The Biggest Wake-up Call in History.
There has been a plethora of new books investigating different approaches to global problems. Richard Slaughter has, I think, written a particularly significant addition which focuses much more on internal, psychological and cultural ways of recognising and overcoming the serious problems ahead, while still addressing, in considerable detail, the relevant scientific research and economic analysis.
This e-book is a timely exploration of issues arising from ‘peak oil’ and ‘climate change’ and includes recommendations for strategies, based on Ken Wilber’s Integral framework, to involve more people in honestly facing, anticipating and negotiating the rapids of transition or ‘descent’ instead of becoming depressed, fatalistic and derailed by despair at ever-increasing signs of global warming and a capitalist economic system sleepwalking into growth driven self-destruction.
But who are the intended readers of this ambitious e-book? In his Preface he considers that, for various reasons stated, “the futures field per se remained a minor player in the expanded global drama” and that a new wave of researches began to emerge outside the ‘futures field’, reading the ‘signals’ and indicators of change and coming to “clear – often startling – conclusions”… ‘The future’ is no longer the province of specialists. Rather, it has become – or very soon will be – the core business of everyone”… “It is to this wider context, with its ever growing literature and web presence that this book is in large measure indebted.” (p.ix)
Part One sketches in the historical background and the cultural dominance of the free enterprise economic model of corporate capitalism, which has generally disowned any responsibility for the ‘externalities’, – the environmental and social costs of its industrial products. Two pages are devoted to a list of ‘Missed and Misused Signals’ (pp.26-7) based on research reports, books and incidents in the U.S and Australia – I was forcibly struck by the one showing that Jimmy Carter had given speeches in 1977 and 1980 warning of dangers ahead if the U.S. ignored global warming!
As can be expected from the author and editor of several renowned futures books as well as the highly regarded Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, this book has been carefully researched, well argued and fluently written, with many illustrative charts, a comprehensive Bibliography (10pp), and Index and End Notes. It also has useful summaries of chapters and prepares a reader for the later issues. (As I have not yet read an e-book on a ‘Kindle’ or ‘i-Pad’ I am not sure how one would flick to End Notes and Bibliography whilst reading the main text!) As an extra dimension, he has compiled, on his Foresight International website, a useful collection of images, charts and text specifically related to the book, – currently 13 pages.
The third chapter, “Is ‘Overshoot and Collapse’ credible?” focuses on evaluation of the Meadows’ research on ‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972), ‘Beyond the Limits’ (1992) and ‘Limits to Growth – 30 Year Update’(2005). Also on subsequent research by Jorgen Randers in ‘Global Collapse: Fact or Fiction’ (2008) and Graham Turner in a CSIRO Working paper (Sydney, 2008/9). Turner found that much of the criticism of the original Limits was due to misrepresentations, in the media and professional journals, that the model showed ‘collapse’ might happen before the end of the century, instead of by 2050. Turner also compared the ‘standard run’ scenario with the subsequent real world data and found an unexpectedly good correlation. (p39).
While Slaughter considers the term ‘collapse’ as “a kind of blanket term that actually conceals a wide range of opportunities for intervention and choice” (p.46) he also thinks there may be some sense in E.O. Wilson’s suggestion “that human beings may be ‘hard-wired’ to respond only to short term and immediate stimuli and hence are destined to fail”.(ibid.)
He moves on to explore, to good effect, the extreme example of values exhibited in Las Vegas and Dubai. Both examples, he suggests, epitomise the now exhausted cultural myth that the U.S. has an historical, God-given mission to spread American power and culture throughout the world. Behind Las Vegas, he found “a global system of power and control that has neither the capacity nor will to question its own distorted view of the world.” (p.52) In Dubai, where huge desalination costs help push the carbon footprint to double the high US figure, the bright, shining, modern exterior, built on credit and oil revenues, conceals an underlying medieval dictatorship of workers’ slavery, censorship and ecocide.
As part of an economic analysis of the role of corporations, banks and governments, citing, amongst others, Naomi Kleiin (‘The Shock Doctrine’ 2007) and John Perkins (‘Confessions of an Economic Hit Man’, 2004) he quotes Perkins to summarise the role of this ‘corporatocracy’ in maintaining the ‘fallacious concept’ of unbridled growth and the so-called benefits of ‘trickle-down economics’ in schools, businesses and the media to the point where “our global culture is a monstrous machine” that will eventually “have consumed everything in sight”. (This conjured up, for me, the memorable image of Moloch in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1926) – recently re-issued in some UK cinemas.)
