Roland Legrand (roland) Wed 16 Jan 13 15:07
Which probably leaves us with decades of social and cultural tensions and increasing frustrations. In the meantime the individual and all kinds of small groups of weirdos get empowered by our beloved internet and related developments such as DIY drones and 3D-printers. Which means, logically speaking, that the probability of devastating attacks on our mega-cities increases dramatically. Or am I too pessimistic here (the alternative seems to be the triumph of absolute control by Big Brother states).
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Wed 16 Jan 13 16:24
I saw a note that the huge clouds of iron-rich dust blown from Austraila into the sea recently will be a good test of the fertilization theory.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 16 Jan 13 21:24
The politics of climate change: it's hard to get a straight answer. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2013/01/16/obama_climate_ change/ "So which is it? President Obamas flying unicorn policy in which fighting global warming apparently does not involve a costly diversion of resources? Or the straight talk from Todd Stern, who is willing to say that it is worth paying something now to reduce pollution and limit the risks of a rapidly changing climate later?" Problem of biting the bullet: it's hard, might crack your teeth, might explode.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Thu 17 Jan 13 11:23
This discussion of climate politics underscores an ongoing dilemma in the world of professional foresight: the balance between creating desirable future scenarios and likely future scenarios. One rule for foresight work I've seen across a spectrum of professional groups is the need to avoid "normative" scenarios, forecasts that describe futures we'd like to see rather than futures that map to our understanding of plausible dynamics. The reasoning is that normative scenarios are not impartial analysis, and therefore don't give clients the best insights. At the Institute for the Future, where I do much of my work these days, this need to avoid normative scenarios is articulated as a description of how good futurists operate: we have "strong opinions, weakly held." Thing is, this makes sense if we're talking about the future of mobile phones or automobiles or the like. But it's hard to be neutral or have "weakly held" opinions about the climate, or poverty, or ethnic cleansing. As it happens, most of the work professional futurists do falls into the mobile phones & automobile futures category, not the climate & poverty category; technologies are easier, safer, and ultimately more lucrative to forecast than social/political futures. This is one of my ongoing struggles with this profession. Yes, I'll make more money talking about gadgets, but I would prefer to work on topics that actually *matter* for our future. I want to be able to talk about not just what is likely to happen, but what *should* happen. There's a reason that most of the futurists I know are on anti-depressants.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 17 Jan 13 15:07
Climate and poverty are wicked problems, it seems to me - hard if not impossible to solve. What's the best way to approach those problems, vs the ones that come in smaller, neater boxes?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Fri 18 Jan 13 11:05
What makes climate and poverty wicked problems is that they're complex -- complicated + interconnected with other systems -- *and* that they're attached at the root to fundamental political-economic power structures. That is, altering the status quo of climate & poverty will upset power balances; those with the power who stand to lose it will use every bit of that power to hang onto it. So what do we know that can successfully attack a complex system with a great deal of defensive power? Viruses. We have to think like a virus. [Recognizing that viruses aren't even alive, at least according to some definitions of life, so yes, thinking isn't what they *really* do. But go with it.] A retro-virus, to be precise. We need to figure out how to get in, adapt, and rewrite the system. A blunt attack would get shut down quickly; we have to be able to simultaneously weaken the system and redirect defensive resources in a way that makes the system think that it's still working. We need to be able to turn the system against itself. Admittedly, holding high the banner of "we're like a virally-induced auto-immune disorder" isn't going to bring in a lot of money and recruits, but it is a good analogy for the strategy I think is likely to work best.
