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Thinking About the Future

One would have to assume that many readers continue to look at the calendar and marvel at the date. While this seems curious, consider that many of us have lived five or more decades and have never thought much about 1) growing old 2) how long we will live, or 3) the enormous changes that would take place during our lives. As we struggle to grasp that it is almost 2013, we are faced with the twin dilemmas of considering our legacies (what we are leaving behind) and what challenges and opportunities the future will bring. It would also seem important to consider what role we’ll play in building a tenable future, especially if we care at all about leaving something worthwhile for succeeding generations.

Then, there is the specter of circumstances and scenarios we cannot change…those inevitable transitions currently underway that will alter societies, global cultures, economic balance and the planetary environment. In retrospect, it is now clear that we have bungled a lot. We have spent, burned, harvested, polluted, melted, mined and cut our way past several tipping points. Others are nearing inevitability but may still be reversible, while many are far enough out for current Earth-bound residents to change predicted outcomes.

For most of us, the most important considerations pertain to foresight and caring. However, it may be even more essential to recognize that facts are facts and we will indeed reap what we have sown. As we work through this year and toward mid-decade, it is essential that we recognize that a lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge and things are rapidly evolving. A commitment to ‘futuring’ requires that we recognize established fact, understand cause and effect, are able to sensibly extrapolate what might occur IF, and have the courage to alter course no matter how difficult.

The planet has already warmed by over 2.5Õ F in the past century and has virtually 100 percent chance of growing by 4.5Õ to 5Õ F by the end of this century, which will guarantee enormous loss of sea and glacial ice (the most recent data indicate temperatures increase by over 4Õ F within three decades). If you are interested, read The Fate of Greenland: Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change (MIT Press, 2011), which explains how and why Greenland holds clues to the fate of the entire planet. Current data (just hard fact without all the hooey) indicates that melt rates are now so high that the Greenland ice sheet could melt in a few decades, raising sea levels by approximately 24 feet worldwide. This is not bunk…melt rates are measurable and tracked quarterly. This is simple math…not complex physics or weird astrology.

Similar questions arise when considering essential resources. What about oil, arable land, forests, minerals, rare elements, and water? As I have said before, just review the data then decide what you want to believe.

As futures thinkers, there are questions we need to ask, such as:

  1. How much global warming lies ahead and what will it do to economic vitality, health, population migration, international relations, levels of conflict, environmental sustainability, etc.? 
  2. What role will CO2 and methane play in planetary warming and is there anything we can do about either? (You can Google information about the amount of methane being released by melting permafrost; it is enormous and cannot be stopped unless temperatures moderate.)
  3. As the population grows, will there be adequate resources? What about potable water?
  4. When will oil reserves dip below the threshold needed to fuel modern society? What will that do to industry, society, economics and, ultimately, potential opportunities in our communities?
  5. Will there be enough water, where is it and who will control it? How precious will it become and what are we doing to preserve/ protect it?
  6. Is there truly enough enterprise on Earth to employ all who seek work? What can we predict for younger generations relative to opportunity, careers, and pursuit of vocational dreams?
  7. Will the trend toward plutocracy continue the evolution away from democracy and equality? This is a major global (and U.S.) trend line that shows a significant shift in power to the wealthiest and elite who seek to govern and retain power.

As future thinkers, we must embrace the fact that times are changing. It is a human tendency to live in the moment, to focus on the day-to-day operational aspects of work and life. However, there are absolutely enormous questions about sustainability, preparation, positioning, and preservation that must be addressed by more than a few scientists and global thinkers. As noted before in this Blog, the plot always turns and is turning in ways many choose to ignore.

Am I concerned about future opportunity and the ability to thrive within the context of the challenges suggested above? Certainly. However, the human spirit provides boundless options that are available to those willing to embrace change, evolve, and consider new possibilities. Give some thought to the future you prefer for your family, business and community. What course needs to be pursued? What changes must be made? Are you, your managers, decision makers and community leaders planning strategically and with foresight? And, will you and they choose to step forward and lead during these challenging times?

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal government long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). His 2010 book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders, is being hailed as the best book for public managers and community leaders who are committed to building a sustainable future.  An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

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