Category Archives: News

Deep Time and Futures

In April 2022 University of Zurich scientists went public about an extraordinary discovery. They had uncovered several 205-million-year-old fossils, the remains of giant oceanic creatures known as Ichthyosaurs. These remarkably intact fossils, however, did not emerge from strata deep below the surface but from a site 2,700 meters above sea level in the Swiss Alps. One of them is shown in the image below. It had grown to an estimated length of 20 meters and would have weighed some 80 tons. It has been described as ‘the largest animal that ever lived.’

Fossils at 2,700 meters makes you stop and think. It’s only natural to wonder about what caused them to be there in the first place. We’re far more used to archaeologists digging deep below the present-day surface in their search for fragments of past life. Within our fragmentary, occluded, everyday existence we know the world as it currently appears – a familiar assembly of landscapes and features that change very slowly, if at all. In some distant, abstract corner of our minds we also know that in the past everything was different. But, aside from a few specialists, we tend not to think about the vast disruptions, upheavals and aeons of erosion that sculpted the foundations of the world and continue to do so.

Shifts of perspective can de-familiarise things and illuminate the world in unexpected ways. In this case the discovery provided fresh impetus for the ‘deep dive’ into the Earth’s distant past that had preoccupied me for a while. The following short article is the first product of these efforts. It’s a work in progress that outlines some of the issues, as I see them, for the practice of Futures Studies and Applied Foresight in these troubled times. It appeared in the May 2022 issue of Compass, the on-line journal of the Association of Professional Futurists. I’m grateful that the piece was made available so that it could be re-presented here in this form. Read article…

Understanding the Global Emergency

The global emergency has been emerging since at least the early 1970s but most people, especially the rich and powerful, have chosen either not to see it or pretend it does not exist. Clearly, it’s a challenging subject but, at the same time, there’s no shortage of evidence to support the view that something unprecedented and profoundly disturbing is happening. Like other Futurists I’ve made various attempts to summarise the evidence and identify ways out of the trap humanity has created for itself. It goes almost without saying, however, that work of this kind gains very little traction either with the general public or with those currently operating the systems of governance and regulation that are supposed to keep things on track.

I’ve known Richard Eckersley for over 30 years in part because our work runs in parallel but occasionally overlaps when one of the other of us reaches out in some way. Therefore, I was not surprised when I received a copy of his recent paper exploring the deep divides that run through the damaged soul of America. One of the many strengths of his work is that much of it is based on listening to people via in-depth surveys carried out in several countries. Hence the thesis he presents here is not merely personal but one that incorporates the insights, feelings and concerns of many others. What emerges is a thoroughly original and very perceptive analysis of ‘what is going on’ as the tensions and strains in people’s inner lives interact with those in the outer world to produce a surprisingly coherent pattern. This is work of the highest quality – which is why I sought the author’s permission to reproduce it here.

Richard’s view is essentially that there’s a widening gap between the science and politics of human progress on the one hand and the increasingly destructive modes of development that have become normalised over the last fifty or so years on the other. I came to similar conclusions myself some years ago. But what I was less clear about then was the nature of the social and human drivers involved. Needless to say, the evidence points conclusively toward the steady and irreversible demise of the ‘official future.’ What, then, can replace it? Read the paper and see for yourself.

Should you wish to discuss it further, the author’s contact info is included at the end of the piece. Read Richard’s paper here.

(If, for some reason, the link does not work you can also find the paper via: Foresight International -> Archive -> Global Emergency ->)

Making Headway During Impossible times

When I began the Five Steps to Recovery series I had in mind several specific topics, three of which subsequently appeared. As time went by, however, I felt that Covid-19 had already taken us into new territory, which implied that my original concept for the series no longer seemed appropriate. Part four was going to address the question of what ‘story’ was arguably operating in the background that would help explain what was going on. Indeed, I addressed this very issue in a FuturePod interview on ‘skewed narratives’ late last year. You can find that episode here:

At the same time, I’d also been working with Luke van der Laan and colleagues at the University of Southern Queensland on Deleting Dystopia, a book that seeks to understand why the IT revolution became such a disaster and what can be done about it. Once published, it was appropriate to say so in what became the most recent FI News. All well and good, you might say, until the Ukraine crisis blew up in our faces and re-kindled many of the fears and nightmares that we’d hoped lay well behind us. Very unfortunately, that’s clearly not the case…

