The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History (2010)
Time is Running Out to Save Planet Earth In the days of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, people lived in fear of a hypothetical nuclear world war that would obliterate human civilization. Today, civilization’s end is no longer hypothetical: It’s a certainty unless we restructure how we as a species live, work, play, and even think. That is the stark message that Australian futurist Richard Slaughter delivers to readers everywhere in his book The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History (2010, Foresight International).
“The only way forward that makes sense is to seek clarity on what we are facing and mobilize on a society-wide and global scale to deal with it,” he writes. “Anything less will consign our children to a diminished and unlivable world.”
The looming danger now comes not from nuclear war, but from human civilization itself. Having proven able to adapt to every environment that the planet has to offer, we have colonized everywhere and tapped every resource that nature can generate. We have already developed and grown far beyond the Earth’s capacity to support us, and we continue to grow and develop non-stop.
This imbalance between our way of life and the Earth’s natural limits cannot keep up forever, Slaughter warns. In just the last 150 years, the human race has:
- Directly transformed 50% of the Earth’s land surface.
- Used up more than 40% of its known oil reserves.
- Appropriated more than half of all above-ground freshwater for human purposes, and depleted vast quantities of underground freshwater, as well.
- Substantially upped the concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
- Fished 22% of the world’s fisheries to the point of depletion or overexploited, and put another 44% to their limits.
- Diminished the world’s wetlands area by one-half.
And that’s not counting all the frightening side effects that human-caused climate change is likely to induce later this century: a one-meter rise in the world’s sea levels, which would submerge a multitude of densely populated coastal areas and engender widespread population displacement, famines, and political upheavals.
“Growth without limit is impossible,” he writes. “Like a cancer in the human body, uncontrolled growth can only occur for a short time before it destroys the host.”
But, like a patient suffering from cancer, our species can counter the threat, if it acts swiftly and decisively. Slaughter urges the global community to band together and mount a global response—and to do so now, because time is running out.
We have no shortage of guides. According to Slaughter, individual authors and speakers have been calling attention to the impending global crisis over the past 50 years. Some did raise enough awareness to achieve modest successes. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, which galvanized a public movement to ban the pesticide DDT, is a case in point.
But the restoration of some habitats or the rescue of some species from extinction, while nice, mean little in terms of the larger problem of unsustainable human growth, in Slaughter’s view. The planet as a whole is still in deep trouble, and scatter-shot conservation measures are not going to save it.
“The multi-faceted process of global decline and deterioration is still the dominant trend and is not amenable to piecemeal approaches,” he writes.
What humanity needs to undertake is a full-scale downshift of consumption and growth, according to Slaughter. He bolsters his case with references to nearly two dozen contemporary authors who promulgate systemic, whole-society approaches to resolving the impending ecological crisis. Slaughter identifies each author’s unique stance and what each author has contributed to human knowledge of global climate and ecological health. They include the following:
- Hazel Henderson identifies flaws in the global financial system and proposes alternatives. She recommends a new framework for evaluating economic output, one that factors human wellbeing, social viability, and care for the environment. The climate crisis is, in her view, a final opportunity to create a greener and more just economic system.
- John Michael Greer calls our industrial and political systems out on their endemic short-term thinking. They have to downshift, he warns. A sustainable future will be one of smaller populations and diminished industrial output.
- Tony Fry calls for reconfiguring all of the design professions to help organizations, businesses, and society in general to plan “from the future to the present.” Its practitioners must become active cultural leaders who continuously identify counterproductive practices and transform them.
- Alastair McIntosh looks at not only the external problems of global finance, politics, technology, economy, etc.; but the internal ones as well—the ways in which we perceive the world. Averting an ecological crisis will require that we change our values and patterns of thinking. He contributes his own insights in the form of “cultural psychotherapy.”
“There’s still time to come to terms with our predicament and change direction. Human destiny is not set in stone,” Slaughter writes.
In essence, The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History is a compendium of the most precious resource humanity has: human foresight. Slaughter demonstrates a commanding breadth of scholarship, a keen understanding of the problems confronting our world, and a deep commitment to linking societies with foreword-thinking sustainability advocates who can help them to foment lasting solutions.
