2010 State of the Future
Prepared by Michael Marien, Director, Global Foresight Books
Why the Millennium Project Is Important
In a world of vast and ever-increasing amounts of information about global affairs--and much else--where is there any attempt to get it all together?
The answer is The Millennium Project, headed by long-time futurists Jerome “Jerry” Glenn and Ted Gordon, which seeks “to provide a context for global thinking and improved understanding of global issues, opportunities, challenges, and strategies.” Now in its 14th annual edition, the Project’s annual State of the Future report “is designed to provide an independent global capacity that is interdisciplinary, transinstitutional, and multicultural, for early alert and analysis of long-range issues, opportunities, challenges, and strategies.”
The “global capacity” is realized in a steadily growing network of project Nodes—individuals and institutions in various countries and regions. The 35 Nodes as of early 2010, up from 29 in 2007 and 18 in 2003, includes groups in Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Gulf Region, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, Silicon Valley (USA), South Africa, and Turkey—to provide just a sampling. Members of many of these Nodes meet for three days prior to the annual meetings of the World Future Society, and then stay on to participate in many WFS sessions. Leaders of the Nodes are considered “essential” for the success of the research compacted into the annual SOF report. Over time, some 3,000 people have participated in the Project; last year’s studies involved some 575 people alone!
The SOF report continues, year after year, to be the best introduction—by far—to a broad range of major global issues and long-term remedies. The “distillation of information” in SOF is greatly helped by Linda Starke, who has edited the excellent reports from the Worldwatch Institute for many years. Still, SOF is a huge bundle of trends, forecasts, and ideas to grasp, sometimes made relatively simple and in many other instances fairly complex. It is best understood part by part.
The introductory overview even-handedly states that “the world is in a great race between implementing ever-increasing ways to improve the human condition and the seemingly ever-increasing complexity and scale of global problems.” Properly managed, the new technologies will get humanity through the looming environmental, economic, and social conflicts as we move toward a crowded world of some 9 billion people by 2050. But technology is not enough, and “serious global policies” are needed, as discussed in SOF. If current trends continue “over the next 50-100 years, it is easy to imagine an unstable world with catastrophic results.” (This may be a polite understatement; some would argue likely catastrophe in the next 10-20 years!)
On the other hand, “If current trends in self-organization via future Internets, transnational cooperation, materials science, alternative energy, cognitive science, inter-religious dialogues, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology continue and converge over the next 50-100 years, it is easy to imagine a world that works for all.”
A box on the second page provides a summary of State of the Future indicators on Where We Are Winning (rising literacy rate and GDP per capita, more Internet users, extended life expectancy, etc), Where We Are Losing (CO2 emissions, unemployment, corruption levels, etc.), Where There Is Little Change (HIV rate, R&D spending), and Where There Is Uncertainty (nuclear weapons, forested area). This is qualified by a discussion of how climate change could be accelerated by dangerous feedbacks from melting ice and release of methane hydrates.
One can and should argue about which mix of lead indicators to use (e.g., the environmentally-oriented Worldwatch Institute has a much gloomier view in its periodic Vital Signs assessment), but we can certainly concur that humanity needs “a global multifaceted general long-range view to help it make better long-range decisions.”
Several views, side-by-side, would be even better.
The 15 Global Challenges
The mainstay of the annual SOF report from its beginning in 1997 has been concise two-page descriptions of 15 Global Challenges, their “regional considerations” in five areas of the world, and prescriptions for what ought to be done. Following UN convention, the Middle East is not included as a separate region, although, as the world’s leading political hotspot, it deserves highlighting. Many of the statements on global conditions are derived from UN reports or from studies by various global NGOs.
Sustainable Development and Climate Change. The world is warming faster than estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and even the most recent estimates may understate unfolding reality because of permafrost melting. It is time for a US-China Apollo-like 10-year goal and a global R&D strategy to focus on new technologies like saltwater agriculture, carbon capture and reuse, solar power satellites, etc. to supplement other policy measures.
Clean Water without Conflict. Without major changes, global water demand could be 40% more than current supply by 2030. Planners should integrate lessons learned from producing more food with less water, water storage and treatment, reforestation, etc.
Balancing Population Growth and Resources. Today’s 6.9 billion population is expected to grow to 9.1 billion by 2050; about 20% of this population will be over 60. Urban population will jump from 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.3 billion in 2050. To keep up with population and economic growth, food production should increase by 70%.
Genuine Democracy. Cites the Freedom House 2010 report, finding that world democracy and freedom declined for the 4th consecutive year, and press freedom for the 8th consecutive year. But new accountability mechanisms are being developed, and the Internet is enabling a new participatory democracy architecture.
More Global Long-Term Perspectives for Policymaking. National legislatures should establish standing “Committees for the Future,” as Finland has done, and national foresight studies should be continually updated and improved. Universities should teach futures research and synthesis.
Global Convergence of ICT. Comments on the growing experience of ubiquitous computing for most people, open source software, emergence of collective intelligences for issues, the new “virtual world” of the Net, e-government, and worries about intellectual property, reliability of information, and cyberwar.
Ethical Market Economies. A long-term global strategic plan is needed to help reduce the gap between rich and poor, by creating 50 million jobs per year over the next decade. Market economy corruption and abuses must also be seriously addressed, with rules based on global ethics.