I decided to re-present a paper I wrote a decade ago for the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice which was later revised as chapter 15 of To See With Fresh Eyes: Integral Futures and the Global Emergency. It addresses some of the background issues that have fed into the global crisis and helped bring us to this point. You can find the paper here.Building on this, my wife, Laurie, came across an article by Robb Smith on the Integral+Life website. I can’t reproduce it here due to copyright restrictions, but I can share the link. Point being that anyone who wants a positive in-depth Integral analysis of what is happening right now in Ukraine can find it right here. Here’s a brief quote that really caught my attention:

 Every structure of evolution has within it a set of contradictions that eventually become the fuel for solving the very problems it creates.

You can find Robb’s article here:


Open Access Launch of Deleting Dystopia

Deleting Dystopia: Reasserting Human Priorities in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism

The IT revolution has brought many surprises.

Among them is the fact that intensive surveillance and the related abuse of personal data have fallen into the hands of powerful digital oligarchies. Accounts of the increasingly repressive uses of advanced technologies and the subsequent ‘dumbing down’ of entire populations cast dark shadows over our future prospects that are beginning to look increasingly dystopian.

Deleting Dystopia confirms that these existential threats are real. But, in place of apathy and fatalism, Slaughter explores ways of understanding them, conceptualising solutions and identifying viable strategies. Taken seriously and widely applied, he suggests that the latter can help us avoid the worst of digital authoritarian futures in favour of those founded on humanly viable values and practices.

Access the book here.

The author discusses the new book with Luke van der Laan here.

The artwork in the book, which was created by Samara Hoffmann, can be accessed and reused under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial ShareAlike licence.  The cover is by Tara Mann.

Five Steps to Recovery

Part Three: Technology is Not the Answer

Humanity and technology have been intertwined from the earliest times. Many will recall how this evolving relationship was brilliantly portrayed at the beginning of Kubrick’s film, 2001, when an ape-like hominid threw a weaponised bone up into the air that dissolved into an elegantly turning space station. Popular histories often associate successive waves of new tech as evidence of ‘progress’ and ‘growth.’ Similarly, it’s often said that technology is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ but capable of being used either way. Such views, however, don’t get us very far in part because they fail to engage with the default triumphalist myth of human development. Moreover, there’s plenty of evidence to show that technologies exert shaping influences upon their inventors and users, often in unexpected and unusual ways. It may be more helpful to think of these processes as cultural journeys that evoke an unfolding series of questions. —> Continue reading…

Five Steps to Recovery

Parts One and Two: The Great Acceleration / Time Frames

Amongst the devastation of Covid-19 and while many people are still fighting for their lives, others are developing proposals for ‘doing things differently’ when the present threat has passed. Issues concerning health, well-being and preparedness for future viral outbreaks are commonly cited. Yet many more will not be taken seriously, let alone implemented. Those in positions of wealth, power and influence are already working to return things to as close to ‘normal’ as possible. They may not entirely succeed but we can be sure that a vast number of well-intentioned proposals for constructive change will simply be forgotten. At the same time, it’s clear that ‘business as usual’ is no more than a convenient fantasy. Continue reading…

New Year’s Eve 2020 Fires at Malua Bay

The following piece by Valerie Braithwaite echoes the theme of the previous News post. It is a moving personal account of the upheaval that occurred in a small coastal town in NSW when confronted with devastating bushfires. It was written immediately afterwards and powerfully conveys something of the trauma and upheaval being experienced in Australia as this unprecedented emergency continues. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Yesterday I was one of the thousands who left the NSW south coast via Bega and Cooma, heading home to Canberra. Like many privileged boomers, as our 30-something children call us, we have retreated to Mosquito Bay to enjoy the climate, marvel at the natural wonder around us, and feel connected to community and place. We have dolphins, stingrays, a sea-eagle, birds of all kinds in our small, over-crowded patch of native trees. No mosquitos, well not too many. The bay takes its name from the little boats that transferred logs from the forest to the ships offshore bound for Sydney. Decades on we have surfboard riders, divers spearfishing, others snorkelling and exploring the wonders below the sea, and the odd swimmer who impresses by going from one side of the bay to the other and back again. Read more…

A Great Reversal?

