Book Review: The State of the Future 2013-14

2013-14SOF

The State of the Future 2013-14 by Jerome C. Glenn, Theodore J. Gordon, and Elizabeth Florescu; The Millennium Project, Washington, D.C.; $39.95 US + shipping (soft cover) and 29.95 (download) ; 2014.

When professionals have to communicate difficult or problematic news, we often start out with the strategy of giving bad news first, then following with good news. The hope is that this strategy will prompt someone to change their behavior. In this case, the patient is humanity, and our lifestyles are having an impact on the health of our very own planet. It is this context that this comprehensive peer-reviewed report consummately succeeds.

The prognosis is that water tables are falling on all continents, glaciers are melting, the gaps in income inequality have widened as half of the world’s wealth is owned by just 1% of the population, air quality and topsoil have eroded seriously, organized crime is rampant. The good news is that humanity is living longer, healthier lives, with better education.

In one of its strongest statements, the report asserts that the world is improving better than most pessimists think, but that the future dangers are significantly worse than most optimists indicate. “Better ideas, new tech, and creative management approaches are popping up all over the world, but the lack of imagination and courage to make serious change is drowning the innovations needed to make the world work for all.”[1] This realization must motivate decision makers and mobilize broad populations of humanity to action; this report is a wake-up call that humanity needs to make changes now.

The report provides a glimpse of the Global Challenges facing humanity and our habitat and provides a report card of just how we are faring, utilizing an index of thirty variables. The 15 Global Challenges are illustrated in the diagram below.

15 challenges

The 15 Global Challenges provide a framework to assess our prospects, both locally and globally. These challenges are interdependent and intertwined; advancement in one area helps the other areas and degradation in one area harms the others. In one of the most memorable statements in the entire report, “Arguing whether one is more important than another is like arguing that the human nervous system is more important than the respiratory system.”

In a chapter entitled “Hidden Hunger: Unhealthy Food Markets in the Developing World”, the report addresses the impact that current food market trends have on sustainable development and climate, clean water, health issues, education, and the rich-poor gap: “[a]ll dimensions of the problem of “hidden hunger” are becoming more serious. In order of increasing severity, they are water scarcity, biodiversity deterioration, loss and/or degradation of farmland, agribusiness and food market monopolies, low income-to-food-price ratio, expansion of monoculture, food waste, lack of access to food with adequate micronutrient content, and dietary culture.” [2] The report makes recommendations from different perspectives such as the sample of distillations below:

  • public policy (e.g., develop systems, procedures, and industry standards for certifying food quality and nutrition),
  • economic policy incentive (e.g., tax inexpensive low nutritional foods and use the money raised to subsidize and reduce the price of healthy foods),
  • science and technology (e.g., develop technologies such as GMOs with improved micronutrients, greening the desert, and use of information and communication technologies)
  • business-oriented (e.g., improve food packaging, storage, and transport)
  • education (e.g., incorporate nutrition information into school curricula),
  • farming practices (e.g., expand seawater agriculture) and
  • cultural matters (e.g., encourage indigenous agriculture and culinary traditions).

Other chapters focus on the vulnerability of urban coastal zones, and the threats posed by lone wolf terrorists, but most importantly, this year’s report introduces the Global Futures Intelligence System, which is described as a “ a collective intelligence” which can be defined as a dynamic synergistic network comprised of “ 1) data/info/knowledge; 2) software/hardware; and 3) experts and others with insight that continually learns from feedback to produce just-in-time knowledge for better decisions than any of these elements acting alone.”

Some of the solid recommendations that the report has included are:

  • The United States and China setting a 10-year environmental security goal to reduce climate change and improve trust
  • Growing pure (cultured) meat, rather than promoting livestock, to reduce water demand and greenhouse gases
  • Seawater agriculture for biofuels, carbon sink, and growing food without rain
  • Global collective input for humanity’s long-range strategic plans
  • Tele-nations connecting brains overseas to the development process back home
  • TransInstitutions for more effective implementation of strategies
  • A global counter-organized-crime strategy
  • State of the Future Index as a better alternative to GDP for measuring progress.

The result of the efforts of the Millennium Project are an indispensable resource for anyone who cares about public policy, sustainability, ethics, education, the status of women, energy, or any of the other 15 global challenges. This report ought to be made mandatory reading for our government representatives, our institutions of higher learning, policy think tanks, as well as business and community leaders, with the hope that it will prompt humanity to take corrective action. That would be good news, indeed.

More information about the 2013-2014 edition of State of the Future is available on http://www.millennium-project.org/millennium/publications.html.

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Linda MacDonald Glenn, JD, LLM is a Director on the Board of Humanity+. More can be seen about her background at http://www.linkedin.com/in/lindamacdonaldglenn.

[1] Page 3 of the State of the Future Report 2013-2014, accessible at http://www.millennium-project.org/millennium/201314SOF.html

[2] page 183