He then moves on, in Ch.4, to the role of the ultra-rich, drawing on Herb Kemph’s ‘How the Rich are Destroying the Planet’. This also includes Kemph’s criticism of ecologists for failing to understand the dynamics of social systems. (-Had he not come across Andre Gorz’ ‘Ecology as Politics’, 1975/80) One of the key points made by Kemp is that it is growth that “creates a surplus of apparent wealth” and promoting growth by the oligarchies is essential in persuading societies to accept extreme inequalities. He considers Kemph’s work to be “a valuable addition to the literature” and points towards some of the “more inclusive, multi-domain approaches to the global predicament” that Part 2 of the book is concerned with.
With the next chapter, ‘Confronting the Collective Shadow’ we move into the psychological background which forms a major strand of the argument in Part2. – The ‘shadow’ represents “the repressed aspects of human consciousness” forming part of the “interior domains” which feature as one of the four Integral perspectives’ which are explained in Ch.6.
He then has interesting sections on ‘the business of organised crime’, ‘crime and the internet’ and ‘the fantasy economy’. The Sicilian Comorra and Enron are considered alongside ‘tax havens’ and their effect on poorer nations. The role of pornography, scams and cyber warfare are cited to show that “with the Internet, humanity as a whole is confronted by its collective shadow.” (p.68).
Hazel Henderson’s imaginative research and detailed exposure of the myths of ‘economism’ over several decades is cited from a 2009 paper, written for S.R.I where she sees “the meltdown of the global financial casino and the climate crisis as a chance to create a new, more just, green economy promoted for decades by civil society.”
I found Ch.6, in the second part of the book, one of the most interesting and challenging. It combines describing the Integral approach, looking for patterns in fourteen non-fiction books/reports concerned with climate change, and exploring options for responding more effectively to the prospect of climate change.
If the reader is unfamiliar with the Integral perspective, there are clear descriptions of the four perspectives on the world, – the four quadrants; four levels of complexity through which reality is perceived and six value levels that disclose different operational possibilities. They require a certain amount of concentration, particularly as they are progressively linked with each other and used to evaluate the fourteen books chosen.
These books were all published between 2004 and 2009, providing a real sense of contemporary research and varying types of approach and concerns. A summary chart of these books, their purpose, their contributions and overall assessment are shown alongside an assessment of which of the four ‘domains’ or perspectives are present. (p.86) He found a striking pattern emerging that most of the books were mainly concerned with the interior worlds of cultures, languages, institutions etc. and the familiar exterior physical world we inhabit, with only one, by Alastair McIntosh (1), covering all four perspectives, – i.e. including the unique interior world of the individual and the exterior world of human action and behaviour as well. (A diagram showing each author’s approach related to the perspectives on the quadrant is on p.90.)
A study of these books could make up a book in its own right, as the list of authors includes Lester Brown, Jared Diamond, James Lovelock, Dennis Meadows, George Monbiot and many others less well known but nevertheless very competent in their work. But the main thrust of Part 2 is to use the Integral framework to see how it can be used to provide a basis for recommending strategies which address the interior and exterior human worlds.
He moves on to cite Theodore Roszak et al (eds) in ‘Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind’ (1995) and Joanna Macy’s ‘World as Lover, World as Self’ (1991) as examples of how to draw “energy and hope from a continuous diet of bad news”. (p91) The chapter concludes with various positive examples of changing people’s thinking about climate change, the potential role of designers, the experience of some 400 ‘Transition Towns’ and some radical ideas like re-directing Advertising skills into anti-consumerist, world-centric views as practiced by the UK communications company Futerra.
Ch.7 is an excellent review of the history of ‘peak oil’ and climate issues, weighing up the possibilities of ‘collapse’ versus ‘stepped energy descent’ or ‘long descent’, with wide references including Lewis Mumford, Arnold Toynbee, Robert Jungk, David Holmgren, J Michael Greer (‘The Long Descent’, 2008) and C. Hamilton & R. Denniss (‘Affluenza’, 2005). In some ways this might have done well as the second or third chapter, but I can also see why it is in the second half of the book.
One of the main objectives in chs. 7 & 8 is to use the Integral approach to identify different development levels in individuals and societies. This “gives us fresh ways of addressing different groups in different ways and vastly expands options available.” p.86) He later cites how Brown and Beck used such knowledge to ‘translate’ messages about AIDS by taking into account the world views of particular groups, without trying to change them. (p.144)
I have some concern about the long quote from E Sahtouris questioning reliance on the scientific method alone (p.111). She co-wrote a book with Willis Harman whom I’ve met and whose research I admire. But she seems, like many futures researchers, to make no reference to the sociology of scientific knowledge, and unless I misunderstand her World Future Review article (Vol.1, 1, 2009), seems prepared to throw out an awful lot to achieve a new synthesis. (See 2-4)
In Ch.8 he describes the State of the World Forum, set up by Mikhail Gorbachev and Jim Garrison, as an unusual form of ‘global leadership network’, drawing on Lester Brown’s Worldwatch Institute research, linked with Ken Wilber’s work as practiced by the Integral Institute and Integral Life, together with their exemplary website.