Bushfires are commonplace in Australia and have been for many years. But they’ve recently reached new levels of intensity. They started early this year and become widespread long before the official ‘fire season’ was supposed to arrive. This time, however, the impacts and implications are no longer confined to the bush. Only last week, after long periods of darkened skies, dozens of smoke alarms in Sydney’s CBD were triggered. Dense smoke from multiple nearby fires set off the very devices intended to keep people safe. But, in this instance, office workers and others were turfed out of their air-conditioned high-rise buildings into far more dangerous levels of toxic smoke outside. Further afield farmers have been struggling with drought for several years. Many are desperate and close to giving up a way of life that had lasted for generations. At the same time, many smaller country towns have run, or are running, out of water. Some are fortunate enough to have supplies brought in via tankers, albeit at enormous cost. Others are simply being evacuated. The levels of suffering and dislocation from drought, fire and record-breaking temperatures are incalculable. Meanwhile the PM who thinks that the ‘firies’ (volunteer fire fighters) are doing just fine, has taken his family overseas for a short, pre-Christmas, holiday. What is going on?

From a foresight perspective this is a classic and yet deeply troubling example of ‘learning by social experience.’ In general, this tends to occur when critical ‘signals of change’ have been missed, mis-interpreted or merely denied. But this is not just about events per se. It has even more to do with worldviews, their associated values and the institutions and practices that became ‘normalised’ during the most abnormal period in human history. It’s now almost five decades since the first Limits to Growth (LtG) report was issued by the Club of Rome back in 1972. It’s common knowledge that the report was pilloried by establishment figures and economists who wanted none of what they insisted were ‘doom and gloom’ predictions. Leaving aside the fact that such descriptors were entirely false it’s worth considering a view of an ‘alternative past.’ That is, one in which the core discipline that helped to order and direct human societies was not that of economics but ecology. The crucial difference between that vanished past and what actually occurred is that economics was about regulating human to human and social to social exchanges in a kind of vacuum whereas ecology considers the interactions between humanity and the wider world of life, energy and matter. We think of that now as ‘the environment’ and ecology has expanded to embrace a still wider view known as Earth System Science (ESS).

But what fires, drought and the deadly acceleration of global heating demonstrate is that economics in its broadest sense is still calling the shots. How otherwise to explain the constant putting-down of ESS in favour of business-as-usual? Two brief examples may be helpful here. One is the failure of the Madrid climate conference to get all parties to agree on radical and necessary action to rein in global heating. The other is the decision of the Saudi ruling class to float part of Amoco, the world’s largest oil company, on the open market. This represents another direct collision between the limited interests of hyper-affluence and the well-being of humanity: future money vs future devastation. Foresight seems to play little or no part in these examples. Or, rather, it is overwhelmed and by the power of embedded economic interests. Don’t Saudis have children too? Works such as James Hanson’s Storms of My Grandchildren (2009) that address these issues very directly and backed up with formidable evidence just don’t cut through.

And that’s partly why ‘learning by experience’ occurs. Besides the need for dealing actively and sympathetically with the human, social and environmental damage, what matters most at this time is what will be learned from this experience and what will be ignored. Disaster can bring hope and recovery in its wake but only if a process of real and relevant learning has ensued. Will the current crisis pass and business-as-usual be re-established? It’s possible – that is until the next one occurs that would likely be heavier, deeper and yet more damaging. Or is it possible to conceive that the age of rampant growth and expansion in this country is finally over? If so, then the present time may come to be known as that of ‘the great reversal.’ A time when worldviews, values and practices at all levels underwent a systemic change so that life could continue, albeit at a slower place and within more limited bounds?

When people start suffering en masse; that is, when the costs of fighting monster blazes, carrying water over long distances or contemplating vast acreages of devastated landscape all come together, even the most hardened cynics are challenged to explain why. It is then that the pull of other ways of thinking and operating can arise. A host of more helpful innovations have available been for a long time. Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics (2017) has been widely praised for the way it re-connects human affairs with the way the planet actually works. Charles Massey’s Call of the Reed Warbler (2017) explores a new paradigm for sustainable agriculture. The New Economic Network Australia(NENA) puts many of different aspects of applied sustainability together through an active network of pioneers and practitioners. All these are helpful but they won’t get far without audacious action on a meaningful scale. A good example of this is Green M.P. Michael Berkman’s recent announcement of a plan to raise $1 billion from fossil fuel companies to fund:

  • 1,400 new paid firefighters
  • An extra $75 million for the volunteer Rural Fire service
  • A permanent aerial firefighting fleet, and
  • 200 new indigenous rangers to help manage country (Berkman, 2019).

