Are Futurists Confronting Our True Challenges?


To write this post, I wanted to know the origin of the term “futurist.” Per Acceleration Watch:

The Oxford English Dictionary traces earliest English usage of the term futurist to 1842, referring to Christian scriptural futurists. The next usage occurs with the Italian and Russian Futurists of the early 20th century (1900′s-1930′s), an artistic, literary, and political movement that sought to reject the past and rather uncritically embraced speed, technology, and violent change.

In any case, the term meant very little until fairly recently, perhaps the 1990s, when people began to use the term in earnest. Now, futurists talk about Web 3.0 or 4.0 and God only knows what else. Of course, I’m just cutting up; I’m not seriously so dismissive of this bunch of very smart people…but I wonder how many of them view the coming years according to the conversation below, where a friend wrote me as follows:

Friend: I just finished reading The Trivia Lover’s Guide to the World: Geography for the Lost and Found, by Gary Fuller. He provides stats on receding birth rates in nearly all of the technically advanced countries. The book lists several, such as Russia, Japan and South Korea, where the total population is actually receding. Japan is so concerned about this trend that they are developing robots to replace many tasks now handled manually…not to save money, but simply because there won’t be enough people to perform them. In parallel of course, populations of poorly educated masses in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East are growing faster than resources. So where does this leave the planet in 50 years?

Craig: The people studying the subject say that it will cap at about 10 billion in 2050, then slowly decline. If this were the only face of the issue, I’d be reasonably optimistic, given that, by that point, technology will have provided us with a certain set of solutions we can’t even imagine now. But what happens when you combine this quintupling of Earth’s population in a century (2 billion in 1950 to 10 billion in 2050), and throw in climate change/desertification/sea level rise, the cost of keeping old people alive many years longer, ocean acidification, agriculture based on chemicals of ever-increasing quantity and strength, and deforestation at the rate of 1.5 acres per second?

And these are just the problems that sane and civil people actually could do something about. (I’m not saying we will, but we could.) What happens when you toss in religious extremism in a nuclear age?

I don’t know, but if I were a futurist and someone brought this to me, I’d say, “Suppose we change the subject …..”

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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