Designers, as problem solvers, used to be fairly central to futures studies and two pages are devoted to Tony Fry’s book on ‘Design Futuring’, its theme of ‘precautionary design’ and his desire to “see the design professions re-configured in depth to tackle the range of systemic faults he has identified”. (p.118) But there was no mention of Buckminster Fuller and his epic efforts to “do more with less”!
In a later chapter, he calls for more non-western and non-affluent countries’ participation in discussing the global future, and in Ch.11, there is a useful presentation of three outstanding exemplars in the shape of Mohammed Yunus, of Grameen bank fame, James Hansen, scientist turned activist advocate, and Joanna Macy whose Integral workshop methods have transformed many lives worldwide.
At one point Slaughter stated that “One of the assumptions of this book is that the Integral framework is a resource that needs to be understood, critiqued and applied more widely. Indeed, without something along these lines we must doubt if the fall of civilisation can be prevented. That may seem an extravagant claim.” (p131)
-This book is a rare but brave attempt to apply the Integral framework to the global predicament and offer it to a new generation of potential activists on the world-wide web. I just wonder whether it is too detailed and lengthy for an e-book designed to make us “wake up and take collective responsibility for what happens next.”
As he acknowledges in his preface, there is an upsurge of interest in global warming and re-thinking the western economic model through a variety of web-based media, including newspaper-based websites like the Guardian, – ‘recently praised in Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams’ book, ‘Macrowikinomics’. But I know that there has also been a positive and constructive contribution from journals like Green Futures, now in its 78th issue. –The Earthscan books by Sara Parkin, Lorraine Whitmarsh and others, advertised in this issue, seem just what Richard Slaughter is trying to encourage, focusing on lasting behavioural and social change.
I’m aware of the ‘CLA-Integral debates’ in the March 2010 issue of Futures as a response to the special issue of Futures of March 2008, on Integral Futures. But I am insufficiently informed about either field to make useful critical judgments of Slaughter’s application and demonstration of the Integral framework in this particular book. He has made a conscious choice to use the Integral approach as one of many alternative futures studies methods which he has used in the past (see 5), and I think he has used it sensitively, emphasising several times that it was not meant to exclude other approaches.
After reading Fred Pearce’s ‘Climate Files’ (2010) and the latest James Lovelock books (6,7) I was more pessimistic about the way the climate science lags behind the facts on the ground because of the need to be cautious and politically acceptable. But reading this book has re-awakened in me a more optimistic sense that much can be done, though, as Slaughter admits in his Conclusion, time is not on our side.
As a long-standing member of the Scientific and Medical Network, I was impressed by Tony Judge’s comparison, in the March 2010 Futures, of the difference in style between Ken Wilber and David Lorimer. Where Ken Wilber has constructed a synthesis, ‘a formal garden’, “in the formal construction of which others contributions are barely relevant”, David Lorimer is like a new type of ‘conductor’, for the SMN orchestra, “whose role is specifically not to impose order on the whole”, but “through indirection must ensure that one instrumentalist is at least aware of the experiments undertaken by another, in the hopes that from this awareness may emerge a collective responsiveness to a larger understanding”. (8)
In the same issue of Futures, Wendy Schultz challenged futurists to “use Futures methods effectively to create new spaces for alternative futures” and Sohail Inayatullah concluded his Introduction to the issue, saying “there are many alternative entrances and exits – and many ways to create openings and closings.” I can safely say that Richard Slaughter has created a very readable and original contribution to the futures literature dealing with climate change, using the Integral approach as his chosen futures method. – May different methods thrive, preferably without ever more complicated jargon!
Alastair McIntosh, Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2008:
Harry Collins & Trevor Pinch, Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science, Routledge, 1982
Barry Barnes & David Edge, Science in Context, Open University Press, 1982
Roy Wallis (Ed.) On the Margins of Science: The Social Construction of Rejected Knowledge, Sociological Review Monograph 27, Keele, 1979.
Richard Slaughter & Ela Krawczyk, ‘New generations of futures methods’, Futures 42, No 1, pp 75-82.
James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, Allen Lane, 2009.
John & Mary Gribbin, He Knew was Right: The Irrepressible Life of James Lovelock, Penguin, London 2009.
Anthony Judge, ‘Self-reflexive challenges of integrative futures’, Futures 42, No 2 pp 154-161.
Ringwood, Hants, UK