A Vision for Getting to 2012
This essay is excerpted from A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change, published here with permission from Fulcrum Publishing.
We first imagine our future.
After that, we live it.
Until now, this discussion has been largely descriptive.
What is going on? What might be in our future? The much more important issue is, what are we going to do about it? It may not be clear yet where we are going, but what is clear is how to get where we decide we want to go. The future doesn't just happen; we make it happen. It is the product of our desires, interests, perspectives, visions, and actions.
What we think and what we do makes a difference.
It makes the only difference.
This is not just a meaningless platitude of the kind that is offered repeatedly at graduation ceremonies. The images that we have in our minds (or not) about what we'd like to be, where we'd like to go, and what kind of world we'd like to live in directly shape what we do. Our behavior is consistent with our worldview, and therefore contributes to sustaining it.
Most people who have made their way through school, particularly college, have watched their worldview change and in a short period have seen the options available to them open up in ways they never before anticipated. They see themselves and their possibilities in a different way ... and then they choose different directions in their lives. For me it was the Navy. "Join the Navy, see the world," they said. It was true. I saw and experienced all kinds of things in less than a handful of years that radically altered who I believed I was and where I was going for the rest of my life.
In the face of the rapidly converging trends approaching, not only do we need to persevere, we need to be on the offense: to shape and help manifest the new world that will certainly evolve, whether we take an active role in it or not. We need a vision -- something to aim for. Both an explicit and an intuitive sense of where we're going is critical to this whole transition. If you don't know where you're going, as they say, any destination will do. In this context, that approach is not a good idea.
Visions are magical. They function in strange ways to guide you to achieving them. When you see the world in terms of explicit objectives, opportunities, and options, serendipitous things seem to show up to help you get to where you want to go. You don't have to understand how they work to appreciate that visions really do work. Effective business leaders know intuitively that if they haven't hung a big exciting vision in front of their employees, then the organization will wander about rather aimlessly searching for some random objective to home in on. If they are successful in crisply communicating exceptional possibilities for the company and providing the resources to fuel them, they can literally change their world. The same can be said for an individual ... and for an administration. We need to change the world -- around a new vision.
It's important to keep in mind that we're talking about a new world. We're not trying to build a better version of what we already have. Here is the sequence:
--Big extraordinary change happens.
--Things fail. They don't work the way they use to.
--Something new emerges.
--It operates differently. It runs on different principles and values.
In this new world, humanity has figured out how to do its business in ways that do not produce the kinds of problems that caused the old, smoldering decomposition in the first place. In this world, we certainly learn something from the traumatic experience.
The key to getting to this new future is a vision. We need a picture of a viable global future to guide us going forward. In practical terms, this new world needs to be pretty idealistic. After all, we're really (really!) going to build a new one in a new context, which makes all kinds of things possible that certainly wouldn't work right now. That's what we should aim for. That's the contextual objective we should carry around in our minds.
The trends and plausible big-change events discussed here appear to potentially peak around 2012 and then settle down over the following years, maybe finding a new equilibrium by 2020. If that is what happens, then the new world we have to focus on building is one that evolves between 2012 and 2020. The question is, what would we like that world to look like? What will we try to build? That will be our vision. In building a vision of this type, it is important to fully understand the conditions from which this new world might evolve.
Let's guess that by 2012 we will have survived a global bout with bird flu (in late 2007, it appeared the virus was, for the first time, becoming transmissible to humans). A moderate pandemic has killed 500 million people worldwide over a six-month period of crisis that negatively affected almost every aspect of modern life -- governments, economies, social interaction, and others.
During the same period, the change in the planet's climate has accelerated as the positive feedback loops in the climatic system kicked in. Devastating storms have become the norm, seasons don't work the way they used to, nor does traditional agriculture, generating significant food shortages and serious broad-based disruptions in regions like the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
Or maybe by 2012 we've experienced a major series of global disruptions related to changes in the energy sector. Driven by a decreasing supply of oil, the biggest countries in the world have aggressively tried to capture what petroleum remains. It has turned into a war (or at least a period of very serious threats) involving the United States and China, or China and Russia. A companion breakthrough in energy sources has begun to fill in some of the major cracks in the system left from the rapidly decreasing supplies of fossil fuels, but even heroic efforts and amazing innovations are unable to take up the slack fast enough to offset the crises.
We have gotten much smarter, much faster with the advent of amazing new Web-based knowledge discovery and sense-making tools (which make it easy to understand large amounts of complex information) and have learned to manipulate life in ways never before possible. Finding solutions to big problems has gotten much easier, but implementing them still takes too much time.
Our new world will have to take into consideration the underlying trends in science and technology that are driving a great deal of change, address the biggest pressing problems that confront us, reflect changes in our values and perspectives of how we see ourselves as humans, and suggest a new social framework that describes how we will work and live together.
That new world might look like this:
Values and Perspectives
In our world of 2012, there is a new realization that we are directly related to the planet, all other people, and the rest of nature in very concrete and practical ways. It has also become clear that we are interdependent in ways that are obvious but not yet fully understood. This mind-set is reflected in ...
