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global futures

  Scenarios at a future point in time. These scenarios may be issue-specific (e.g. global warming) or they may be visions of an entire society. They may be global, or they may be given a local setting but with a view to global application (e.g. Callenbach, 1978). The future scenario, whether based in scientific analysis, utopian or dystopian thought, is often a device with which both to explore the future and to make critical comment on, or clarify, the present. To compare the accuracy of these works with actual events at a later date is to often misjudge the author\'s intentions. If the author is seeking changes to avoid a dystopian scenario, the work may produce the \'Cassandra effect\' or the \'self-refuting prophecy\' in that it causes behaviour to be altered.

Kates (1995, p. 623) wrote that what is \'so striking about great ideas is how relatively few there are, how powerful their impacts on both science and society, yet how simplified they are in construct and how often wrong in application\'. He included in his work the prophet Jeremiah, Thomas Robert Malthus (cf. Malthusian model), William Vogt\'s Road to survival (1948), limits to growth work by Meadows et al. (1972, 1992) and the market-based scenario of Julian Simon (1981). The global futures posited in the debates between Meadows et al. and Simon (Simon and Kahn, 1984; Simon, 1994) range from limits to population and resource use, through to Simon\'s \'cornucopian\' belief that human labour and ingenuity is the ultimate resource that will redefine physical limits. The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) includes aspects of both of these positions in its notion of sustainable development.

Contemporary social theory emphasizes contingency of outcomes, cumulative impacts and the futility of prediction. This means that accurate prediction, despite more sophisticated technology, is likely to remain an elusive goal. However, rational action is premised on some form of prediction so that action can be taken to achieve desirable goals or to avoid potential harm (cf. rational choice theory): Kates (1995, p. 631) wrote that \'accuracy may not be a fair test of the prophecy. Instead we can only ask if the prophets\' concerns were reasonable for their time and knowledge\'. There will continue to be global future scenarios presented in various guises. Depending upon the type of scenario, the most successful work on global futures may be scenarios that induce modifications in human behaviour, and are therefore not accurate in their vision of a future world. (PM)

References Callenbach, E. 1978: Ecotopia. London: Pluto Press. Kates, R. 1995: Labnotes from the Jeremiah Experiment: hope for a sustainable transition. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 85 4: 623-40. Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. and Behrens, W. 1972: The limits to growth. London: Earth Island. Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. 1992: Beyond the limits: global collapse or a sustainable future. London: Earthscan. Simon, J. 1981: The ultimate resource. Princetown, NJ: Princetown University Press. Simon, J. 1994: More people, greater wealth, more resources, healthier environment. Economic Affairs 14 (3): 22-9. Simon, J. and Kahn, H., eds, 1984: The resourceful earth. Oxford: Blackwell; World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) 1987: Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Suggested Reading Kates (1995).



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