Book of the Month
Worldwatch Institute on Sustainability
Vital Signs 2012: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future. Worldwatch Institute (Michael Renner, Project Director). Washington: Island Press, April 2012, 130p, $19.95pb.
for full abstracts.
The latest volume of Vital Signs is the 19th in a series begun in 1992, while State of the World is the 29th in a series begun in 1984, both initiated by Lester W. Brown, founder of Worldwatch and now head of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington.
discusses 24 key trends in 3-4 page signed essays (earlier volumes covered more trends in shorter 2-page essays), tracking "developments in the environment agriculture, energy, society and the economy to inform and inspire the changes needed to build a sustainable world." It serves as valuable background to State of the World,
which explores a different topical theme every year (e.g., State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet
was devoted to an overview of eco-agriculture and ending hunger.) The current volume is timed to coincide with the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012, commemorating the landmark Rio Earth Summit of 1992. It provides a "Year in Review" timeline of selected events, and 17 chapters by Worldwatch staff members and invited experts on such topics as "degrowth" in overdeveloped countries, sustainable transport and urban development, new global architecture for governing sustainability, sustainable agriculture and buildings, food security, strategies to slow population growth, etc. The SOTW report is published in 18 languages. This is the first volume, along with the new Vital Signs
, to be published by US eco-publisher Island Press
, rather than the long-time Worldwatch publisher W.W. Norton
These two highly recommended volumes offer authoritative and well-written overviews of selected indicators and paths to sustainability.
Feature of the Month
Infoglut Management: Essential Change for the Global MegaCrisis
The global "problematique" of the Club of Rome (1) has morphed into an approaching "perfect storm" of ecological challenges, energy shortages, and economic destabilization (2).
Reflecting in 1978 on the Club of Rome's 10th anniversary, Aurelio Peccei stated that "the progressive degradation in the state of the world and the human condition is continuing, and is probably accelerating. Not one major problem has been resolved or attacked effectively, while others are arising ceaselessly, making the whole problematique...much more complex and deadly" (3). Arguably, despite progress in many areas (4), the overall human condition continues to darken, with the addition in recent decades of global terrorism and criminality, unforeseen and widespread economic woes, and, especially, the growing reality and threat of climate change (5).
Where should we be headed? The generalized vision of sustainable low-carbon or no-carbon societies is widely articulated, albeit in varied forms. And there is growing support for new and appropriate economics (arguably the top priority), extending human rights, promoting human security (especially by abolishing nuclear weapons), full and decent employment, ending poverty, and good governance and respected laws at national and global levels. But progress toward these ends, if any, is slow. What essential changes are needed to accelerate progress in green directions?
Are we missing something very basic -- a "master paradigm" (6) that trumps all other ideas? I think that there is such a blindspot, and it involves the rapidly changing realm of information and communications, where huge increases in information are crippling necessary processes of learning, dialogue, debate, consensus, and understanding of citizens and policymakers-all necessary for substantial progress toward sustainability.
The growth of information overload, or infoglut, parallels Paul Ehrlich's I=PAT formula (Environmental Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology) that explains much of the problematique. I propose a modification to I=POT (Societal Impact=Population x Occupation x Technology), to enable a quick grasp of an increasingly literate and growing world population, multiplied by more information-oriented occupations in the service sector (both in knowledge industries and in entertainment) and greatly amplified by new information technologies enabling a plethora of websites, blogs, tweets, e-mails, Facebook postings, cellphone apps, games, and cable TV audiences (7). We're driving ourselves nuts! (8) Despite many manifest benefits of IT, it also increases complexity and fragmentation, perhaps fatally (9). As recently chronicled by science writer James Gleick (10), information has grown to a "deluge" along with widespread "information fatigue, anxiety, and glut," and much information lost. Gleick warns that "old ways of organizing knowledge no longer work," but doesn't offer any new ways.
We must face the infoglut problem, arising from our dysfunctional industrial-era knowledge system rooted in academia. Serious rethinking of "scholarship" and of "information management" should be pursued in the name of global and national security--the only way to garner necessary resources. Without doing so, "promoting leadership in thought that leads to action" is an empty slogan.
Consider five large pieces of the very large puzzle -- new ways to organize knowledge and promote authentic intellectual leadership and informed action: pursue a "New Information Paradigm" to promote a combined metascience (11); construct a "World Brain" for the 21st century (12); update "Operation BASIC" (bibliographies, abstracts, surveys, indexes, communication) to capture missing information (13), promote equity among four types of scholarship, with much more emphasis on the scholarship of integration and the scholarship of application/outreach (14), and radically improve the capacities to govern, including "public affairs enlightenment" (15).
