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Article
Publication date: 9 August 2013

Joshua Floyd

Slaughter has proposed futures in which interior human development matches that of technological development as the best prospect for avoiding catastrophic collapse

Abstract

Purpose

Slaughter has proposed futures in which interior human development matches that of technological development as the best prospect for avoiding catastrophic collapse through overshoot of the Earth's carrying capacity. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the importance of the primary energy resource context in making sense of the prospects for such futures, and to consider how subtle changes to conceptual models for understanding the nature of human development can offer alternate pathways for proceeding in light of the fundamental limits this imposes.

Design/methodology/approach

Conceptual models for the relationship between energy and social complexity are reviewed, and proposals for connecting social complexity with interior human development are discussed. Popular models of interior human development are critiqued in light of recent clarifications relating to Integral Theory; and specific reconceptualisations are proposed.

Findings

Technological and interior human development are intimately linked. There are important interdependencies between energy and social complexity that must be taken into account in establishing expectations for the way that these realms might evolve together. This presents significant challenges for realising on a society‐wide scale development of the nature commonly associated with Integral Theory. However, alternative ways of conceptualising such development offer fresh opportunities for confronting the spectre of environmental and social breakdown.

Originality/value

The implications of models relating social complexity and resource context are extended to questions of human interior development; the unit of development is extended from the individual in relative isolation to the organism‐in‐environment.

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Joshua Floyd

This paper aims to make the case for continued opportunity for high levels of human well-being under descent conditions characterised by declining economic throughput and…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to make the case for continued opportunity for high levels of human well-being under descent conditions characterised by declining economic throughput and socio-political complexity.

Design/methodology/approach

Relationships between assumptions about human well-being formed within a modern industrial context, the guiding narratives attending these, and the broader cultural influence of ideas from the evolutionary sciences are examined. Alternative ways of making sense of these relationships are explored. The experiences of societies guided by cultural narratives based on different premises to those most influential in industrial societies are reviewed for their implications for human well-being under descent conditions.

Findings

Human experiences of well-being are principally a function of the sources of meaning and associated narratives by which members of a culture make sense of their situation, as these determine the nature of the material and energetic conditions required to live well. Under descent conditions, the narrative of progress that has supported viable societies during the 300-year period of industrial expansion is unlikely to continue serving humanity well. Collective participation in the renewal of guiding cultural narratives is a primary target for efforts to provide continued opportunities for high quality of life to all members of humanity.

Practical implications

The findings point towards specific characteristics of cultural sense-making narratives that may support viable human societies under descent conditions.

Social implications

By moving beyond the default assumption that descent automatically implies decline in human well-being, a barrier may be lowered to more open and mature society-wide engagement in conversations about the present human predicament and effective ways of responding to it.

Originality/value

New connections are identified between perspectives based on biological evolutionary theory and the continued influence of the idea of progress in establishing default assumptions about prospects for human well-being under descent conditions. Experiences of non-industrial societies are taken as the basis for identifying opportunities for human well-being under far more modest material and energetic conditions than those available to the portion of humanity that presently enjoys benefits of industrial development that outweigh the attendant costs.

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foresight, vol. 16 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Joshua Floyd and Richard A. Slaughter

The purpose of this special issue is first to highlight the need for wider understanding of the “civilisational challenge” facing humanity, as it encounters and then…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this special issue is first to highlight the need for wider understanding of the “civilisational challenge” facing humanity, as it encounters and then exceeds significant limits to growth. The second is to present material that provides grounds for developing effective responses.

Design/methodology/approach

The issue draws on evidence from previous research, economic modelling and a range of other sources to investigate the hypothesis that humanity is heading towards an “overshoot and collapse” future. It further suggests that a useful way of responding is to explore the possibility that the prospect of collapse can be moderated or avoided through a process of “conscious descent.”

Findings

The main findings are that a very wide spectrum of policies, actions, strategies and options is available that can and should be used to help us avoid the most disastrous manifestations of “overshoot and collapse.” Yet there are also many barriers and impediments that continue to inhibit effective responses. This means that the process of coming to grips with the “civilisational challenge” will take longer and become increasingly costly. Denialism and short term thinking remain embedded in dominant institutions and mainstream practice. Currently, vastly more is miss-spent on various perverse incentives (e.g. advertising, the funding of denial, fossil fuel subsidies) than on securing the future of civilisation. This can be seen as a consequence of outdated values and inadequate worldviews.

Research limitations/implications

The contributions here represent a sample from within a rapidly expanding field of enquiry and action. They should therefore be seen as indicating the need for further high quality investigation, work and action. The main implication is that this process needs to be taken seriously, properly resourced and eventually transformed into a mainstream social project.

Originality/value

The papers are contributions to an in-depth understanding of a complex and evolving situation. Their value lies in the fact that greater understanding and a commitment to early action are among the most productive investments available to societies vulnerable to the systemic threats outlined here. As such, the special issue evokes a fundamental tenet of foresight work in general. Or to put this in the words of Bertrand de Jouvenel, “the proof of improvidence lies in falling under the empire of necessity.”

Details

foresight, vol. 16 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Richard A. Slaughter

The purposes of this paper are as follows. Part one examines the role of denialism in the context of proposals advanced through the much-abused Limits to Growth (LtG…

Abstract

Purpose

The purposes of this paper are as follows. Part one examines the role of denialism in the context of proposals advanced through the much-abused Limits to Growth (LtG) project. Part two uses three sets of criteria (domains of reality, worldviews and values) to characterise some of the interior human and social aspects of the “denial machine.” It uses these criteria to address some vital, but currently under-appreciated “interior” aspects of descent. (N.B. A succinct “primer” or overview of the concept and underpinning rationale for notions of “descent pathways” is provided in the introduction to this special issue.)

Design/methodology/approach

The paper draws on a number of authoritative sources that track the dimensions of global change and, specifically, the ways that humanity is tracking towards Dystopian overshoot-and-collapse futures. The significance of the LtG project is assessed in this context. Part two employs the criteria noted above to identify and open out the centrality of the human and cultural interiors.

Findings

Responses to the LtG project are shown to have deprived humanity of the clarity and will to respond effectively to the emerging global emergency. The rise of climate change denialism has followed suit and made effective responses increasingly difficult. A new focus, however, on some of the dynamics of reality domains, worldviews and values, clarifies both the nature of the problem and prefigures a range of solutions, some of which are briefly outlined.

Research limitations/implications

This is primarily a conceptual paper that suggests a range of practical responses. For example, re-purposing parts of the current information technology (IT) infrastructure away from financial and economic indices to those tracking the health of the planet. Also translating the case put forward here for a new generation of Institutions of Foresight (IoFs) into real-world start-ups and examples. Further research is needed into the uses and limitations both of positive and negative views of futures. It is suggested that the latter have more value than is commonly realised.

Practical implications

In addition to those stated above, the practical implications include new uses for IT infrastructure based on worldcentric – rather than financial and economic worldviews; designing and implementing a new generation of IoFs; and finding new ways to inform the public of impending Dystopian outcomes without exacerbating avoidance and depression.

Social implications

The social implications are profound. Currently, humanity has allowed itself to “tune out” and ignore many of the well-founded “signals” (from the global system) and warnings (from those who have observed and tracked real-world changes). As a result, it has outgrown the capacity of the planet to support the current population, let alone the 10 billion currently projected by the United Nations (UN). Something must give. Applied foresight can provide essential lead time to act before human actions are overwhelmed by forces beyond its control.

Originality/value

The paper draws together material from hitherto disparate sources to assess the LtG project. It also deploys key concepts from an integral perspective that shed new light on human and cultural forces that determine how people respond to the prospect of Dystopian futures. In so doing, it provides insight into why we are where we are and also into some of the means by which humanity can respond. Specifically, it suggests a shift from collapse narratives to those of descent.

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Article
Publication date: 13 April 2015

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Foresight, vol. 17 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Sandra Geitz

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foresight, vol. 16 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Katerina Psarikidou

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foresight, vol. 16 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Samuel Alexander

This paper aims to re-examine Tainter’s dismissal of the voluntary simplification strategy. Joseph Tainter argues that “sustainability” is about problem-solving and that…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to re-examine Tainter’s dismissal of the voluntary simplification strategy. Joseph Tainter argues that “sustainability” is about problem-solving and that problem-solving increases social complexity. But he also argues that social complexity requires energy and resources, and this implies that solving problems, including environmental problems, usually demands increases in energy and resource consumption, not reductions. For this reason Tainter argues that voluntary simplification – the strategy of choosing to reduce consumption – is not an available means of solving the problems of civilisation.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper briefly outlines Tainter’s theory of diminishing returns on complexity and lays out his arguments against voluntary simplification. The critical sections of the paper examine those arguments and find certain ambiguities in them that open up space of voluntary simplification.

Findings

Part of my disagreement with Tainter turns on differing notions of “sustainability.” Whereas Tainter seems to use sustainability to mean sustaining the existing civilisation, the author uses sustainability to mean changing the form of civilisation through voluntary simplification, insofar as that is required for humanity to operate within the carrying capacity of the planet. By exposing the indeterminate, value-laden nature of what constitutes a “problem” and what constitutes an appropriate “solution,” it becomes clear that some societal problems can be dissolved rather than solved, that problems have various solutions and that a society’s available energy supply can be redistributed to achieve voluntary simplification while still solving existing and ongoing problems.

Originality/value

Given that Tainter seems to accept that his own conception of sustainability will eventually lead to collapse, the author feels he is wrong to be so dismissive of voluntary simplification as a strategy for potentially avoiding collapse. It is, the author argues, our only alternative to collapse, and if that is so, voluntary simplification ought to be given our most rigorous attention and commitment, even if the chances of success do not seem high at all. This paper provides a new analysis of the voluntary simplification strategy and shows that it holds more promise than Tainter appreciates.

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Jim Dator

This paper aims to offer real and explicit reasons for viewing the futures of humanity and Earth as positive, fulfilling and meaningful, if humans view it as such and act…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to offer real and explicit reasons for viewing the futures of humanity and Earth as positive, fulfilling and meaningful, if humans view it as such and act to make it so. The paper incorporates the results of several recent research projects and activities that were based on the assumptions of an earlier paper titled, “The Unholy Trinity, Plus One.” It argues that the conclusions of the original paper are even more obvious and urgent than they were originally, and that while an “alternative futures” perspective must always be the basis of any statements about or actions toward the futures, the concerns of The Unholy Trinity, Plus One, are now part of a “new normal” that must be incorporated in each of the alternatives. This paper emphasizes that this “new normal” is, and must be prepared for as, a splendid opportunity for humans to start on new adventures; that one episode of human history (based on cheap and abundant energy, a benign environment, effective government and continued economic growth) is over, and a world with different challenges and opportunities for New Beginnings has already opened up. It concludes by offering an example of how the transition might be approached and managed positively and effectively.

Design/methodology/approach

Both papers relied heavily on a combination of trend analysis and emerging issues analysis viewed through the lens of four generic alternative futures for understanding continuing trends and anticipating new, emerging issues, and for then formulating appropriate anticipatory responses to them.

Findings

The fundamental findings reconfirm and deepen the original findings – that it is far too late to prevent or postpone the transformative effects of The Unholy Trinity, Plus One; that one must and can prepare for and welcome them as providing humans now and in the immediate futures with an opportunity for innovation, identity, meaning and vibrant lives. The research and practical experiences and simulations illuminated ways in which these positive futures might be achieved.

Research limitations/implications

It is urgent that humans now turn their attention from either denying the fact of overwhelming change or trying to prop up old economic, governmental and educational systems, and begin to invent new systems that are appropriate for making the transition from the old environment to new ones.

Social implications

At the end of the paper, the authors offer one example of a successful transition, based on the research. It is presented as though humans are in Hawaii in the future, after oil has stopped flowing, along with the imported food, products and tourists upon which humans are now entirely dependent, and Hawaii has once again become entirely self-sufficient and prosperous.

Originality/value

The main focus of the paper, in contrast to most that deal with this issue, is to encourage readers not only to consider the inevitability of rapid and extensive social, environmental, resource and institutional change, but also, by viewing the situation as a positive, welcomed opportunity for innovation and improvement, actually to make it so.

Details

foresight, vol. 16 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

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Article
Publication date: 10 November 2014

Patrick Moriarty and Damon Honnery

The purpose of this paper is to show that the observed strong link between global economic output and primary energy use will continue in future; and attempts to replace…

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to show that the observed strong link between global economic output and primary energy use will continue in future; and attempts to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources or implementing CO2 removal or geoengineering approaches cannot provide the level of clean energy that economic growth needs. Global economic growth, therefore, is unlikely to continue for much longer.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper uses historical and recent global data (2012) for energy output from various sources, economic output and CO2, emissions to make its case.

Findings

Alternative energy output is growing too slowly, and faces too many problems, to significantly change the energy mix in the coming decades. Continued use of fossil fuels requires either massive CO2 removal/sequestration or global solar radiation management (SRM). The first is too expensive and would take decades to be significant, the second carries risks, some already known and possibly also unknown ones.

Practical implications

The paper makes the case that technical fixes such as alternative fuels, energy efficiency improvements, carbon dioxide capture and SRM will not be sufficient to prevent global climate change.

Social implications

Social change, rather than reliance on technical fixes, is needed for ecologically sustainable economies.

Originality/value

Most research argues that global energy intensity and carbon intensity will continue to fall. In contrast, we argue that the strong link observed between global economic output and primary energy use will most likely continue.

Details

foresight, vol. 16 no. 6
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1463-6689

Keywords

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