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Fri 18 Jan 13 13:43
Assuming a slow response to the climate change issue, what do you think the next 20 years looks like for places the technically adept tend to flock (this is a purely self-interested question)? From what I've seen, Seattle and Portland look to be setup to weather climate change fairly well, San Franscisco maybe less so, Austin may be boiling away in the summers, but I have no idea about London, Berlin, Tokyo, Singapore, etc. I've been casually eyeing the Hawaiian islands as a good place to setup shop, but I imagine if moving huge boats full of stuff back and forth becomes really expensive, they might become an isolated economy.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Fri 18 Jan 13 14:27
So here's one of the nasty, generally unstated truths about climate disruption: by and large, the rich countries (the primary historical source of greenhouse gas emissions) will very likely weather climate disruptions much more readily than poor countries (historically *not* greenhouse powerhouses). This is in part due to geography -- the equatorial region's going to get hammered by global warming, and the closer-to-the-poles regions less so -- but mostly due to money. The US, Europe, and Japan will be more able to afford to adapt than will China, India, or other up & coming developing nations. Australia is an exception on the geography side, and a test case in how well a rich nation can adapt. At least in the near-medium term; left unchecked, climate disruption hoses everyone by the end of the century. Your sense that the Pacific Northwest is one of the better places to go in the US is probably accurate. Not sure that Seattle itself is a good spot, simply due to how close it is to sea level. Portland's a decent option, though. Texas residents should pay close attention to what's happening in Australia right now -- that's your likely (uncomfortably near) future. As a general rule, you want to be further north and well above sea level. Storm systems in the western Atlantic seem to be getting charged by climate disruption more so than storms in the eastern Pacific, so you'll probably want to be well away from the coastline in the US Northeast. Also, bear in mind that global warming means increased (a) energy in the atmosphere (driving storms) and (b) ability for the atmosphere to hold moisture, so winter storms will probably be bigger deals. Europe's problem is that most of the northern cities and regions aren't accustomed to very hot summers, and don't have the necessary infrastructure to withstand the heat (remember the heat wave that killed thousands in Europe a few years ago -- they were by and large killed by the lack of air conditioning). That's not impossible to fix. Power lines/stations that aren't built for the heat may be a bigger issue. To be clear, nobody gets a pass on the impacts of global warming. Water access, loss of farmland, internal population displacement*, novel pests & diseases will be big problems in the rich countries as well as the poor -- it's just that the US, etc., will have more resources to draw from to deal with these problems. (* Apparently it's frowned upon to use "refugee" to refer to people forced to flee from one part of a country to another. The More You Know.)
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Fri 18 Jan 13 15:52
Jamais, What do you make of the objections to fracking?
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Fri 18 Jan 13 21:51
What are the two questions you wish people would ask you when they find out you're a futurist, but never do? (And what would your answers be, of course.)
Roland Legrand (roland) Sat 19 Jan 13 02:05
Catching up with the discussion and reading 'Admittedly, holding high the banner of "we're like a virally-induced auto-immune disorder" isn't going to bring in a lot of money and recruits, but it is a good analogy for the strategy I think is likely to work best.' This sounds very interesting, but could you give a concrete example of such a strategy please?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Sat 19 Jan 13 15:13
RU: From what I've read, fracking done correctly, under ideal conditions, is *relatively* benign. Problem has been that much of the fracking has been done sloppily and without consideration of conditions (like fault lines) that might cause trouble. Objections to fracking rightly focus on those; support for fracking rightly argues that it *can* be done without causing harm. The problem arises when opponents try to claim that all fracking is bad in the same way, and when proponents try to claim that fracking is never bad. Jeff: Ooh, nice. (1) "Why don't you get a real job?" Believe it or not, this is a real job, and I couldn't imagine myself fitting better into any other kind of profession. Near-ADD-levels of curiosity, an obsession with world-building, and a strong feeling of always being on the verge of seeing the big picture add up to either a futurist or a mental patient. (2) "What's the weirdest part of being a futurist? Is it all the groupies? It must be all the groupies." No groupies. The weirdest part is either the Cassandra Complex one can get when things turn out in ways that you'd forecast, but nobody listened, or the point when you're out in the middle of a cattle ranch, pulling on a latex glove to pretend for a TV documentary that you're about to do something horrible to a cow. Maybe that last one's just me. Roland: Damn. I knew someone was going to ask me that. Before I answer, I'd like you to tell me what you *think* I mean when I overuse similes/metaphors like that.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Sat 19 Jan 13 15:15
I'm not lying about the latex glove, btw: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamais_cascio/2266075988/in/set-72157601036766034 (That was for the National Geographic TV documentary, SIX DEGREES.)