The human race is challenged as never before. We are in the middle of a planetary emergency with ‘no simple solutions, no easy exits’. The only way forward is to deal with it otherwise our children will be condemned to a diminished and unliveable world. We have precious little time to act if we are to avoid the worst outcomes – a world unfit for life, including humans. The only way out of this, as E O Wilson suggests, is through science and technology, combined with foresight and moral courage.
This is an extraordinarily well-researched book by internationally recognised futurist Richard Slaughter. It’s written for the layman, yet the bibliography contains 247 references. Many are by his fellow Australians including Charles Birch, Clive Hamilton, Tim Flannery, Graham Turner and Will Steffen.
In Part 1, Slaughter outlines the challenges to civilisation as we know it. The biggest three threats to humankind are loss of biodiversity, climate change and peak oil. But others include the depletion of nonrenewable resources, sea-level rises, scarcity of freshwater, disruption to traditional ways of life, forced migrations, and new sources of conflict.
In other words, ‘humanity is eroding the foundations of life on planet earth and undermining its own existence and that of many other species’. Peak oil, coupled with climate change, will completely alter the conditions of life everywhere.
This is not a book about population per se but he does refer early in the book to the ‘hyper-growth’ period of human expansion that ‘has taken place without any real concern for the health of the rest of the natural world’. And he pulls no punches as to what will happen if climate change is not mitigated.
With rising oceans, increased storm and hurricanes, human migration and conflict on an unprecedented scale, the ability of the global system to support current population levels would rapidly diminish. A human die-off on this scale would not only be a catastrophe in its own right, it could also exacerbate impacts on other species…for decades and perhaps centuries to come.
The ultimate problem is how to deal with growth in a finite system. It is growth that is driving us towards overshoot and collapse yet the growth imperative is the powering dynamic of the capitalist system. He quotes CSIRO’s Dr Graham Turner’s work on evaluating Limits to Growth and on how well the various scenarios compared with subsequent trends in the real world. Unfortunately, the observed data for 1970-2000 mostly matches the outputs for the ‘standard run’ scenario, one that results in global collapse before the middle of the century.
Can we avoid such a scenario? Part 2 explores the ways we might avert disaster or at least navigate the descent from our high-tech, rapid-growth, high-energy existence. As one who is unfamiliar with philosophical literature and its terms, I found this a little more difficult to read though Slaughter writes clearly enough.
Using the Integral framework which is based on four quadrants (interior/ individual; interior/collective; exterior individual; exterior/collective), new approaches to solving global warming and the other problems can be made. Traditionally, solutions have focused on the ‘exterior/collective’ quadrant, namely new technology, improved infrastructure, urban redesign and so on. What Slaughter seeks to do is to focus on the other quadrants and tap into the human and cultural resources that have previously not been deemed useful.
With the Integral approach, there are six colour-coded levels of development. They provide fresh ways of looking at ways we might respond to the planetary problems. These are red: egocentric and exploitative (survival of the fittest); amber: absolutist and authoritarian (strong government and strictly enforced rules); orange: multiplistic and strategic (entrepreneurial intelligence will allow us to survive); green: relativistic and consensual (the communities of the world can now work together to seek progress through harmony and love); teal: systemic and integral (with so much individual and collective capacity, we can shift civilisation to a new level of complexity); and turquoise: holistic and ecological (the breakdown of the world order will be painful but the new order will be based on principles of ‘enoughness’).
No singular solution, no magic bullet, to the global problems that confront us is likely. Rather, a ‘multitude of measures that transform energy systems, economics, social systems, economic systems and institutions at an unprecedented rate and scale’. By the time he gets to his conclusion, Slaughter writes: “…we have to face reality, for we are indeed out of time”.
This is a serious book that deserves wide readership.
From the Sustainable Population Australia Newsletter, April 2012, p. 7.
There are many books that describe climate change and the problems that the world faces due to industrial growth and pollution, but few have tackled the problem from anything other than an environmental or scientific perspective. Richard Slaughter’s book, The Biggest Wake up Call in History, describes the environmental problems facing the planet and puts forward solutions from a comprehensive, integral perspective. He argues that viewing environmental threats through an integral lens will lead to innovative and far-reaching responses to rectify the situation.
