mementos of personal travel but there are also a large number of books written by professional authors moving over from the mainstream publishing route (including a Time Life photographer). Obviously, you avoid the hassle of getting a literary agent or receiving your 200th gut-wrenching rejection letter when you self-publish.

But as newspapers and publishing houses trim staff and desperately try to ease cash flow, what effect will dwindling access to mainstream newspapers particularly have on democracy? Blogs and online newspapers of course are magic – they allow you and me to offer up our personal opinions. But few of us have the resources of a large newspaper or the investigative skills of a journalist. We can’t go trooping around the world to hot spots, reporting like international correspondents on torture or oppression.  We don’t have the funding or resources to dig, analyse, vet sources and expose.

And as much as I rant and rave about politics or society, I don’t have a readership in the millions (alas!), so for me, newspapers played a role in keeping the bastards (Government) honest and educating the citizenry. Politicians don’t like being exposed in public. With mass circulation, the general public could be kept informed. With blogs and online newspapers, we filter. I read certain blogs and online newspapers; you may read others. We filter according to our interests and worldviews. And let’s face it, most blogs and online resources sit in the Long Tail, so don’t get maximum exposure or readership.

Of course, I could argue that the blogosphere and the internet has changed what constitutes “news”. That Joe Bloggs can participate by leaving a comment under an online newspaper item or blog post and trigger a conversation. It’s user-generated stuff that may in fact be genuine democratic discourse.

But I think the New Yorker says it well: “Just how an Internet-based news culture can spread the kind of “light” that is necessary to prevent terrible things, without the armies of reporters and photographers that newspapers have traditionally employed, is a question that even the most ardent democrat in John Dewey’s tradition may not wish to see answered. “

I admit I’m torn on this. Seems to me newspapers could shed light on the darkest parts of this world of ours and because of mass circulation, the public were kept out of the dark. With online resources and newspapers, some of us may still be in the dark because of our choice of what we read online. So the discourse is narrowed.

The New York Times, for example, could expose The Pentagon Papers and shed light on the full extent of JFK’s involvement in the Vietnam War and that Prez Lyndon B Johnson had ordered an expansion of the war at the same time he was telling the American public that there would be no expansion. The NY Times fought a tough legal battle defending the First Amendment right of the press to publish information significant to a citizenry’s understanding of their Government and its policies.

Could online newspapers do this? Would they have the investigative clout or funding? True, bloggers brought down Dan Rather and The Huffington Post went after the military and foreign-affairs reporting of the NY Times reporter, Judith Miller.

What do you think of the decline of mainstream journalism and publishing versus self-publishing and online newspapers? Is democracy threatened or emboldened by less print and more online media?

January 5, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

1972: did they get it right?

Are you worried about 2009? I’ve been chatting to friends and some work colleagues about Christmas – are they going to ignore the financial hissy fit and help spend our way out of a recession? Or will they be tightening the belts? It’s business as usual for me. I don’t celebrate Christmas anyway – no, I’m not part of some weird cult that doesn’t recognise the holiday period. I oppose it on commercial grounds. It’s just a huge excuse for shops and department stores to cash in, whilst we all go silly in the Silly Season and party away on credit cards. Then get a humungous headache in January when the credit card bill arrives. So I skip the Silly Season. Mostly everyone I’ve spoken to is using Christmas as a way to forget the 2008 meltdown (guess that means hangovers) and they are going to spend.

So I’ve been contemplating 2009. I hate years with odd numbers so already I don’t like the sound of the upcoming year! I’m no genius when it comes to economics so I’ve really been trying to educate myself on who/what/why – how the hell did we get to this point of the world teetering on the brink of a global depression, sorry recession? As part of my ferreting around, I came across a New Scientist article. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read it – pretty gloomy.

Apparently, more than 30 years ago, it was predicted that the wheels would come off the global financial system in the 21st Century. Way back in 1972, the Club of Rome published a book called Limits to Growth. I’ve always wondered if the Club of Rome dudes are some secret squirrels up to shadowy stuff. But they’re a global think tank : an NGO founded in 1968. And they meet in some villa in Rome or used to, not sure if they still do. I’ve often thought of setting up a secret squirrel club in Newcastle and starting  the myth that we are privy to some secret about the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. But the Club of Newcastle just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the Club of Rome.

I digress! So they published this book in 1972, which rang the alarm bells by saying exponential economic growth could not be sustained and the financial system would meltdown and we’d also see environmental collapse. Actually, it was a report to the Club of Rome written by a Harvard biophysicist and her colleagues and apparently it caused worldwide outrage and condemnation at the time. I can’t recall a thing from 1972 (okay I was around then!). Actually, I don’t recall much from 2002 either!

I’ve managed to track down a used copy on Amazon and hope to get it before Xmas so I can subject myself to prophesies of doom and gloom. Computer models were used  (hard for me to think of computer models way back in 1972) to investigate five major trends of global concern – accelerating industrialisation, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of nonrenewable resources and a deteriorating environment. And the news wasn’t good even then.