It won't be easy to rethink knowledge-into-action, but what else is more essential?
1) Donella H. Meadows, Dennis l. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III, The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind (Universe Books, 1972), p192 on the "complex world problematique." Also see Jorgen Randers, 2052: A Report to the Club of Rome Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of The Limits to Growth (Chelsea Green, June 1, 2012). The "confluence of crises" is described by WAAS Fellow Jim Dator as "The Unholy Trinity, Plus One" (Journal of Futures Studies, 13:3, Feb 2009, 33-38), referring to three "tsunamis" (the end of cheap and abundant oil, multiple environmental challenges, global economic/financial collapse), aggravated by the lack of government that can help us solve these challenges. A special "Symposium on the Global MegaCrisis" (Journal of Futures Studies, 16:2, Dec 2011, 95-168) presents 13 responses to four MegaCrisis scenarios prepared by William Halal and Michael Marien. I speculate 20% likelihood of Disaster, 60% Muddling Down, 20% Muddling Up, and <1% Rise to Maturity. Halal has a more optimistic tech-based view (10%, 25%, 60%, 5%).
2) Ian Johnson, "The Perfect Storm" (CADMUS, 1:2, April 2011, 19-24), by the new Secretary-General of the Club of Rome, who emphasizes the need of an "urgent overhaul" in our economics and the importance of "enlightened public policy."
3) Aurelio Peccei, One Hundred Pages for the Future: Reflections of the President of the Club of Rome (Pergamon Press, 1981, 191p) lists "ten factors of decline," most or all of which are still with us to some degree. The quotation is on p58.
4) Various indicators present a mixed picture, and thus, to me, favor "Muddling Down" or slow decline as most probable in the next decade or so, but by no means certain. See Vital Signs 2012 from the Worldwatch Institute (Island Press, April 2012; GFB Book of the Month, April 2012), How's Life? Measuring Well-Being (OECD, Oct 2011, 284p) on the overall increase of well-being on average over the past 15 years, Society at a Glance 2011-OECD Social Indicators(OECD, 6th edition, April 2011, 103p) summarizing a wide variety of indicators from many countries, and Green Transition Scoreboard 2012 by Hazel Henderson et al. (St. Augustine FL: Ethical Markets Media, Spring 2012, 44p), on the growing amount of global investment in renewable energy, green construction, cleantech, etc.--now more than $3.3 trillion since 2007.
5) Jerome C. Glenn, Theodore J. Gordon, and Elizabeth Florescu,
2011 State of the Future (Washington: The Millennium Project, 15th edition, July 2011, 117p) provides "a distillation of information" on 15 Global Challenges and a World Score Card of indicators showing where we are winning, where we are losing, and where there is uncertainty. Although one may question the indicators that are included and their weighting, we can readily agree with the overall comment that "the world is in a race between implementing ever-increasing ways to improve the human condition and the seemingly ever-increasing complexity and scale of global problems" (p.2, emphasis mine).
6) WAAS Fellow Sesh Velamoor of the Foundation For the Future has mentioned the provocative notion of a "master paradigm" above all others.
7) Michael Marien, "Infoglut and Competing Problems: Key Barriers Suggesting a New Strategy for Sustainability" in Dennis C. Pirages (ed.), Building Sustainable Societies: A Blueprint for a Post-Industrial World (Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), pp 299-311. Introduces the I=POT formula to describe the accelerating IT revolution and proposes ideas for improved social marketing of sustainability (e.g., a syndicated green columnist, an annual Top Ten list of best green books, green Nobel prizes, university programs in sustainability and world futures).
8) Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (W.W. Norton, June 2010, 276p; GFB Book of the Month, July 2010). Also see John Brockman (ed.),
Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? (Harper Perennial, Jan 2011; GFB Book of the Month, March 2011), with 150 brief contributions, pro and con, including a lead-off essay by Carr. The GFB Update newsletter for Feb 2011 and March 2011 assembles more than two dozen books that are critical of infotech and the Internet. Remarkably, no one has attempted to integrate these worrisome critiques of the unfolding IT revolution.
Donald N. Michael, "Leadership's Shadow: The Dilemma of Denial
" (Futures, 23:1, 1991, 69-79), reprinted in In Search of the Missing Elephant: Selected Essays
by Donald N. Michael (Devon UK: Triarchy Press, 2010; GFB Book of the Month, Dec 2011
), on the "increasing uncomprehended complexity" of the information revolution as a "taboo topic" that cannot be acknowledged by leaders. "Leadership's Shadow" was first given as an address to the Club of Rome on its 20th anniversary.