This is a big book in scope, the number of issues it covers, and the framework it outlines as a path to recovery. Slaughter cites a lot of data, information, and research. It summarises many studies and perspectives and reaches some big conclusions about the status of Earth’s ecology and resources. In short, reading it was like reading a Gone with the Wind epic for the sustainability of the planet. Slaughter states that his book has two main purposes. The first is to describe “the problem” as clearly as possible without exaggeration or distortion, so a start can be made on a substantial solution. Slaughter states: “The only way forward that makes sense is to seek clarity on what we are facing and mobilise on a society-wide and global scale to deal with it” (p. ix). The second purpose is to reframe conventional thinking about “world problems” and use the contributions that have been put forward to resolve them. By being open to “signals” that are being constantly generated within the global system, and by becoming aware of their importance and actively responding to them, a deeper, richer understanding can emerge of new (and renewed) values, motivations, and capacities.
The book shows that world societies are presently on an unsustainable course, and face problems that will limit the lifestyle of modern Western societies within the next few decades. Among them, the dominant framework for explaining and conducting activities in the world today is the free market capitalistic enterprise. Consequently, leadership elites ignore environmental impacts because they are most often trained in economics, engineering, or politics rather than ecological science. Lifestyle, Slaughter notes, is also a large part of the problem when it comes to the affluent and their divestment from the environment.
Part One of the book details what Slaughter calls the “civilisational challenge” that threatens the survival of the human race. He provides a comprehensive summary of major climate change studies, and makes a strong argument that environmental problems are fast approaching “tipping points.” While some scientists might not fully accept the author’s scientific interpretations, the book does provide a summary of a great number of relevant and important climate change scientific studies. Slaughter provides facts such as: nearly 50% of the land surface has been transformed by direct human action with significant consequences for biodiversity, nutrient cycling, and soil structure; more nitrogen is now fixed synthetically in fertilisers and through fossil fuel combustion than is fixed naturally in all terrestrial ecosystems; more than half of all accessible freshwater has been appropriated for human purposes; and underground water resources are being depleted rapidly. This information provides an alarming picture of the status of the Earth’s environment, painting a picture of a world slowly descending into chaos. Grounds for changing this outlook are explored in the second part of the book.
The Biggest Wake up Call in History suggests that we must heed early warning signals in order to buy ourselves time to act. Chapter One provides an overview of humanity’s collective impact on Earth, summarising conclusions from research on the state of the world’s oceans and non-human species. It also draws on a range of literature dealing with economic, cultural, and social factors. It concludes that a framework exists for understanding and coming to grips with climate change even though science is still uncertain about some aspects of trends in the environment. Slaughter concludes that the pursuit of economic growth that has dominated the past three centuries is detrimental to long-term human and planetary viability and needs to be replaced. Conflicts have occurred in many places, primarily between those who still support old-style growth and development and those who do not.
Chapter Two examines conventional responses to global change, especially the attention given to significant “signals of change.” The United States and Australia governments are shown to have a record of missing or ignoring signals that provide vital evidence about global environment changes. This chapter describes a range of business-as-usual responses such as consumerism and stoking demand through extensive advertising. The habit of looking to new technology to save the day is considered and found to be inadequate, and the occurrence of certain disasters that have occurred around the world in recent times is also examined (and again, the track record of governments is found to be poor). Overall, conventional responses are evaluated as not up to the task. Many of them actively inhibit progress in dealing with the problems humanity has created.
Chapter Three examines the important question of whether humanity is on a path of “overshoot and collapse.” It reviews the Limits to Growth project and concludes that humanity is living a long way beyond its means and is degrading the global life support system. Slaughter suggests there are significant gaps between humanity’s ability to perceive and understand this situation and the magnitude of the actions that are responsible for it. While the “collapse” thesis is a looming possibility, Slaughter does not see this as leading to a “gloom and doom” conclusion (p. 108). A different and more positive outlook is considered.
Chapter Four describes the realities confronting the poorest societies in the world by outlining and linking them to the emerging impacts of climate change. Slaughter argues that the pinnacle of economic development has been reached and we are now at the end of the high-tech, rapid-growth, high-energy usage approach. Las Vegas and Dubai are cited as two examples of cities with unsustainable models in their use of natural resources and energy. These cities are powerful examples of the overreach of technology and free-market ideology, and Slaughter is quite convinced that this approach is now over.