The report predicted:

  • sometime in the next 100 years, the planet would reach the limit of growth it could tolerate
  • the result would be a sudden and uncontrollable decline in population and industrial capacity
  • when many different quantities are growing simultaneously in a system and when all the quantities are interrelated in a complicated way, analysis of the causes of growth and of the future behaviour of the system becomes very difficult. So it’s unlikely that future historians will pinpoint climate change say as the reason for collapse.

So the book was all about the shortages we would face in the 30 years following 1972 but the 1980s and 1990s didn’t really bring that – we all partied up. But recently, I’ve been noticing references to the Club of Rome and this 1972 book. Back in October, Margaret Atwood (a novelist I very much like) was pretty well ripped to shreds in an article in the Ottawa Citizen for mentioning Limits to Growth in a New York Times article she wrote about the credit crisis. Well, I can’t say I disagree with what Atwood said:

“If fair regulations are established and credibility is restored people will stop walking around in a daze, roll up their sleeves and start picking up the pieces. Things unconnected with money will be valued more — friends, family, a walk in the woods. ‘I’ will be spoken less, ‘we’ will return, as people recognize that there is such a thing as the common good….If fair regulations are not established and rebuilding seems impossible, we could have social unrest on a scale we haven’t seen for years.”

There was neo-con rebuff of the Limits of Growth in the 70s. Yale economist Henry C Wallich declared it “a piece of irresponsible nonsense” and the authors were accused of being “a group of scientists going by the pretentious name “The Club of Rome”. Check out the Wikipedia entry to read more about the book and its modelling.

But back to where I was heading. Now, a CSIRO scientist, Graham Turner, has compared the book’s predictions with data since 1972. And it still ‘aint looking too good. Turner reckons the five variables the modelling was based on are still on track for collapse some time after 2020. To avoid falling into the black hole of doom and gloom, Turner says we must pursue an alternative model:  stopping population growth, resource depletion and pollution.  A CSIRO press release says:

”The real-world data basically supports The Limits to Growth model. It shows that for the first 30 years of the model, the world has been tracking along the unsustainable trajectory of the book’s business-as-usual scenario. The original modelling predicts that if we continue down that track and do not substantially reduce our consumption and increase technological progress, the global economy will collapse by the middle of this century. We’ve had the rare opportunity to evaluate the output of a global model against observed and independent data. The contemporary issues of peak oil, climate change, and food and water security, resonate strongly with the overshoot and collapse displayed in the business-as-usual scenario of The Limits to Growth.”

Seems as though this Australian scientist is the first to actually test the predictions and the really dire bit that scared the bejesus out of me is that the recommendations offered up in 1972 were never seriously examined or implemented. So we’ll be toast by about 2020 if not before and the Club of Rome dudes got it right!  Where’s an application form to join this Club?!

You can listen to a podcast by Turner here. Warning: you might need a Valium or vodka after listening to it. There’s also a 30-year update of the original 1972 book available. One of the authors, Donella H Meadows is dead – shame because I’d love to hear what she’d have to say right now. But one of the other authors, Professor Jorgen Randers, is still kicking around and speaking at conferences. You can listen to what he has to say in this podcast. The third author, Dennis L. Meadows, is also still around. Let’s hope their 1972 work is now taken seriously. Because if it’s not……

December 11, 2008 at 2:00 am 4 comments

End of the world as we know it

Well, I have to admit I’m in a bit of a dark, brooding mood right now. The ongoing financial hissy fit, emerging social problems and the horror of the terrorist attack in Mumbai have all converged to leave me a bit desperate about the future. Then along came a report I should have left alone!

I pity Prez-elect Obama. He will be inheriting, well…a mess. If he had taken office four years ago, the future might have looked rosier. Every four years, the National Intelligence Council releases a report called the Global Trends Review. The 2004 report confidently stated that the world would witness continued US dominance. But the latest report is full of doom and gloom and a less prominent US in world affairs.

I’m sure that Obama has been reading Global Trends 2025 with his head in his hands. The report is subtitled A Transformed World and herein lies the doom and gloom bit. What a dramatic and sobering shift in four short years.  Here are some tidbits:

  • new kids on the block – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are emerging economies that will grow at America’s expense. The traditional Western alliances will weaken and more countries may be attracted to China’s alternative development model.
  • and here’s something we’re already seeing: “The State’s role in the economy may be gaining more appeal throughout the world”.
  • the power of non-state actors like religious groups, criminal networks, tribes and businesses will increase.
  • the unprecedented shift in relative wealth and economic power from West to East now under way will continue.
  • the US will be less dominant.
  • shortages of fuel, food and water will spark conflicts.
  • growth of the Muslim population in Europe to 20-30 million with accompanying potential sources of conflict.
  • potential emergence of a global pandemic – a virulent human respiratory illness – with tension and conflict as nations struggle to control the movement of populations across borders (I really think this is a very high probability).
  • Warfare in 2025 will be characterised by several strategic trends – the increasing importance of information; the adoption of irregular warfare tactics; the rise of non-military tactics such as cyber, economic and information-based forms of conflict.

The report has a number of very interesting global fictionalised scenarios such as The World Without The West and BRIC’s bust up. I suggest you get a strong cup of coffee (or a bottle of vodka), curl up and read the report. I found it fascinating albeit it left me in a pretty dark mood!

November 29, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

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