New and Reemerging Diseases. In the past 40 years, 39 new infectious diseases have been discovered, 20 diseases are now drug-resistant, and old diseases have reappeared. In the last five years, >1,100 epidemics have been verified. The best ways to address this problem remain early detection, accurate reporting, prompt isolation, transparent information, and more investment in clean drinking water and sanitation.
Improving Decision-Making Capacity. Many of the world’s decisionmaking processes are slow, inefficient, and ill-informed. Remedies include on-line software to support timelier decisions, synergetic analysis to increase “win-win” outcomes, ubiquitous computing, transinstitutional decisions, use of blogs, and training programs for decisionmakers.
New Security Strategies. Half the world continues to be vulnerable to social instability and violence, and the Global Peace Index rating of peacefulness in 144 countries again declined slightly. Massive public education programs are needed to help promote respect for diversity, and backcasted peace scenarios could show how peace is possible.
Changing Status of Women. The Gender Equity Index 2009 computed by Social Watch shows that the gender gap is not closing in most countries, despite progress In universal primary education. “Men attacking women is the largest war today,” as measured by death and casualties per year (about one-third of women suffer gender-based violence during their lives). Educating men would help, but it’s a slow process. Legal systems should guarantee gender parity.
Transnational Organized Crime. Crime networks continue to grow, and a global strategy to address this threat is still lacking. Havocscope.com estimates world illicit trade to be >$1 trillion/year, and the World Bank estimates $1 trillion in bribes paid annually. The economic crisis has opened new routes for TOC crime. All states should develop national strategies to counter TOC and rethink drug control.
Energy Needs. World energy demand is expected to increase by 40-50% in the next 25 years, with much of the increase due to China and India. To meet this demand, an annual $1.1 trillion in investment is needed. Total global renewable energy investment for 2010 was some $200 billion, up nearly 50% from 2009. Japan plans to have a working space solar power system in orbit by 2030, and other innovations are accelerating, e.g. concentrator photovoltaics and microbial fuel cells.
Accelerating Sci/Tech. Discusses growing access to all sci/tech knowledge on the Internet, the ability to create life, a new sensor to detect viruses and bacteria within 24 hours, nanotechnology products growing by 25% in the past year to >800 items today, nanobots, the Large Hadron Collider, future ethical issues, and the need for a global collective intelligence system to track S&T advances and forecast consequences.
Ethics in Global Decisions. Discusses international meetings that seek to increase integrity and accountability, problems in verifying compliance with the UN Convention against Corruption, pressures from Transparency International and other NGOs about anti-corruption efforts of governments, the UN Global Compact to promote multinational business ethics (now with >6,000 participants), UNESCO’s Global Ethics Observatory, concerns about organized crime and terrorism, and the need for spiritual education and creating better incentives for ethics in global decisions.
About half of SOF is devoted to the Executive Summary and the 15 Global Challenges, both written for a general audience. The second half shifts rather sharply to various studies conducted during the previous year, which often get into considerable technical detail and thus may be limited to a professional audience.
The five special studies in the 2010 SOF:
Special Studies in the 2009 State of the Future discussed the 2009 State of the Future Index (with two scenarios of “no economic recession” and “lengthy recession”), Some Elements of the Next Global Economic System over the Next 20 Years (a survey of 217 participants from 35 countries considering 35 elements such as new GNP definitions, a small tax on global public goods, greatly increased disclosure of tax havens, wealth redefined, a global minimum living wage, a single global currency, etc.), Real-Time Delphi Studies (a relatively new and efficient method for collecting and synthesizing expert opinions, based on the original Delphi technique co-developed by Theodore J. Gordon at RAND in the late 1950s), Futures Research Methodology (introducing FRM 3.0, a CD available from the MP, with 39 pages totaling nearly 1,300 pages), and Emerging Environmental Security Issues.
The 2008 SOF explains the Real-Time Delphi Technique and GENIS (the Global Energy Network and Information System), and discusses Government Future Strategy Units and Some Potentials for International Strategic Coordination (with brief overviews of 28 future strategic units in Brazil, China, Egypt, EU, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Romania, Singapore, UK, UN, US, etc.—most of them in the office of the prime minister or president). The 2007 SOF includes a study on Future Possibilities for Education and Learning by 2030, based on a Real-Time Delphi collecting judgments of 213 experts around the world. Likely possibilities (>50% probable) include Web 17.0, integrated lifelong learning systems, chemistry for brain enhancement, just-in-time knowledge and learning, keeping adult brains healthier longer, individualized education, and portable AI devices. The 2006 SOF presents four 2020 Global Energy Scenarios (Business as Usual assuming little or no change, Environmental Backlash of highly effective environmentalists, High-Tech Economy of accelerated innovation, and Political Turmoil of more conflicts and wars).
This relatively long synthesis of the Millennium Project is nevertheless a bare bones appreciation of this awesome, extensive, and—apparently—increasingly and deservedly influential project. Much of the SOF information is available at www.StateOfTheFuture.org, and literally all of it is available on the CD included in every print edition of SOF. The updated 2010 CD has some 7,000 pages containing the cumulative work of the MP since 1996, and details of all of the studies concerning the SOFI, global scenarios, governance, sci/tech, collective intelligence systems, futures studies around the world. Promoting sustainable development, environmental security, education, future ethical issues, implementing futures research in decision-making, and annotated bibliographies.
It’s somewhat like “Grandma’s Attic,” with lots of different items, some new and some old, some useful and some not-so-useful or a bit out-dated, some for general interest and some for specialized professionals, and something—if not many things—that ought to be of great interest to anyone interested in global affairs and futures.