Chapter Five, “Confronting the Collective Shadow,” takes an unusual approach in discussing the notion of the shadow, the repressed contents of human awareness. Slaughter uses this perspective to consider serious challenges to our ability to engage in constructive change. He relays how all nations have been compromised by international criminal networks. Just as the human shadow robs individuals of autonomy and power, Slaughter suggests that organised crime inflicts similar costs upon societies of the world. He suggests that globalisation and the Internet have contributed to this dire situation and current attempts to deal effectively with the resulting scams and other dysfunctions have largely failed. Finally, the growth economy and uncontrolled financial speculation is linked with the “growth at all costs” outlook. Slaughter suggests that this approach needs to be replaced by more life-affirming arrangements that respect people and the Earth’s carrying capacity.
Part Two of the book focuses on the search for solutions, moving from an examination of solutions “out there” to the world “in here.” Chapter Six uses the four quadrants and levels of the Integral model to describe a new approach to climate change and global warming. It reviews key climate change literature and considers emergent patterns within it from an integral perspective (also see Slaughter, 2009). Using the distinctions that define the Integral framework allows an outline of new approaches to climate change, global warming, and the issues raised in Part One. A sample of climate change literature is used to establish emergent patterns and suggest a number of ways forward. Chapter Seven takes up the issue of “peak oil” and the global energy dilemma and provides an emerging scenario that moves away from the thesis of collapse to the idea of descent. The notion of descent shifts away from fatalism and despair by providing many more opportunities for intervention and choice. The use of integral thought throughout helps to generate a different “take” on the nature of long-term solutions.
Chapter Eight examines the value and limitations of empirical science. Integral concepts are employed to review a number of proposed transition strategies. A number of conclusions are drawn, such as the need for a major shift away from passive consumerism; reduction in energy consumption; re-localisation, especially in relation to food production; the pursuit of strategies to increase resilience; restoration of the natural environment; and the need to wean societies away from addiction to economic growth. The effort and mindset that small-scale societies require and the psychological burdens that will need to be endured are pointed out.
In Chapter Nine, Slaughter speaks about “waking up” and enhancing awareness. The notion of waking up refers to becoming aware of the internal characteristics and dynamics of this critically important domain through a clearer grasp of “facets of the self” that shape external behaviors and actions (p. 131). Most of the literature and web-based material dealing with global issues overlooks the “individual interior” (Upper-Left quadrant) domain of the Integral approach. Case studies are provided to show how these notions have been put into practice in areas such as futures studies, AIDS awareness, and strategies for communicating about sustainability.
Chapter Ten considers the role of social foresight to bring about constructive change. It introduces the notions of “transformation” and “translation”—two complementary approaches to social and personal change (p. 156). Transformation involves reaching new and higher stages of development. In transition, people find ways to become more effective “where they are” (i.e., whatever stage they are at). Understanding “where people are coming from” makes it possible to design “core messages” in ways that has relevance across a wider range of individuals and groups. This chapter also discusses options for communicating the waking-up metaphor in relation to a hierarchy of values. With this in mind, the final chapter takes a fresh look at what might be termed post-collapse and post-descent futures. An “imaging matrix” is used to identify a zone where many of the concerns can be resolved. Slaughter links these with four different worldviews and illustrates some of the implications through the lives and work of three individuals, each of them having “walked the walk” and, in so doing, demonstrated in practical terms some of the options that are available to everyone. These exemplars demonstrate that the deep-seated changes needed can be adopted here and now in our own time and can create a very different future for the world. Overall, the perspectives outlined reveal aspects of global issues that require psychological and spiritual changes rather than material approaches.
Overall, Richard Slaughter believes that “waking up” to the challenges to civilization is vitally important. He recognises that it is not possible to guarantee that we will avoid past mistakes—a large number of people already have been pushed beyond their existing ability to cope—but he rejects the view that future generations are condemned to fall to the depths of a new dark age in a ruined and degraded world. He sees hope in new approaches to individual and social development that have resulted in more effective communication and action. How far we descend, and in what way, is the central issue of our time: early and effective action will moderate the process while late and ineffective action will exacerbate it. This book has faith that humanity still has time to rise to the occasion and to re-negotiate the terms of its relationship with this small and fragile world that we call home.
