The State of the Future Turns Ten

April 1, 2010 — Leave a comment

2006 State of the Future by Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon. The American Council for the United Nations University. 2006. 129 pages plus CD-Rom containing 5,400 pages. $49.95.

One of the greatest challenges in planning for the future is acquiring enough data to strategize effectively. Another challenge is differentiating quality information from irrelevant bits. In this way, the practice of futurism is a labor of both scientific analysis and artistic judgment. The balance is a difficult one, but in the 2006 State of the Future, Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon accomplish it beautifully.

This tenth State of the Future report contains the cumulative findings of a decade’s worth of careful study. (The authors are co-directors of the American Council for the United Nations University Millennium Project.) This latest report also includes trend analysis, research, the judgments of more than 2,100 individuals active in government and corporate planning, an updated version of the 10-year outlook on the future titled the State of the Future Index, an expansion of the 15 Global Challenges identified by the Project, and a CD containing 5,400 pages of notes, charts, appendices, and essential reference materials.

Perhaps the most impressive addition to this year’s report is the Four Global Energy Scenarios, which were constructed from a Delphi survey of leading energy experts. The scenarios are both credible and engaging, with sidebars and hypothetical graphs that create a vivid, interactive feel.

The first scenario, “Business as Usual,” details a future in which the major energy trends of today continue to project themselves into the following decade. Meaningful reform on energy consumption is absent, resulting in poverty, foreign policies that cater to the whim of oilrich dictatorships, and sustained worsening of the environment.

The second scenario, “Environmental Backlash,” envisions a world in which an environmental catastrophe of some sort has galvanized a global reform movement, resulting in both greater eco-awareness on the part of governments and corporations (a positive result) and more incidents of eco-terrorism and violence (an obvious negative outcome).

The third scenario, “High-Tech Economy-Technology Pushes Off the Limits,” examines the potential effects of accelerated technological development on energy use, painting a world where scientific resourcefulness has decreased humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels. It’s a hopeful scenario that examines how economic growth, environmental sustainability, and technological advancement could progress hand-inhand.

Finally, “Political Turmoil,” the fourth scenario, describes a world where conflicts over oil, international crime, and state failure are all on the rise while international governing bodies fall into irrelevance.

“Each explores plausible causeand-effect links and illustrates key decisions, events, and consequences throughout the narratives,” Glenn and Gordon write.

The 2006 State of the Future report, like its predecessors, combines quantitative analysis (the SOTF Index) and qualitative thinking (the expert Delphi panel). It continues to be a useful reference. -Patrick Tucker

Originally published in THE FUTURIST, January-February 2007.

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