One thing is certain: if the most useful and appropriate lessons are not derived from painful social learning experiences they will certainly recur. If there is a key idea from Futures Studies and Applied Foresight it is that you don’t have to experience the full impact of disaster and devastation if you take them, and alternatives to them, seriously. Or as Bertrand de Jouvenel put it over 60 years ago, the failure of foresight involves “falling into the empire of necessity.”

Which is not a great place to be on a rapidly heating planet.


Berkman, M. (2019) Greens M.P. for Maiwar, Brisbane, Newsletter. December 18.

Hansen, J. (2009). Storms of My Grandchildren. New York: Bloomsbury.

Massey, C. (2017) Call of the Reed Warbler. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.

Meadows, D. (et al) (1972). The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.

New Economic Network Australia.

Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics. London: Random House.


The Great Disconnect

Have you ever felt that at some level you’re ‘out of sync’ with the mainstream? By that I mean you’re aware of the aridity of the political scene, the shrinking of the public sphere to entertainment, consumption and sport, the never-ending din from commercial interests and the way that the central issues facing humankind are constantly evaded and denied. If so then you may also have felt some degree of perplexity about why so many people and organisations, so much money and talent remain devoted to denying the reality of the global emergency, the huge question mark over humanity’s entire future. In that case, and should you feel the need for nourishment and inspiration, you may like to consider Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory. Read more…

Clarity v Denial in Difficult Times

I’ve recently been clearing out old files and discarding redundant material. Our recycling bin has seldom been so full of old paper. Yet I’ve also rediscovered valuable items that had fallen out of sight. They include letters from old colleagues and friends, short items I’d written for now-forgotten publications and the occasional gem of an article. Among the latter was a piece written by Ted Trainer in 2007. I’d never met him but was aware that he and I were distant colleagues working toward broadly similar ends. Like myself, he’d found what one interviewer called ‘a home of sorts’ in academia. One thing I believe we both understood was that underlying the deceptively smooth surface of everyday life was a chasm of uncertainty and hazard that was routinely ignored by most people, media and mainstream institutions.

While I’d built a career (of sorts) as a Futurist / foresight practitioner, Trainer had focused more on alternative ways of living and the quest for sustainability. The article I rediscovered was published in Arena Magazine under the heading ‘Greenhouse: Refusing to grasp its significance’. Reading it again some 12 years later was like looking right into a time capsule. But in this case one that hardly differed at all from the present. In fact what was striking was how current and up-to-date his reasoning and conclusions were. Here are some of the key points he made in that article about defining ‘the problem’:

The recent surge of interest in greenhouse and energy problems provides a powerful illustration of the capacity humans have to ignore what they do not want to recognise.

(If it is accepted that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere need to be limited to around 400-450 ppm then) our fossil fuel budget would be around 3 per cent of the present per capita average. In other words we would have to almost entirely cease our use of fossil fuels within a few decades.

(There is, however) no possibility of getting the emissions down to the necessary levels without extreme system change away from any kind of consumer society.

(The futility of economic growth shows up in the multiples necessary to sustain it. So) how can you make sustainable a society in which the volume of production and consumption and the GDP must increase at 3 per cent per annum forever? (To imagine this continuing to 2050 means that) Australia would be churning out four times as much each year as it does now…but on 5% of the present fossil energy use… Such multiples totally rule out any faith that technical advance will eliminate the problems while we all go on merrily pursuing affluence and growth. The point is that a consumer capitalist society cannot be made sustainable. 

What, then, is the answer? The point is that there isn’t one… Yet there is a highly workable and attractive way out, well described as ‘the simpler way.’