James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
(NY: Pantheon, March 2011). Reviewers of this well-received boo k emphasized the interesting "History" of IT progress, while ignoring today's "Flood" that makes future progress problematic. Also see Robert Hassan, The Age of Distraction: Reading, Writing, and Politics in a High-Speed Networked Economy
(Transaction Publishers, Oct 2011), on the building of a different world where the certainties of previous eras are being displaced by a chronic and pervasive mode of cognitive distraction, and a faster world where we know less about more.
11) Dail DeWitt Doucette, "Establishing a New Information Paradigm," World Future Review (World Future Society; 3:4, Winter 2011, 18-24) proposes a new "meta-science" that would be "contributive to-and complementary with-every other science and academic discipline." It would be "a driving force in actively moving our old materially focused cultures toward a newer, more responsive, and enlightened information culture...(taking) a leadership role in helping science reintegrate its views via multi- and trans-disciplinary approaches toward a more integrated and holistic perspective." Numerous individuals and organizations, however, seek to be "integrated and holistic" (e.g., see many of the above), and there is a further task of integrating the integrators!
12) Michael Marien, "The Future of Human Benefit Knowledge: Notes on a World Brain for the 21st Century" in Walter Truett Anderson (ed), Knowledge Futures (Futures Special Issue, 39:8, Oct 2007, 955-962) comments on the 1936-1937 proposal by H.G. Wells for an "adequate knowledge organization" or World Brain (where ideas would be received, sorted, summarized, clarified, and compared) and the 1938 complaint by sociologist Robert Lynd about ever more "bricks of data" on the growing pile of social science, highlighting the need for more synthesis. This essay, adapted from a presentation at the 2005 WAAS meeting in Zagreb, points to ever more infoglut and fragmentation, and calls for more abstracts and overviews of issues and sectors. Two examples of such "frontier frame" overviews outline recent literature on global governance (CADMUS, 1:3, Oct 2011, 142-155; also in World Future Review, 3:3, Fall 2011, 39-56) and on law in transition (CADMUS, 1:4, April 2012, 147-157).
13) Bertram M. Gross, "Operation BASIC: The Retrieval of Wasted Knowledge" (Journal of Communication, 12:2, June 1962, 67-83) proposed new institutions to organize knowledge, involving Bibliographies, Abstracts, Surveys, Indexes, and Copies. The problem of "Copies" has been largely solved, but the first four tasks are needed more than ever. Also see brief version in Bertram M. Gross, The Managing of Organizations (Free Press, 1964), pp 858-860.
14) Ernest L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (Princeton NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Special Report, 1990) on the need for better balance among the four overlapping functions of scholarship: the traditional "scholarship of discovery," the scholarship of teaching, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of integration. Although integration of knowledge is widely advocated, the book has yet to be written on the many varieties of integration, and academia has yet to encourage this horizontal activity in any meaningful way.
15) Yehezkel Dror, The Capacity to Govern: A Report to the Club of Rome (London & Portland OR: Frank Cass, 2001, 264p), on our age of radical transformations and the need to revitalize politics, refocus democracy, and racially improve capacities to govern. High-quality governance should be knowledge-intense, future-committed, deep-thinking, learning, and holistic.
Note: This essay responds to an April 2012 invitation by Ivo Slaus and Garry Jacobs, of the World Academy of Art and Science, to prepare a brief statement on what "essential changes" or "radical change of course" might be needed as "spaceship earth appears to be headed into a perfect storm." This essay is posted on a new Club of Rome website, www.change-the-course.com, as one of 41 contributions on needed changes, as of mid May 2012 (click "What It Takes" box, fourth item).
GlobalMegaCrisis Special Event
at WFS Toronto Conference
The "GlobalMegaCrisis" considered in the above essay will be discussed/debated at a Special Event during the World Future Society's annual conference in Toronto, July 27-29, 2012 (for details, see www.wsf.org
). Participants include Michael Marien, William Halal, Richard Slaughter, and Thomas Homer-Dixon.
|Four New Generic Categories|
Global Foresight Books has heretofore used 26 generic categories to group new and forthcoming books. Four new categories are being added for the following reasons:
Human Rights: Previously under World Futures, this broad and important issue also cross-cuts Security, Environment, Health, Work, and Education.
Inequality: Previously under Society, this growing issue also cross-cuts Economy, Health, Education, and Cities.
Children: Previously under Society, Families, and Education, this broad category concerning future generations also cross-cuts Health, Communications, Economy, and Cities.
Higher Education: Previously under Education, the worlds of K-12 schooling and of colleges and universities seem to be growing further apart, and Higher Education is a large and important concern.
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