Chapter 14. Resources - Media and Tools for Better Futures

Perennial Global Foresight Reports – A Starter List

This is a small list of high-quality annual to semiannual reports that all professionals concerned with global and organizational foresight should know about. Others to recommend? Let us know, thanks.

Economic Freedom of the World (Year), Cato Institute, Annual (2001-present)

Global Risks Report (Year), World Economic Forum, Annual (2005-present)

Global Trends Report (Year), National Intelligence Council, Every Five Years (1997-present)

State of the Future (Year), The Millennium Project, Biennial (1997-present)

State of the World (Year), Worldwatch Institute, Annual (1984-present)

The World in (Year), The Economist, Annual (2004-present)

As you read these reports, keep in mind the political bias of the groups involved. For example, the Cato Institute, being Libertarian, often does not sufficiently value the need for government regulation, with all its maddening inefficiencies. The Left-green Worldwatch Institute is biased to place environmental concerns above economic and human concerns, to the detriment of us all. The National Intelligence Council will tend to overstate security risks. The bias of The Economist Group tends to be the most balanced, but even they make mistakes, as in a 2016 opinion column, which argues that companies that promote happiness behaviors among their employees will find they don’t work, and that such policies infringe our liberties (they are wrong on both counts, in the management examples they cite, in my opinion). We’re all human.

desalinationchartFor another example, the World Economic Forum can be too uncritical a champion of globalization, and it is often too politically conservative. Consider that the WEF’s Global Risk Report 2016 ranks water crises as the top risk by survey in both MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and South Asia regions. So far so good. But the obvious long-term technical answer to this problem, desalination, which leverages exponential trends in nanotech, is simply not mentioned, even once. The WEF’s website does offer a good brief article, “Is desalination the answer to water scarcity?“, 2015, written by journalist Sarah Murray of The Economist, but it poses this as a question, rather than a position, and sadly disclaims that the article’s views are “those of the author alone and not the WEF.”

If WEF want to take leadership on the issue of global water crises, they’d mention desalination’s century-long record of exponential advances in ROI and efficiency in any report on water crises, they’d have articles written by technical experts on their site, they’d offer graphs showing the trend lines, and they’d explain the many vastly underfunded ways that renewable energy can be used to run these plants, such geothermal desalination. They would also highlight the political and societal blocks that keep countries from investing in desalination research and technologies at the level they deserve. Progress in desalination also lets us better reclaim and recycle our existing water, and it is an obvious partner to IT-enabled and IoT-enabled efficiency and conservation efforts that can get exponentially better every year. Our water policies need to become acceleration aware.

The key social problem is that many environmentalists have the belief that it’s somehow wrong to take water from the ocean and turn our deserts into gardens, even though sunshine, plants, and other natural systems are constantly desalinating vast quantities of salt water, and turning the deserts we live in into gardens is what most people want. Too many environmental groups also have no faith that humans can do desalination in a way that doesn’t threaten ocean life, though we obviously can. Finally, many environmentalists have a deep distrust of accelerating science and technologies, even though that’s the world we’ve been fortunate enough to be born into, as any clear-headed assessment shows.

In today’s still largely acceleration-unaware world, politicians like California’s Ling Ling Chang, who is working to set state targets for desalination supplying water to prevent future drought, must battle an uninformed public and a number of reactionary political and social forces in her efforts. Leadership and studies from a leading global organization on the inevitable exponential improvement and eventual domination of desalination nanotech in coming years would greatly help shift the tide of the debate. Unfortunately, groups like the WEF have so far shown they are followers, not leaders, on technically obvious but politically controversial issues like desalination.

So take every report you see with a grain of salt, and know the biases of the organization generating them.

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