The rest of the article describes some of the aspects of that ‘simpler way’ that, in essence, have been broadly understood for many years but which remain ‘news’ for the vast majority who’ve still never encountered them – at least not in any detail. Instead, huge efforts continue to be exerted each day by the usual interests (social, economic, political) to actively persuade currently affluent populations that present ways of life still make sense and, despite a few problems here and there, are sustainable. We have known for some time that this is a deception perpetuated on a compliant, dependent population on a truly vast scale. But the science, as they say, is well and truly ‘in’. We know what is happening and we know why. Over the last century, and particularly over the decades since WWII, humanity has been on the receiving end of a growing crescendo of what foresight practitioners refer to as ‘signals’ from the global system. These unambiguously show exactly how that system is being destabilised by ever more disruptive human activity. The changes may not be obvious as first since natural systems tend to be resilient – but only up to a point. When they begin to shift under constant and continuing pressure they respond – glacially at first, but then with unstoppable momentum and overwhelming force. Having ignored the early signs that all was not well, this is where humanity stands at the present time, confronted by multiple crises across many domains. Even seasoned observers are beginning to wonder if it is already too late to prevent some sort of gigantic civilisational collapse.

In this context most people seem to prefer recourse to common strategies of psychological comfort – distraction, avoidance, denial – rather than face up to the fact that the underpinnings of human civilisation are shifting beneath them and, in some cases, disappearing altogether. Trainer and myself are two among many workers who’ve attempted to draw attention to the actual human predicament and engage with others in seeking viable ways forward. This is not particularly easy since, by definition, such work tends to confine one to working ‘at the edges’ rather than in the mainstream where, in any balanced view, we should be welcomed and hence able to be far more active and effective. We are sometimes tolerated by mainstream organisations but seldom encouraged. Behind our personal stories, however, a vast and diffuse symbolic battle going on about what can be considered ‘right’ or ‘legitimate’ during this time of upheaval and hazard. The politics of the day are widely regarded as disappointing. They can barely acknowledge anything much about the broad process of global deterioration we have caused and are living through. They seem fixated on present business in a here-and-now environment in which the future effectively vanishes from view. So what can be done?

One way to frame our collective dilemma is as a choice between clarity and denial. I’d argue that while seeking the former certainly requires time, effort and a certain amount of dedication, the pay-offs are bountiful. At the very least you can say ‘goodbye’ to depression and actually get on with something useful. The big weakness of denial is that it solves nothing and merely defers what is feared or avoided to a later date – by which time one’s autonomy of action and response will have been significantly degraded. Don’t we all know this? A stitch in time saves nine; forewarned is forearmed etc? Of course we do. But we’re so practiced at allowing ourselves to be reassured and persuaded that it’s OK to avoid reality, ‘it’s not our problem’, ‘she’ll be right’. Except we can’t in the end avoid reality, it is our problem and, no, she won’t be alright unless we learn to respond more fully to the challenges ahead.

This is not the place to set out even a fraction of the strategies and creative options available within a realistic and informed forward view. But I will mention just one. What if we acknowledged that social collapse has happened before and could very easily happen again – but this time on a global scale? One consequence could be that we’d stop being scared stiff about ‘the problem’ and shift our attention toward strategies of conscious descent. Descent, that is, from the peak of over-growth and environmental decline. What I will do, however, is draw attention to several sources that provide multiple insights into what can be done, how and by whom.

Alexander, S. & Gleeson, B. 2019, Degrowth in the Suburbs. Singapore, Palgrave.

Re-imagines the suburbs in a post-growth future. Considers issues such as an energy descent future, ‘unlearning abundance’ and ‘prosperity’ under energy and resource constrained conditions. This is an original and inspiring work, hence highly recommended.

Gidley, J.M. 2017, The Future: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, OUP.

Exactly what the title says. Provides a lucid account of the grounding of ‘the future’ in history and an excellent overview of how the field developed in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Provides a useful and succinct summary of different approaches to futures and futures work. Concludes with an outline of ‘grand global challenges’ and list of resources.

Slaughter, R. 2015, Beyond the global emergency: Integral futures and the search for clarity. World Future Review 7, 2-3, 239-252

Argues against technology-led views of futures as espoused by, e.g. Silicon Valley, in favour of a more balanced assessment of interior and exterior factors. Suggests how Integral methods can open up new or renewed strategies that can be seen as ‘proto-solutions’ to pressing global issues.

Slaughter, R. 2014, The denial of limits and interior aspects of descent, Foresight 16, 6, 527-549.

Examines denialism in the context of the much-abused Limits to Growth study. Uses Integral criteria to characterise aspects of ‘the denial machine’ and addresses some of the under-appreciated interior aspects of descent (as opposed to collapse).

Trainer, T. 2007, Greenhouse: Refusing to grasp its significance, Arena Magazine, December-January 2007-8, 13-15.