GFB Update 3:5/6, December 2013 


A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Prepared by Michael Marien

In This Issue: Sixteen Worldviews
General Perspectives
Sustainable Development
Green Pessimists
The Long Road Ahead to Shared Vision

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Sixteen Worldviews 


A Summation of Recent Reviews

Education Where is humanity headed? What are the major problems that must be addressed, and 
what should be done? Recent Book of the Month (BOM) selections for Global Foresight Books, especially for 2013, have focused on these important questions. Now is the time for a brief summary and preliminary analysis--a rough mapping--of their similarities and differences. 


General Perspectives


World Futures The latest selection provides an excellent starting point: Now for the Long Term: The Report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations (U of Oxford, Oxford Martin School, Oct 2013, 85p.; BOM 11/13). This impressive, broad-ranging, and amply documented report identifies key "megatrend" drivers of change, areas where action is imperative (boosting youth employment through "youth guarantee programs," reducing inequality, tackling climate change, risk prevention for better health, targeting corruption, more transparency on taxes, etc.), elements to overcome impediments to action, problems of growing complexity and public trust, the need for "creative coalitions," more innovative institutions, revaluing the future, "more global conversations," and an agreed global ethic.


A somewhat similar overview is provided by former Vice President Al Gore in The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (Random House, Feb 2013, 558p; BOM 4/13), describing a "future now emerging that will be extremely different from anything we have known." The six "revolutionary" drivers are a deeply interconnected global economy, a planet-wide communications grid, a new balance of political/economic/military power, unsustainable growth in population and resource consumption, emergence of a new set of powerful technologies (biological, biochemical, genetic, materials), and human civilization colliding with the natural world and causing grave harm (notably due to climate change). Gore's prescriptions include stabilizing human population growth, following principles of sustainability, a full and accurate measurement of value and externalities, re-evaluating reliance on the GDP measure of progress, fully recognizing the value of public goods, and restoring our ability to communicate "clearly and candidly" with one another in a broadly accessible forum.


Another framework for appreciating global problems and possibilities is offered by the Millennium Project (Jerome C. Glenn, Director), which assesses 15 Global Challenges in its annual State of the Future reports, begun in 1997. See the long review of 2010SOF (July 2010, 88p; BOM 9/10) and a shorter review of 2011 SOF. The Global Challenges deal with familiar topics such as sustainable development and climate change, clean water, energy, population growth, promoting democracy, new and re-emerging diseases, and the status of women. Less familiar but important topics include transnational organized crime, new security strategies, improving decision-making capacity, more global long-term perspectives, ethical market economies, ethics in global decisions, and promoting collective intelligence about accelerating science and technology and other matters. The MP, with 49 "Nodes" around the world, now offers ongoing updates of the individual Challenges ( The 2013-2014 edition of State of the Future will be available in Jan 2014 (


A considerable amount of fresh thinking around the broad topic of "security" is provided in The Quest for Security: Protection Without Protectionism and the Challenge of Global Governance, edited by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Mary Kaldor (Columbia U Press, April 2013, 412p; BOM 8/13), with essays on economic security without ruinous nation-state protectionism, Scandinavian equality, the need for global security cooperation, restructuring global security with "human security" as the organizing framework, trends in global criminal industries, sharing the burden of adjusting to climate change, designing the post-Kyoto climate regime, how cities have taken the lead in facing global governance challenges, urban security challenges, cities and climate governance, a five-point agenda for improving global governance structures, expanding the G20, global financial governance, and the "vast" waste of resources in military spending.


22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World's Foremost Thinkers (New York U Press, Aug 2013, 466p; BOM 9/13), edited by Piotr Dutkiewicz and Richard Sakwa, is a joint publication of the Social Science Research Council, Russia's World Public Forum, and NYU Press. The title is striking but overstated; still, many of the interviews deserve consideration. Topics include Muhammad Yunas on rethinking the nature of humanity so we can design a new system that allows people to take care of themselves, Will Kymlicka on how society can benefit from rights granted to minority groups, Joseph Stiglitz on the defective standard paradigm of economics (notably as regards sustainability and inequality), Ha-Joon Chang on the failure of free-market economics, Jose Antonio Ocampo on the need for a different international monetary system, Paul Watson on "Planet Ocean" and the dying of the seas, Mike Davis on the need to become a planet of gardeners, Immanuel Wallerstein on the hegemonic decline of the US in recent decades, Zygmunt Bauman on our new world of "liquid modernity" where change is the only constant, Bob Deacon on the ILO's quest for international standards for workers and a global social protection floor, Peter Katzenstein on the diffusion of power that makes governance more challenging, Ivan Krastev on the paradox of much more interconnection in our globalizing world--yet more fragmentation, Manuel F. Montes on the need for more stringent regulation of the financial sector, Kemal Dervis on the underappreciated European model of social democracy, and more.


In Futurevision: Scenarios for the World in 2040 (Scribe, Nov 2012, 330p; BOM 6/13), futurists Richard Watson and Oliver Freeman seek "to prevent people from getting the future seriously wrong" and to emphasize that the world offers more promise than ever, but also more threats to our existence. The scenarios serve to introduce the subsequent Worldviews described here under the headings of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (Watson/Freeman's "world of temperance" where less is more and people are happier), TECHNO-OPTIMISM (Watson/Freeman's "world of intelligence" where science and technology restore order to the natural world and life is generally good under free-market capitalism), and GREEN PESSIMISM (Watson/Freeman's narcissistic "world of greed" and rudderless "world of fear" scenarios where things go downhill).


Sustainable Development


Sustainability Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing (United Nations, Jan 2012, 94p;; BOM 6/12) is the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, featuring 56 proposals to empower people, promote a sustainable economy, and strengthen governance. This reaffirmation of Our Common Future, the 1987 "Brundtland Report" by the World Commission on Environment and Development, calls for genuine global action to integrate the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development, eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, make production and consumption more sustainable, combat climate change, and respect a range of other planetary boundaries. Proposals include a Global Fund for Education, promotion of green jobs and decent work policies, an "ever-green revolution" to at least double productivity while drastically reducing resource use, basic safety nets for all citizens, price signals that value sustainability, a Sustainable Development Index by 2014, a set of universal sustainable development goals, and sustainable energy for all.


An overlapping and equally ambitious report is offered by another UN High Level Panel: A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development (United Nations, July 2013, 69p; ; BOM 7/13). This Report, from the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, goes beyond the UN's limited Millennium Development Goals for 2015, urging "a new paradigm" and "a universal agenda" driven by five transformative shifts: 1) leave no one behind by ending extreme poverty in all its forms; 2) put sustainable development at the core, in halting the pace of climate change and environmental degradation; 3) transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth to improve livelihoods in every country; 4) build peace and effective institutions for all with a transparency revolution; 5) forge a new global partnership based on a common understanding of our shared humanity underpinning mutual respect and mutual benefit. These five changes, which must be a universal endeavor, are "the right, smart, and necessary thing to do."


Similar to the paired High-Level Panels, the Worldwatch Institute provides a visionary pair of their signature "State of the World" reports, published since 1984 and now distributed in 18 languages. State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity (Island Press, April 2012, 241p; BOM 4/12) offers essays on making the green economy work for everybody, "degrowth" in overdeveloped countries to create a steady-state economy, inclusive urban development, sustainable transport, technologies for livable and equitable cities, principles of corporate redesign, a new global architecture for sustainability, nine population strategies to stop short of nine billion people, sustainable buildings, sustainable consumption, sustainable agriculture, food security, protecting biodiversity, valuing natural capital and ecosystem services, and local democracy as critical to sustainable development.


State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? (Island Press, April 2013, 441p;; BOM 10/13) presents 34 essays on such topics as nine endangered planetary boundaries, metrics for a "new economic dashboard" beyond the inadequate GDP measure, humanity's ecological footprint, sustaining freshwater, sustainable fisheries and seas, net energy analysis, conserving nonrenewable resources, re-engineering cultures for a sustainable civilization, the Genuine Progress Indicator compared with the GDP measure, political strategies for sustainability, corporate reporting, calculating all costs to end the fossil fuel era, assessing energy alternatives, healthy food for all, valuing indigenous peoples, new university courses in "Big History," moving toward a global moral consensus, more effective environmental studies programs, governance in the long emergency, building a deeper environmentalism, pros and cons of geoengineering, the impact of four years of drought in Syria, cultivating resilience, and the warning that it is not too late if we do everything right starting now and continuing for several decades.


The Climate Bonus: Co-benefits of Climate Policy (Earthscan/ Routledge, Jan 2013, 408p; BOM 5/13) by Alison Smith, a UK policy consultant and lead author for the IPCC, provides a detailed, systematic overview of the many environmental, social, and economic benefits of a green economy, which "can provide a much stronger motivation" for supporting the move to a low-carbon society and a cleaner, safer, and healthier world. Some 37 overlapping and reinforcing co-benefits are discussed in six major categories: cleaner air by cutting pollution, greener land for forests and farming, safe and secure energy by cutting consumption and waste and shifting to low-carbon sources, less waste in a resource-efficient economy, long-term economic stability and prosperity with more jobs, and improved health and fitness. To reap the full benefits of the Climate Bonus, however, we must look at the big picture and take all co-benefits into account, which outweigh the total costs of a strong and coordinated climate policy. This message needs to be refined and widely publicized. Too many people

-including Joseph Stiglitz in The Quest for Security, above-look only at the costs and not at the offsetting benefits.





MethodsThe alternative to sustainable, low-carbon societies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality is essentially "business as usual" powered by the panoply of new technologies, with "trickle-down" benefits to all implicitly assumed. This is expressed subtly, or not so subtly.


Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds from America's National Intelligence Council (NIC, Dec 2012, 137p;; BOM 2/13) acknowledges that the world of 2030 "will be radically transformed" and presents a framework of four megatrends, six "game-changers," potential "black swans" or wild cards, and four "alternative worlds" scenarios that bear little resemblance to any of the sustainable development visions presented above. The tip-off to the NIC's bias is their selection of "Individual Empowerment" as the most important megatrend, which will "accelerate substantially during the next 15-20 years owing to poverty reduction and a huge growth of the global middle class, greater educational attainment, and better health care." The potential for greater individual initiative due to widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies is thus seen as "key to solving the mounting global challenges over the next 15-20 years." Perhaps so, but this upbeat assumption should be categorized as a scenario and not a megatrend. Conversely, the NIC's "Gini Out-of-the-Bottle" scenario of greater inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient should be seen as a megatrend, not a possible scenario. For further critiques of the NIC report, see the 13 essays in The NIC's Global Trends 2030 Report: A Collective Critique, World Future Review Special Issue, 5:4, Winter 2013 (published by World Future Society/Sage Publications).


The bias of The Economist, a widely-respected weekly magazine with outstanding global coverage, is not as subtle. Megachange: The World in 2050 (London: The Economist and Profile Books, 2012, 304p; BOM 6/13), edited by Executive Editor Daniel Franklin, provides 20 chapters on the "great trends that are transforming the world": population growth to "over 9 billion" by 2050, "stunning" advances in health care, more opportunities for women in most countries, collective intelligence as commonplace by 2050, continued dominance of the English language as many other languages die off, atheism and agnosticism expected to decline (!), global emissions unlikely to fall for decades (the best we can hope for is a plateauing in the 2030s, followed perhaps by a modest decline), problems of failing states and jihadist terrorism will remain, the problematic spread of the rule of law, the rising social burden of an aging society, the prospering of today's "upstart economies," scenarios of globalization, a "far narrower" gap between rich and poor countries, disruptive innovation, the accelerating growth of information (information overload is a very real problem, but "tools to help us handle it are improving") and mobile technology bringing the excluded closer to the mainstream and making markets more efficient. Editor Franklin concludes that "there is every chance that the world in 2050 will be richer, healthier, more connected, more sustainable, more productive, more innovative, better educated, (and) with less inequality...and with more opportunity for billions of people." A concluding essay by Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist (2010), states that "planetary pessimism is usually wrong; the field of futurology is littered with cataclysmic prognostications that failed." He does not compare with the many optimistic prognostications that failed in the mythical "field of futurology," a simplistic construct used as a straw man by one-eyed optimists.


"Sustainability" is not mentioned by The Economist, other than the passing reference, cited above. The overview of scores of trends is quite good, and many problems are discussed, albeit too briefly in most instances (e.g., infoglut). The general expectation is that R&D and rising levels of education "will offset barriers to growth such as unemployment, corruption, environmental degradation, and social tensions arising from income inequalities."


In contrast to this sophisticated defense of free-market capitalism and globalization driven by high technology, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think (Free Press, Feb 2012, 386p;; BOM 8/12), by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, presents the uninhibited techno-enthusiasm of Silicon Valley's Singularity University, founded by Diamandis and prodigious inventor and putative "futurist" Ray Kurzweil. Eight exponentially growing fields are at the core of SU's curriculum: biotechnology and bioinformatics, computational systems, networks and sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, digital manufacturing, medicine, and nanomaterials and nanotechnology. "Each of these has the potential to affect billions of people, solve grand challenges, and reinvent industries." The back-cover blurb by Kurzweil announces that "This brilliant must-read book provides the key to the coming era of abundance replacing eons of scarcity; (it) is a powerful antidote to today's malaise and pessimism." The authors go on to forecast that "within a generation, we will be able to provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthy few, to any and all who need them. Or desire them. Abundance for all is actually within our grasp."


Green Pessimists


environment Whereas techno-optimists ignore or downplay environmental issues, or brag that new technologies will "solve" them, green pessimists characteristically ignore or downplay the panoply of new and emerging technologies while focusing on population/resource/ environment issues, especially climate change. And, if one looks, there is much to be pessimistic about.


Bankrupting Nature: Denying Our Planetary Boundaries (Earthscan Routledge, Nov 2012, 206p; BOM 1/13), a Report to the Club of Rome by Anders Wijkman (Co-President, Club of Rome) and Johan Rockstrӧm (Stockholm Resilience Center), expands the concern about climate change to the broader concept of "planetary boundaries" involving nine biophysical processes as regards climate, ozone levels, ocean acidification, biogeochemical loading (nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), biodiversity loss, degradation of land, overexploitation of freshwater, toxic chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading. They argue that since WWII, the evidence is clear that "pressures on key ecosystems have increased exponentially" and that "we are very close to a saturation point, where the biosphere cannot handle additional stress." Major indicators are higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, large dead zones in coastal areas, melting sea ice and permafrost, rising sea levels, land use changes, etc. The authors discuss the necessary energy transition to renewable sources and greatly-reduced consumption, the possibility that the Arctic region may have entered a "death spiral," the need to stop using GDP growth as a measure of well-being and to place a value on natural capital and ecosystem services, financial sector reform to promote sustainability, and the need to curb population growth and reform agriculture. A brief version of the "planetary boundaries" concept also appears in the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2013 report, written by Carl Folke of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. This well-documented concept of planetary pessimism, first published in 2009 in Nature and in Ecology and Society, has yet to be widely noticed. 


Another recent Report to the Club of Rome, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Chelsea Green, June 2012, 392p; BOM 7/12) was written by Jorgen Randers, one of the four original authors of the first report to the CoR in 1972, The Limits to Growth. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of this much-discussed and debated report, Randers looks 40 years ahead at "the most likely global roadmap," based on the premise that "humanity remains in solid overshoot...and we can discern the early signs of the coming gradual destruction of the ecosystem." The negative impacts of climate change will be significant but not disastrous by 2052, with more droughts, floods, sea-level rise, and self-reinforcing climate change largely due to methane emissions from melting tundra as "worry number one." Slow and insufficient response to our challenges will dominate, but lack of space and cheap resources will force solutions with a lower ecological footprint, and a decline of world GDP just after 2052. Emerging problems will mean increased investment, forced or voluntary, lowering the share of GDP available for consumption, which will begin to fall around 2050. In sum, "the story of the 2052 forecast is one of overshoot caused by delayed societal response to greenhouse gas emissions being allowed to increase beyond sustainable levels for generations." This Forecast is not entirely bleak: whereas Randers and colleagues warned of "exponential" population growth in the original LtoG report, 2052 envisions global population reaching a maximum of 8.1 billion in the early 2040s (the U.N. low projection), thereafter declining to 7 billion by 2075. 


A far more pessimistic view coupled with an idealized global vision is provided by Ross Jackson's Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform (Chelsea Green, March 2012, 315p;; BOM 9/12), which views our civilization in the midst of a painful global collapse by overloading the ecosystem. Chapters describe the assault on nature, the coming peak in global oil production, overpopulation, "grossly overstated" hopes for biotechnology, how the Genuine Progress Indicator that adjusts GDP for negative factors shows deterioration of well-being in the past 30 years, inadequate economic beliefs that make a collapse inevitable, the corporatocracy, and recurrent financial crises ("the financial mafia is simply too powerful"). Calling for a new worldview to promote sustainability, Jackson advocates Gaia theory as foundation, steady-state economics, and effective global governance in a Gaian world to ensure survival (with detailed discussion of eight institutions to be founded by a Gaian League of small nations). 


The Long Road Ahead to Shared Vision

Global ConcernsThe Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations advocates more global conversations, more international cooperation, creative coalitions, an agreed global ethic, and a "common global vision" and "platform of understanding" to create global belonging among citizens, especially the justifiably angry and alienated young. But this is more easily said than done, and considerable learning about alternative views is needed.


The good news is that something of this sort is emerging, centered around  promoting a "universal agenda" for sustainable development along with a "new paradigm" (2013 UN High-Level Panel), paying more attention to the long term and future generations (Oxford Martin Commission), rethinking obsolete economic concepts (Al Gore and Worldwatch Institute), addressing 15 Global Challenges (Millennium Project), human security and global security cooperation (Stiglitz and Kaldor), ideas to fix the world (Dutkiewicz and Sakwa), halting population growth and promoting a "green economy" that works for everyone (State of the World 2012), and considering the many co-benefits of a strong and coordinated climate policy (The Climate Bonus).


The bad news is the "herding cats" problem of identifying the hundreds of individuals and organizations that are continuously generating promising ideas and actions--far more than the sixteen worldviews described here-- and arriving at some common language and a common global vision. Efforts should certainly be made at more conversations and more coalitions, but there will invariably be conflicts between big and small organizations, and between idealists and pragmatists, or "fundis" and "realos" as long identified among German greens. Practical disputes are inevitable as to which issues should be addressed and prioritized, and who gets credited. The ongoing problem of forging a global climate policy may seem simple in comparison.


Even if some sort of common global vision does begin to emerge, a still greater task will be to promote it in the nations of the world, especially in the still-powerful but information-glutted United States, where "sustainability" is not on the national political agenda, there are few "green" champions in national policy discourse and fewer still in public office, and any universal global agenda would be viewed with suspicion at a time when "big government" is under assault and fiscally challenged. On the other hand, as noted in several chapters in The Quest for Security, large cities and some businesses in the US and elsewhere are taking the lead in pursuing important elements of sustainable development.


Both tasks--forging a common vision and making it widely visible and accepted-- are not impossible and should be undertaken. But a long and difficult road ahead seems more likely than not. Conversations can be undertaken among most cosmopolitans and greens, and possibly with muted techno-optimists such as the National Intelligence Council, which professes openness to dialogue. Productive conversations seem less likely with The Economist and other institutions wedded to free-market capitalism and conventional economic thinking, and seem virtually impossible with those who hear the siren call of technology innovation and easy "solutions" to our numerous global problems, especially because some new technologies may prove to be helpful.


Meanwhile, estimates of world population growth in 2050 continue to creep upwards every year, according to the annual World Population Data Sheet of the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau. In 2003, the projected population in 2050 was 9.198 billion. In the 2008 Data Sheet, world population rose to 9.352 billion. In the 2013 Data Sheet, the projection was expected to be 9.727 billion.  "Estimate creep", according to Carl Haub of PRB, is due to a combination of factors, such as better health care, reduced deaths from AIDS, declining infant mortality, and higher-than-expected fertility rates in some nations. One might reasonably expect a projection of 10 billion people by 2050 to be made in the next three or four years-quite contrary to the 9 billion now assumed by The Economist (and many others) and the 8 billion or so assumed by Jorgen Randers. This "most likely" informed forecast for 2050 is not yet in anyone's worldview, but it ought to be cause for further concern. Some 10% more population by 2050 than commonly assumed increases the urgency of forging and pursuing a shared vision for sustainability.


Global Foresight Books is an experimental nonprofit website, the 21st century successor to Future Survey, a monthly publication that Michael Marien founded and edited for the World Future Society. Please visit GFB often, use it freely as a resource, tell your friends (click Forward, below), and think wisely about current affairs.