Roland Legrand (roland) Sun 20 Jan 13 09:05
Jamais, your strategy reminds me this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snDO3ClgRTA&feature=share&list=FLQpEzdZqP-1-03- m6ArZalg Bruce Sterling and some designer dude trying to convince Google to help out (investing people and money) in a project about designing spimes. Bruce explains how the internet of things - enabling us for instance to see the life cycle of about every object in real time - could be part of the efforts in favor of a durable civilization. What's in it for Google? It's the kind of work they do anyway and it would promote the vision of a Green Google rather than an Evil Google. Of course, I guess that this project would rather sooner than later make it obvious that being Green also means to be involved in the struggle against poverty. So rather than attacking Google - for instance because they hardly pay any taxes at all - it would be a way to turn them into an partner for making the planet a better place. And of course other big corporations would feel they should intervene as well. would this be like a virally-induced auto-immune disorder - as it subverts the logic of 'the shareholders and only the shareholders' in a rather irresistible way?
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Sun 20 Jan 13 22:01
Keeping the futurist grilling going, what kinds of things do you (or other futurists you know) do to prepare for the future? Things people not as focused on the future might not think about?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Mon 21 Jan 13 12:25
Roland, that's exactly what I mean. Good example. Jeff: you mean aside from drinking heavily? Futurists aren't Preppers. I have water & food in containers in case of an earthquake, but that's because I live in Northern California and have the space to put that stuff. But I'm not (and no futurist I know is) setting aside guns and cigarettes for barter in a shack in the woods. Something I wrote a few years ago may explain: http://www.openthefuture.com/2007/09/greetings_from_rschloken_1.html "I think it's because, to reverse Tolstoy, all unhappy futures are identical, but every happy future is happy in a different way. Unhappy futures, no matter their province -- environmental disaster, technological doom, bird flu, peak oil, civilizational suicide-by-spam -- are really about three basic fears: deprivation, pain and death. The relative balance of the three will vary, as will the proximate causes, but for the starving masses, it ultimately doesn't make much difference whether their demise was at the hands of a global climate collapse or a super-empowered high-tech terrorist. "We know all too well, conversely, that definitions of happiness vary considerably between cultures and between individuals. A bucolic life of growing my own food and living amidst nature doesn't work as a "happy future" for me, but would be idyllic for some of you; neither of us, however, would likely welcome a future that would be a happy one for a religious zealot. "Or, to put it in a more considered (and less pointed) fashion, we tend to recognize that happiness is contingent, and because we can so easily imagine how any given happy future could become less happy -- and have trouble imagining how a disastrous future, once underway, could become less apocalyptic -- it's far harder to accept that we might succeed (at avoiding doom, at improving our society, at changing our values, etc.) than that we might fail. It's my job to make those happier, or at least less-apocalyptic, futures easier to accept. "Sometimes, being a futurist isn't about making forecasts or spotting trends. "Sometimes, being a futurist means acting as a civilizational therapist." One philosophy I try to adopt when making decisions with longer-term consequences is a principle of "least regret" -- of a set of options, which ones can I imagine regretting more in the years to come? This forces me to consider what happens if my choice fails, and what the "opportunity for happiness cost" might be if I choose not to do something.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 21 Jan 13 16:08
You should be like those Dadaist punks in John Kessel's novel, _Good News from Outer Space_ - who break into cars and install expensive stereo systems. *** I know there are cultural drivers, but my impression is that the primary reason we have climate change deniers on the right is economic anxiety: if we take action against climate change, it'll blow some well-established economic engines and disrupt the flow of dollars to certain people and certain economies. How do you respond to that (not always articulated) set of issues?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Mon 21 Jan 13 17:34
Good question. It depends on the context, who I'm speaking to. My basic approach when I know that there are climate change skeptics/deniers (not necessarily the same thing) in the audience is to talk about balancing risks. How much are they willing to gamble on being right? What kinds of losses are they looking at if they're wrong. The fact that the major re-insurance companies are terrified of climate disruption is very helpful when talking to executives -- they know that the people with no real political axe to grind and a *lot* of money at stake don't make decisions solely based on ideology. That said, there are people who simply don't want to hear it. I was actually heckled by an audience member in Manchester UK a few years ago. She was *really* drunk (open bar before the keynote, she walked to her seat with two glasses of wine), and just kept yelling at me about climate stuff being "so speculative." As it turns out, though, the most effective way to get through to skeptics seems to be talking about geoengineering. It's a "crap, they're actually considering this scary stuff, it can't be just to doom capitalism and line their pockets with the lucrative grant money..." reaction; that's backed up by some interesting research. The UK's National Environment Research Council did the legwork: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/about/consult/geoengineering-dialogue-final-report.pdf
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 21 Jan 13 19:38
> there are people who simply don't want to hear it. Good point: denial as a response to real fear. From the pdf you linked: "The basis on which participants accepted climate change varied, and views were not always based on scientific data. Participants often formed attitudes towards climate change through personal experience of certain weather events, sometimes conflating weather and climate concepts in their comments. For instance, some mentioned unusually heavy snowfall as evidence of climate change, while others refuted claims of global temperature rise due to 2009s cold winter. People also referred to media coverage of high profile natural disasters, such as the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 or the recent Chilean earthquake, as evidence for climate change." It can be hard to get the difference between climate and weather.
Roland Legrand (roland) Tue 22 Jan 13 05:48
Climate change by MIT Technology Review editors, annotated by Bruce Sterling: http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2013/01/a-hundred-years-ago-would-have- been-a-good-time-to-deal-with-climate-change-mr-president/
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Tue 22 Jan 13 14:13
It's frustrating to see people with whom one ostensibly agrees saying things that demonstrate a lack of knowledge. It really underscores the tribal aspect of these big picture issues: ofttimes, people don't believe or deny things because they've analyzed the facts, but because of how well the issue fits with an existing worldview. Things that seem vaguely connected get lumped in. One test I've used on my own beliefs about the world: what kind of information would it take to get me to change my mind? And Bruce's observation in the title of that piece is right, but really, even 25 years ago would have made a big difference. BTW, I want to give a shout-out to an interesting project that started today at IFTF: the "connected citizens" 24 hour Foresight Engine game: http://game.connected-citizens.org "What if, together, we could imagine hundreds of civic innovations to improve our communities? "Join a global conversation to rethink and reprogram government services for a complex and connected world. Become a civic inventor, and contribute your ideas about how governments and citizens can work together to make life better for everyone." This will run until midday (PST) tomorrow (Jan 23). I would strongly encourage anyone with interest in the future of governance to check it out.
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Tue 22 Jan 13 15:35
It seems like it would be very difficult to hold in your head the possibilities of all the various co-mingling disruptive technologies. I was just listening to a talk from dConstruct 2012 by James Burke, and after talking about connections and change for 40 minutes, he ends with talking about how nanoscale benchtop manufacturing could make all the predictions and current organizational structures obsolete. <http://2012.dconstruct.org/conference/burke/>
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Tue 22 Jan 13 17:10
It's difficult for a couple of reasons. It's not just the "oops, forgot about that potentially transformative gadget" problem, it's also the "wow, I've been hearing about that potentially transformative gadget now for about 20 years, and it remains just 10 years away." I'm quite certain Burke is right, but the problem is that desktop nanofabs have been just about here since I first read about an early iteration of the idea in Drexler's ENGINES OF CREATION back in the early 1990s. It's easy to get jaded about the mind-blowingly transformative when failed or delayed transformations are pretty much on the daily menu for a futurist. I haven't had a chance to listen to Burke's talk, so I don't know if he addresses this (and he may well, he's fucking brilliant and I'm not kidding when I say I wish I was half as smart as he is), but there's also a bunch of social/legal/economic factors that tend to drag out these big transformations, even when the technology is here. The first desktop nanofab manufacturer that raises its head will be inundated with lawsuits over environmental impact (including but not limited to the toxic effects of nanoparticles), IP violations, what happens to the waste stream, and on and on. And my god, don't forget the potential for spam in a world of network-connected nanofabs. I sometimes get accused of only seeing the downsides, the problems with this kind of stuff. That's not accurate -- what I look at are the *complications* that arise with this kind of stuff. That's not to shoot the ideas down, but to make sure that the people pushing this stuff have covered their bases and really thought it through.
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Tue 22 Jan 13 19:20
In the talk he says the people he's talked to are thinking it's a 2050's technology, but even if there are speedbumps on the way, there don't seem to be fundamental physical laws against it, so it's just a matter of when. With 3d printing at a smaller and smaller scale, augmented reality, intelligent everything... it seems like the future is going to be a very confusing place.
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Tue 22 Jan 13 19:49
Well, that's why they call it the singularity.
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