Urban We live in an urban age. Worldwide, 1,5 million people move to the city each week. Current cities are addicted to fossil fuels and increasingly socially segregated. Facing the challenges of our time, such as global warming and social injustice, requires radical change. Our question: can we make cities better places? Taken together, these seven areas have big implications for how — even whether — we are able to address global challenges. Action for sustainability should ultimately target the structures and mindsets that govern the way the world works, but to date we have seen little of this.
We need to step up and skill up: step up our ambition levels, and skill up on how to work towards fundamental and lasting change. At Forum for the Future, we believe that means understanding how to work systemically on global challenges, by:. We apply these principles to the forefront of our work, focusing on the global challenges of sustainable nutrition, staying below 1.
This light-weight, waterproof, durable, cheap material is in our electronics, cars, aeroplanes, clothes and every type of packaging imaginable.
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It is so cheap that we throw it away without a thought. Consumers and businesses are waking up to the consequences with unprecedented levels of concern and activity. But how much has really transformed? Did you know? The equivalent of a truck load of plastic enters the oceans every minute.
We know less about the deleterious effects on human health, but the build up of toxic interference from plastics is well documented in marine life, disrupting reproductive cycles and even causing cancer both in fish and in mammals. Despite this being perhaps the highest profile environmental issue in years, the movement is still in its infancy and has yet to become mainstream. So how can the overwhelming global focus on tackling plastic pollution be channelled into truly transformative change without creating new problems in its wake?
Understanding a system as a whole is a necessary step in diagnosing any challenge: the key actors, centres of power, challenges and trends driving change, and windows of opportunity. First we need to understand who is driving plastic output; what is in the way of plastic take-back; and what alternative packaging systems can be piloted and scaled rapidly.
We also need to look beyond the plastic packaging crisis to terrestrial, water and airborne microplastics, which pose an array of human health and environmental risks. Alignment on the end goal is also vital to prevent efforts pulling in different directions. Our failure thus far to translate the attention on plastics into meaningful, widespread change shows the importance of taking a step back, looking at the root of the problem, and asking how we can restructure the whole system.
Nevertheless, we can learn from this successful awareness-raising around plastic. Unlike the bigger and much more existential threat of climate change, plastic pollution is tangible and easy to visualise. Ooho is a water pouch which can be eaten alongside its contents, providing an alternative to plastic water bottles. The pouch is made from plant-based materials derived from seaweed and other plant materials, has a low environmental impact and is said to be cheaper to produce than plastic.
CupClub is a disruptive new business model providing reusable smart cups, reducing plastic waste and changing consumer attitudes to single-use items. The company provides RFID-tagged coffee cups to cafes which are then used by consumers, returned, washed and redistributed to participating retailers by CupClub. Staged across the world, shoppers have been removing unnecessary plastic packaging from goods in supermarkets, such as excessive packaging on fruit and vegetables, and leaving it for the store to deal with.
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In a number of cities, including Beijing, Jakarta and Istanbul, people can now pay for public transport by trading their plastic waste for credit through reverse vending machines. The schemes not only help collect waste, but also encourage people to use public transport. On one side of that point is the ebbing possibility of keeping warming to 1. In , we became aware that the possibility of avoiding severe and system-wide disruption has already disappeared.
And from here, it will certainly get worse. In particular, record levels of displacement, higher even than after WWII, find their roots in climate drivers. We need to do all we possibly can, urgently, to head off the worst scenarios, but also find ways to adapt and plan for a radically different world, in which levels of forced displacement are higher than ever before. This is a critical lens through which all other activities — business, society and governmental — should be viewed.
We still have some choices about the kind of future we create for people and planet. But only just. More cities are expected to run out of water: Cape Town first, then Bangalore, and Jakarta — which is already sinking 7. Scientists, academics and prominent public figures are calling for a drastic reassessment of priorities in order to adapt to a disrupted and uncertain future.
With large parts of the world becoming less hospitable, more and more people will seek to migrate to relative safety from climate threats. This will both exacerbate and be driven by geopolitical instability. We face a massive humanitarian crisis, with no sign that anyone is prepared for the levels of displacement that even 1. At the very least, this means recognising that transience is a way of life for an increasing number of people.
While doing everything possible to mitigate the factors that drive people to leave their homes, NGOs, governments and businesses can also design systems for transience that help create resilient, local communities. This is just one example of the radical change in mindset that will be needed if people are to thrive in a world of climate breakdown. How we shore up the resilience of essential systems and infrastructure, how we relinquish current systems and behaviours that are making things worse, and how we rebuild after inevitable difficulties and tragedies — these will dictate what we can salvage for a more manageable future.
Climate change has been identified as a major underlying factor behind the Central American migrant caravan heading towards the US border. Wildfires were not limited to arid areas of Europe and America : they were burning as far north as the Arctic Sea as temperatures soared in summer In July, Italy and Norway sent firefighting aircraft to help Sweden quell 44 fires reaching as far north as Lapland. After experiencing consecutive droughts, major world cities such as Cape Town and Sao Paulo almost ran out of water and remain at high risk over the next few years. While the commitment is not binding, it marks a significant geopolitical consensus to addressing the issue collectively.
Across the world, nationalist movements are gaining ground, and in this has accelerated. Meanwhile, the UK Brexit negotiations, the China-US trade war, and an increase in protectionist and nationalist rhetoric give the impression that we may be moving into a new phase of fragmented global politics. If we leave the globalist era, and nationalism becomes the new operating context, what will this mean for the Sustainable Development Goals and action on global challenges such as climate change?
There are a number of complex and interconnected cultural and economic factors driving the rise of nationalism around the world. These factors are deep and structural, such as growing income and wealth inequality, demographic change, and increases in domestic and international migration. The perceived impunity of corrupt elites is another factor, and very new and poorly regulated social media tools are a powerful divisive force. Ubiquitous and unregulated social media creates opportunities for fringe groups to run divisive campaigns and use misinformation and hate speech to target key audiences.
Activist cells are being created and can be rapidly activated for demonstrations or violent acts. We are witnessing the political polarisation of societies, and a decline in trust in democracy and major institutions. Climate change, further increases in migration, and technological disruption with the possible loss of many traditional jobs in a new wave of automation, may lock-in nationalist politics for years to come. The re-emergence of nationalism as a political force may therefore be a deep and long-term shift in beliefs, which is already affecting political and democratic structures.
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This is happening just as international cooperation and effective governance is most needed. If nationalism is the new paradigm, what will it mean for our capacity to address global issues such as those identified by the Sustainable Development Goals? Its divisive nature makes it an apparent threat. Global institutions whose legitimacy rests on decades of painstaking work are being undermined, and international relations based on trade and cooperation are threatened.
Nationalist governments discourage the widespread cooperation and collective action that is needed to face our most pressing sustainability challenges, by creating mindsets and systems based on opposing and excluding groups. Few have suggested sustainability will be easier to achieve in a divided world, but how can the shift to nationalism be reversed? Working to address division is critical, by creating opportunities for people from different backgrounds to come together, and by building connection and empathy at every opportunity. This is something that people and organisations from across society can do.
There is also work to be done to counter the drivers of nationalism, such as finding a way to manage or regulate social media, breaking down echo chambers online and holding tech companies accountable for their social impacts. The Economist But if nationalism does continue to grow in power, then new ways of creating change will be necessary, that rely less on multilateral cooperation and more, perhaps, on bilateral agreements and action from civil society and business.
Nationalist politics is often linked to a deprioritization of environmental issues. Recently elected neo-nationalist Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro committed to opening up the Amazon for more development. His current plan entails weakening environmental protection laws and enforcement. This legislation could significantly threaten the Amazon rainforest as a protected ecosystem, indigenous homeland and carbon sink. From , 45 people were killed in cases of cow-related violence across India.
Commentators suggest social media has a significant role to play in spreading rumour and inciting violence. In the US, hate groups are growing in size and prominence. Hate crimes, mostly motivated by race and ethnicity, have been on the increase for the third consecutive year. Grassroots movements and civil society have played a strong role in supporting nationalist leaders. In Poland, a powerful conservative civil society group works with the government to tighten control over the judiciary by removing existing justices and replacing them with more loyal ones. For a growing proportion of the world, our lives are increasingly lived online.
But there are signs that living perpetually plugged-in is bringing unintended consequences. The dark side is expressing itself in our politics, our mental health, our screen addictions and our social cohesion.
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As we are gamed at every turn to keep scrolling, keep watching, keep tapping, our valuable attention is diffused between the promise of endless dopamine hits, buzzing notifications and tides of information. How can we ensure the internet is a force for good in the disruptive years to come? In Mark Zuckerberg was hauled in front of Congress over mishandling of data and privacy, and we became starkly aware of just how unregulated a space the online world has become. Social media platforms are hotbeds for extreme views, terrorism, witch-hunts, and trolls; the domain of deep-fakes, data breaches, swarms of bots, and fake news.
Hooked, our onlives have become canvases onto which we paint meticulously curated, and often misleading identities. Business models built on ad revenue and attention, surveillance, centralisation of power, lack of tech-giant accountability, and a paucity of regulation — these are all systemic, structural problems that form the foundation of our onlives. It is from here that the patterns and events emerge and multiply. Beyond the malign political influence, studies show strong causal links between burgeoning internet use and reductions in analytical and problem-solving skills, memory creation, critical thinking and empathy, as well as spikes in anxiety.
There are many implications for sustainability, but here are three which stand out. Secondly, amid information overload, the sustainability community must learn the tricks of the trade in raising awareness and getting the most pressing challenges the attention they deserve in a distracted world. Thirdly, we need to look at our own ability to create change. Shifting entire systems and tackling global challenges is thorough, focused work. If every waking hour is spent a state of fragmented attention, we weaken our capabilities for creating system change.
If society is increasingly herded into ghettos of political persuasion and identity, our ability to cooperate is undermined. As more of the world logs on, we should also view it as an growing percentage of the world vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation. So what can be done? As with all these dynamic areas, there are multiple possible futures open to us.
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Internet, or internets? They are calling for the a wholesale reinvention of the internet to create a regulated, equitable space, promising to protect users from hate and prejudice, fake news and data exploitation. Governments and regulators are likely to regularly and heavily scrutinize tech giants from onwards.
There have even been calls for an age restriction on social media use, to protect the most vulnerable, and for Facebook and Google and the like to become public utilities regulated by governments. In the face of the disruption to come we can, and must, step back and reconfigure our relationship with living online, for our own resilience and that of our communities; digging deep to assess what it really means to be connected and what it means to be human. Earlier this year WhatsApp added labels to indicate when a message has been forwarded, partly in response to fake news about rumoured child kidnappings disseminated via Whatsapp, which led to a spate of lynchings in India.
The NHS is due to launch its first ever clinic for internet and gaming addictions following growing concern over the problem and the World Health Organisation WHO classifying it as a mental health condition. In Donald Trump repealed net neutrality, quashing hopes for a more regulated internet for the many not the few. A wide range of services including credit scoring, policy making, social media and job recruitment are increasingly mediated by AI, some of which has taken on biases. Trained on historical data and built by humans, a large number of these algorithms threaten to perpetuate existing biases and discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or race.
An Indian start-up called Metafact is drawing on artificial intelligence to try and combat the fake news crisis. The Delhi-based company, founded in , hopes to use AI to empower journalists to identify fake news stories. Participatory democracy refers to a system that tries to maximise the involvement of citizens in decision making.
The most celebrated example is the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil, which began involving citizens in making budget decisions in There are now thousands of similar examples worldwide — from Antwerp to Syria to Taiwan. If local approaches like this became the norm, could they help define a new type of sustainable and inclusive local political and economic system? Back Matter Pages About this book Introduction After explicating the analytical framework I will proceed to develop scenarios as follows: I.
General scenarios -maladaptive and adaptive. The future for the Western group of societies. Within this will seek to identify the main changes in the natures of work, leisure, family organisation, education and life styles. The future for the major Asian powers, China, Japan and India. A world scenario centred about the first two scenarios but also aimed to locate within this pattern the most probable future for sets of the smaller societies and under-developed countries.
The scenarios will be developed in that order, for good reasons. Sociological forecasting has to deal, in the first instance, with sets of societies that are closely interdependent, each with the other.