This assessment is divided into broad sections which each stand as realities, or silos, in themselves, though they are inseparable and interrelated. Unfortunately, these bundles of issues pull in quite differing and contrary directions, and that’s a key problem. Their presented order in this survey does not reflect their order of importance. We’re looking at a multifaceted hologram.
By necessity, a concise work like this cannot include statistics, evidence, discussions, explanations and footnotes, otherwise it would fail to be concise. Were it lengthy and erudite, readers would set it aside for another day – “Interesting, but I’m too busy”. Herein lies another problem: the Big Picture is, for most of us, too big to comprehend. So it has been boiled down to a succinct overview. However, useful links are given in each section, allowing some follow-up.
The scale and breadth of what we need to consider makes this whole question perplexing. It would be good to present a consistent, all-embracing plan for the future, but this is not easy because the paradoxes, inconsistencies, contradictions and hypocrisies of our day lie at the heart of this question. Many factors pull in different directions. The world is in an enormous mess and tangle.
Many people understandably switch off, set the matter aside, wring their hands or ruminate in quiet concern, and we all have busy lives to get on with. So we tend to give passing concern to these issues and then return to our hectic schedules. Yet clarifying the all-round issues that are visible today will surely help us see more clearly through the swirling fog of the longterm. And whether or not we act sensibly is the big issue, especially since our grandchildren will inherit the results.
Methodology and sources
The initial intention was to survey the existing literature to report on the overall drift of future-oriented thinking. In doing the research it was found that the literature is patchy, tilting in contradictory directions, and some of it is neither useful nor very forward-thinking. Researchers often report what they believe their sponsors want to hear, or they avoid career-killing statements, or they seek publicity or support, or they stay within their own silos and ignore the rest.
Many reports on the future focus on technology – generally upbeat, distorted by the billion-scale profits involved and airbrushing over complications and impediments. Economic research often stays within a set of business-friendly assumptions to bolster market confidence and reinforce corporate groupthink. Climatic and ecological research tends understandably toward dismay and pessimism, motivated by a need to persuade governments and the public to take it seriously, and striving to counteract the views of deniers.
Geopolitical analyses depend greatly on what side you’re on and on national perspectives. Research on the future of society is scanty – journalists tend to be good at this. Some material is over-idealistic and some, conversely, lacks vision. Historians, averse to counterfactual historical analysis and forecasting, think futurology is distinctly outside their sphere. Very few writers survey the whole, wide picture. But a few do.
So there has been a need to cross silo-boundaries, fill gaps, stretch beyond current memetic perspectives, go deeper and bring skyscraper thinking down to ground floor. Quite a lot of carpet has been worn out in the process. The report does not claim to be authoritative though hopefully it is illuminating, best used as a way of stimulating your own thought on the big picture. One recurrent theme throughout is rarely mentioned in the available research: the shape of the future depends greatly on humans’ subjective foibles, political choices and sometimes madnesses.
We start with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global programme of action agreed by UN member states. Whether or not this plan works, it is well intentioned and constitutes a serious and rare attempt at formulating a body of global aims for nations and institutions to follow.