An increased emphasis on connectedness and interdependence. The Internet, the global economy, the environment, and many other aspects of life have made transparent that we are all directly and indirectly connected to each other and the larger context in which we live in ways that were previously not obvious. All transactions now take these linkages into consideration. Because of this interdependence, it is logical that nonconstructive relationships are intrinsically destructive and that there has been ...
A shift toward cooperation and away from competition. The interdependencies that we live with coupled with the highly destructive potential of advanced technologies have made it obvious that finding ways of working together is much better than fighting over differences. This has translated into a ...
Commitment to conflict resolution without resorting to violence. The potential destructive capability of new technologies juxtaposed with the need to build a new world has mandated that violence, especially between developed nations, as in all-out world wars, is no longer feasible. Sophisticated methods of negotiation and influence become the main tools of persuasion.
A commitment to justice for all people. Since in an interconnected society injustice to some ultimately affects all others, a broad-based commitment to justice for all is imperative.
A world of abundance. The resolution of energy problems and the advent of advanced information-technology applications presents the possibility of a world without intrinsic scarcity. Equitable access to and distribution of food, knowledge, shelter, and work could well become possible.
Individual self-realization. The crucible of phenomenal global change would produce a new perspective of oneself and the untapped potential in each of us. A dedication to self-realization would be reflected in all aspects of human activity.
Individuals choose for themselves rather than taking their cues externally. Interdependency coupled with unsurpassed knowledge and a common allegiance to justice weakens the requirement for centralized authority.
Harmony with nature. The fact that everything that lives on this planet is connected with everything else means that we live with nature, actively cocreating the context within which we live. We herefore see ourselves as part of the larger, global system. Maintaining harmony with nature is a priority that produces personal, spiritual, physical, and economic benefits.
A shift toward localization. The failure of global supply chains initiates a reliance on local suppliers rather than distant ones. This is especially true with food items, for which local farmers and ranchers become preferred.
A commitment to healthy food. Fresh, healthy food is a necessity for sustaining the physical and mental requirements of living in the new world. These values and perspectives are reflected and reinforced in all other areas:
Science and Technology
A clean, all-electric world is achieved. We have entered the post-petroleum age and the world is moving toward all-electric status. Electricity is produced by pollution-free sources that in most cases require no extracted fuel, like generators that run off tidal currents, turbines driven by deep-well-produced steam, and advanced solar and wind devices.
The global brain is rapidly evolving. Unprecedented knowledge generation, discovery, and problem resolution are everyday occurrences, spurred by exponential developments in computing and communication technologies. Intractable problems are solved with capabilities that were impossible to imagine just ten years earlier.
New agricultural methods that do not rely on synthetic petroleum-based fertilizers have become dominant. Seawater-based agriculture is becoming commonplace, encouraging food production in vast areas that previous had no freshwater for irrigation.
The challenge of environmental sustainability is resolved. Problem-solving knowledge technology and a new perspective on our relationship with nature results in significantly new ways of maintaining our environment.
We have moved beyond the petroleum age. Clean, sustainable, independent sources of energy are the only approaches that are supported.
Energy production is decentralized and more distributed. Energy production is increasingly localized, whether in vehicles or individual buildings that translate solar energy and other sources into electricity. All sources contribute to the grid, fewer central power plants are required.
An equitable way to have a global yet local civilization is worked out. Tensions have been balanced between the forces of globalization, universal connectivity, and interdependence, as well as the increasing marginalization of people and cultures that always seemed to attend those trends.
Decentralization along with an ecology of cultures is effected. Local, cultural character still colors societies, but at the same time all groups have learned how to relate effectively to the larger world.
Global issues become global interests. A communications process is in place that allows all cultures to share a current interest in pressing global issues. The world thinks and acts together for the common good.
Global security is discovered, removing the legitimacy of war. The experience of having lived through or narrowly sidestepped a major world war with unheard-of new weapons convinces the world that modern combat is not an option. Sophisticated behavior-modification approaches and incentives are developed that do not include violence.
The possibility of nuclear war is prevented with 100 percent reliability. War is not an option and nuclear war must never happen. The world community bands together to assure that nuclear weapons are eliminated or so closely constrained that the chance of their being used approaches zero.
This vision might not be as far-out as you would guess. The Earth Charter closely resembles this vision. It was written with the input of five thousand people, has been endorsed by numerous governments, organizations, and a multitude of individuals, and draws more than one hundred thousand people to its website each month.
Effectively transitioning to this new world will require envisioning it into reality. We will all need to use a model like the one above to build a coherent idea of what the new world might look like-the principles, values, structures, behavior-and begin to carry that common picture in our minds. We need to get together at regular times with as many others as possible to project the new images, talk about them, and debate them. We should do it as though our lives depend on it, as they probably do.
There will need to be a constant orientation of openness; we will need to have a wide aperture for seeing subtle indicators of approaching change and be receptive to newly
emerging techniques of dealing with the rapidly changing world. Being close-minded to the suggestions and ideas of others will court failure, as no one individual or organization
will have the capability to deal with these changes by themselves. New ideas and explanations about how reality works, at all levels, will begin to bubble up in many places; they must be openly considered and honestly evaluated.
There must also be an openness to adaptation-to rapidly change when it is required.
Image by badboy69, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet