Sixteen Worldviews: A Summation of Recent Reviews

Where is humanity headed? What are the major problems that must be addressed, and what should be done?

Recent Book of the Month (BOM) selections for Global Foresight Books, especially for 2013, have focused on these important questions. Now is the time for a brief summary and preliminary analysis—a rough mapping-of their similarities and differences. Reviews of virtually all of the books summarized here have appeared in recent issues of CADMUS, Eruditio,and Op-Ed.However, to readily see them all together, it is best to go to and click on Book of the Month. Better still, open up the GFB UpdateNewsletter (3:5/6, 2013), which repeats this essay, along with linkages to all books cited.

1. General Perspectives
The latest selection (see long review, above) provides an excellent starting point: Now for the Long Term: The Report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations (University of Oxford, Oxford Martin School, Oct 2013, 85p; BOM 11/13). This impressive, broad-ranging, and amply documented report identifies key “megatrend” drivers of change, areas where action is imperative (boosting youth employment through “youth guarantee programs,” reducing inequality, tackling climate change, risk prevention for better health, targeting corruption, more transparency on taxes, etc.), elements to overcome impediments to action, problems of growing complexity and public trust, the need for “creative coalitions,” more innovative institutions, revaluing the future, “more global conversations,” and an agreed global ethic.

A somewhat similar overview is provided by former Vice President Al Gore in The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (Random House, Feb 2013, 558p; BOM 4/13), describing a “future now emerging that will be extremely different from anything we have known.” The six “revolutionary” drivers are a deeply interconnected global economy, a planet-wide communications grid, a new balance of political/economic/military power, unsustainable growth in population and resource consumption, emergence of a new set of powerful technologies (biological, biochemical, genetic, materials), and human civilization colliding with the natural world and causing grave harm (notably due to climate change). Gore’s prescriptions include stabilizing human population growth, following principles of sustainability, a full and accurate measurement of value and externalities, re-evaluating reliance on the GDP measure of progress, fully recognizing the value of public goods, and restoring our ability to communicate “clearly and candidly” with one another in a broadly accessible forum.

Another framework for appreciating global problems and possibilities is offered by the Millennium Project (Jerome C. Glenn, Director), which assesses 15 Global Challenges in its annual State of the Future reports, begun in 1997. See the long review of 2010 SOF (July 2010, 88p; BOM 9/10) and a shorter review of 2011 SOF.The Global Challenges deal with familiar topics such as sustainable development and climate change, clean water, energy, population growth, promoting democracy, new and re-emerging diseases, and the status of women. Less familiar but important topics include transnational organized crime, new security strategies, improving decision-making capacity, more global long-term perspectives, ethical market economies, ethics in global decisions, and promoting collective intelligence about accelerating science and technology and other matters. The MP, with 49 “Nodes” around the world, now offers ongoing updates of the individual challenges ( The 2013-2014 edition of State of the Future is available on

A considerable amount of fresh thinking around the broad topic of “security” is provided in The Quest for Security: Protection Without Protectionism and the Challenge of Global Governance, edited by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Mary Kaldor (Columbia University Press, April 2013, 412p; BOM 8/13), with essays on economic security without ruinous nation-state protectionism, Scandinavian equality, the need for global security cooperation, restructuring global security with “human security” as the organizing framework, trends in global criminal industries, sharing the burden of adjusting to climate change, designing the post-Kyoto climate regime, how cities have taken the lead in facing global governance challenges, urban security challenges, cities and climate governance, a five-point agenda for improving global governance structures, expanding the G20, global financial governance, and the “vast” waste of resources in military spending.

22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers (New York University Press, Aug 2013, 466p; BOM 9/13), edited by Piotr Dutkiewicz and Richard Sakwa, is a joint publication of the Social Science Research Council, Russia’s World Public Forum, and NYU Press. The title is striking but overstated; still, many of the interviews deserve consideration. Topics include Muhammad Yunus on rethinking the nature of human­ity so we can design a new system that allows people to take care of themselves, Will Kymlicka on how society can benefit from rights granted to minority groups, Joseph Stiglitz on the defective standard paradigm of economics (notably as regards sustainability and inequality), Ha-Joon Chang on the failure of free-market economics, Jose Antonio Ocampo on the need for a different international monetary system, Paul Watson on “Planet Ocean” and the dying of the seas, Mike Davis on the need to become a planet of gardeners, Immanuel Wallerstein on the hegemonic decline of the US in recent decades, Zygmunt Bauman on our new world of “liquid modernity” where change is the only constant, Bob Deacon on the ILO’s quest for international standards for workers and a global social protection floor, Peter Katzenstein on the diffusion of power that makes governance more challenging, Ivan Krastev on the paradox of much more interconnection in our globalizing world—yet more fragmentation, Manuel F. Montes on the need for more stringent regulation of the financial sector, Kemal Dervis on the underappreciated European model of social democracy, and more.

In Futurevision: Scenarios for the World in 2040(Scribe, Nov 2012, 330p; BOM 6/13), futurists Richard Watson and Oliver Freeman seek “to prevent people from getting the future seriously wrong” and to emphasize that the world offers more promise than ever before, but also more threats to our existence. The scenarios serve to introduce the subsequent Worldviews described here under the headings of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (Watson/Freeman’s “world of temperance” where less is more and people are happier), TECHNO-OPTIMISM (Watson/Freeman’s “world of intelligence” where science and technology restore order to the natural world and life is generally good under free-market capitalism), and GREEN PESSIMISM (Watson/Freeman’s narcissistic “world of greed” and rudderless “world of fear” scenarios where things go downhill).

2. Sustainable Development
Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing(United Nations, Jan 2012, 94p;; BOM 6/12) is the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, featuring 56 proposals to empower people, promote a sustainable economy, and strengthen governance. This reaffirmation of Our Common Future, the 1987 “Brundtland Report” by the World Commission on Environment and Development, calls for genuine global action to integrate the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development, eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, make production and consumption more sustainable, combat climate change, and respect a range of other planetary boundaries. Proposals include a Global Fund for Education, promotion of green jobs and decent work policies, an “ever-green revolution” to at least double productivity while drastically reducing resource use, basic safety nets for all citizens, price signals that value sustainability, a Sustainable Development Index by 2014, a set of universal sustainable development goals, and sustainable energy for all.

An overlapping and equally ambitious report is offered by another UN High-Level Panel: A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development(United Nations, July 2013, 69p; ; BOM 7/13). This report, from the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, goes beyond the UN’s limited Millennium Development Goals for 2015, urging “a new paradigm” and “a universal agenda” driven by five transformative shifts: 1) leave no one behind by ending extreme poverty in all its forms; 2) put sustainable development at the core, in halting the pace of climate change and environmental degradation; 3) transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth to improve livelihoods in every country; 4) build peace and effective institutions for all with a transpar­ency revolution; 5) forge a new global partnership based on a common understanding of our shared humanity underpinning mutual respect and mutual benefit. These five changes, which must be a universal endeavor, are “the right, smart, and necessary thing to do.”

Similar to the paired UN high-level Panels, the Worldwatch Institute provides a visionary pair of their signature “State of the World” reports, published since 1984 and now distributed in 18 languages. State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity(Island Press, April 2012, 241p) offers essays on making the green economy work for everybody, “degrowth” in overdeveloped countries to create a steady-state economy, inclusive urban development, sustainable transport, technologies for livable and equitable cities, principles of corporate redesign, a new global architecture for sustainability, nine population strategies to stop short of nine billion people, sustainable buildings, sustainable consumption, sustainable agriculture, food security, protecting biodiversity, valuing natural capital and ecosystem services, and local democracy as critical to sustainable development.

State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?(Island Press, April 2013, 441p;; BOM 10/13) presents 34 essays on such topics as nine endangered planetary boundaries, metrics for a “new economic dashboard” beyond the inadequate GDP measure, humanity’s ecological footprint, sustaining freshwater, sustainable fisheries and seas, net energy analysis, conserving nonrenewable resources, re-engineering cultures for a sustainable civilization, the Genuine Progress Indicator compared with the GDP measure, political strategies for sustainability, corporate reporting, calculating all costs to end the fossil fuel era, assessing energy alternatives, healthy food for all, valuing indig­enous peoples, new university courses in “Big History,” moving toward a global moral consensus, more effective environmental studies programs, governance in the long emergency, building a deeper environmentalism, pros and cons of geoengineering, the impact of four years of drought in Syria, cultivating resilience, and the warning that it is not too late if we do everything right starting now and continuing for several decades.

The Climate Bonus: Co-benefits of Climate Policy(Earthscan/Routledge, Jan 2013, 408p; BOM 5/13) by Alison Smith, a UK policy consultant and lead author for the IPCC, provides a detailed, systematic overview of the many environmental, social, and economic benefits of a green economy, which “can provide a much stronger motivation” for support­ing the move to a low-carbon society and a cleaner, safer, and healthier world. Some 37 overlapping and reinforcing co-benefits are discussed in six major categories: cleaner air by cutting pollution, greener land for forests and farming, safe and secure energy by cutting consumption and waste and shifting to low-carbon sources, less waste in a resource-efficient economy, long-term economic stability and prosperity with more jobs, and improved health and fitness. To reap the full benefits of the Climate Bonus, however, we must look at the big picture and take all co-benefits into account, which outweigh the total costs of a strong and coordinated climate policy. This message needs to be refined and widely publicized. Too many people—including Joseph Stiglitz in The Quest for Security, above—look only at the costs and not at the offsetting benefits.

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