I’ve always regarded the World Future Society (WFS), a non-profit, non-partisan organization devoted to forecasting the future, as leaning toward the optimistic. I guess that makes sense for a group committed to the future — at least one that wants to keep its members and donor base!
Nevertheless, as someone who fears that we are heading into perilous times absent major course corrections, I was heartened to find WFS’s 2011 feature on what it calls a potential Global MegaCrisis.
The WFS defines this MegaCrisis as “a global environmental and economic collapse or near collapse, along with attendant problems of rising prices, mass protests, widespread psychic stress, and lawlessness.” These trends could drive it:
- “Climate Change, No Matter What.”
- “Political Will to Reduce CO2 Is Lacking.”
- “Methane May Be Worse Than CO2.”
- “Freshwater Is Becoming More Scarce.”
- “Recession Likely to Last for Years.”
- “Severe Institutional Failures.”
- “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
The WFS assesses our options and envisions one of four scenarios taking place:
- “Scenario 1: Decline to Disaster”
- “Scenario 2: Muddling Down”
- “Scenario 3: Muddling Up”
- “Scenario 4: Rise to Maturity”
Halal vs. Marien
Two noted future studies scholars and analysts, William Halal and Michael Marien, add opinion pieces assessing the likelihood of these scenarios coming to pass.
Halal is the more optimistic of the two, predicting that we will muddle up to a better place, buoyed by his conviction that “The World Is Entering an Advanced Stage of Evolution.”
Marien, on the other hand, believes it is more likely we will muddle down, awash in “Infoglut, Ignorance, Indecision, and Inadequacy.”
Reluctantly, I must say that my money is on Marien. I’ve admired his work for years, and his current thinking reflects a career immersed in understanding the choices before us as a society. In addition, while I agree that humankind is fully poised to take some remarkable forward steps in our development, I doubt that we will fully embrace the opportunities. Rather, I fear that small pockets of light — a mini-Enlightenment of sorts — will flicker about amid what the late Jane Jacobs characterized as a new Dark Age.
Am I too pessimistic? Are you interested in the future (and who isn’t)? The full feature may be worth your time and attention.
Added note: A group of researchers from MIT also are predicting a severe global depression if we continue to pursue unsustainable consumption patterns, as Eric Pfeiffer blogs for Yahoo! News (link here):
A new study from researchers at Jay W. Forrester’s institute at MIT says that the world could suffer from “global economic collapse” and “precipitous population decline” if people continue to consume the world’s resources at the current pace.