The Biggest Wake up Call in History tackles an important and vital topic. The author addresses the world’s major problems by applying one of the most comprehensive perspectives of modern times, Integral Theory, to it. This is an admirable and daunting task, given that the planet’s ecological problems are so large and the factors that have contributed to it are very complex. Applying an integral perspective to understand ecological problems and to put forward possibilities to solve these problems is an exciting and worthwhile endeavor. However, the application of Integral Theory is in its early phase so Slaughter is striking out into new territory. Slaughter’s book provides a comprehensive summary of the status of the natural environment and the precarious state it is in. While I am not qualified to confirm that he covers the most important scholarly and seminal works on the environment, it appears that he has reviewed the most credible and current research involving key writers and institutions in the field. It seems that the author is attempting to bring together his life’s work in the areas of futures and environmental studies with his embrace of Integral Theory. Slaughter provides an excellent summary of each chapter and the conclusions of the book online: (http://richardslaughter.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/BWC_Chapter_Overview.pdf). The chapter summaries are clear and thorough and are very useful for someone who does not have the time to read the very extensive detail and scientific information provided throughout the book.
The application of the Integral framework is a major and significant contribution of the book. Slaughter has a comprehensive understanding of the Integral model and its use, and his analysis of what parts of the framework are useful for understanding the situation regarding the environment provides an alternative to many of the “main line” studies of climate change. Slaughter’s analyses can provide a substantial new integral framework that may help understand why current approaches are not making significant progress and offer more integrated and substantive solutions. Figure 1 (showing how global boundaries are already being crossed) is an excellent summary of the extent that various environmental dimensions are at risk, and also points out that we do not have accurate enough information about chemical pollution and atmospheric aerosol loading. While some may question and even debate the level of risk that has been estimated for each dimension, a diagram such as this provides an excellent overview of the extent of many of our environmental problems.
This book is useful for people who wish to make a difference in the area of sustainability, climate change, and environmental planning. It is not aimed to be a popular book for Integral Life Practice or for leaders of organisations, but it does provide an excellent foundation for university environmental studies, for institutes involved in sustainable research, and for Integral Sustainability scholars and researchers. One of the conditions for making a genuine contribution to this field is a commitment to understand the state of our natural environment and to find comprehensive solutions that lead to the elimination of the causes rather than the symptoms. Richard Slaughter has certainly addressed both of these conditions.
There are sections of the book that are too long and overlap in several areas. For example, Part One describes the environmental situation but in places in Part Two a number of the signals that are described seem to repeat the information described in Part One. Throughout the book, Slaughter provides several summaries of the ground that has been covered. This occurs at the beginning of the book, in Part One and Part Two, in some chapters, and, finally, in Chapter 10. While these summaries help the reader digest the many interrelated topics and complex scientific information, I found so many summaries a bit laborious and unnecessary.
The description of what characterises an integral approach to climate change is still in its early stages, with different authors providing somewhat different interpretations.1 Slaughter refers to some of the different approaches (e.g., that of Clare Graves, William Torbert, Ken Wilber, etc.), but does not always justify or rationalise why he selects the terms and characteristics he employs. This may be more a limitation of the models themselves rather than the author’s approach, but the uncertainty of criteria could haunt The Biggest Wake up Call in History if it becomes a significant contributor to theoretical frameworks of sustainability.
The author gives examples of a few communities and three individuals that, while showing some promise, are not substantial enough to provide a blueprint for a transformational revolution that will “save” humanity. Although Slaughter provides a framework to understand, and therefore begin to solve, the huge problems we face, I did not feel I knew where to go next or what I could practically do after finishing the book.
Slaughter does a very good job pointing out the lack of inclusion of the Upper-Left quadrant (the “I” of consciousness) in environmental literature. However, he does not go deeply into the essence of this quadrant. As Wilber describes in The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977/1993), at the highest level the self realises that the Ground of Being and one’s self are exactly the same—the “I” that is the Atman is the “universe” that is the Brahman. In other words, if people were to uncover their true self, then they would not pollute, abuse, and overuse the Earth because they are one interconnected whole. I would have liked more emphasis on this fundamental truth since this is what is “uncovered” when we wake up.
Several years ago, I attended a sustainability workshop at Schumacher College in the United Kingdom. I learned about, discussed, and explored companies with “soul” that adopted sustainable philosophy and actions as their core values. These companies were inspiring and good examples that gave participants positive examples and something to work toward. The most powerful part of the workshop was when Dr. Steven Harding, a passionate activist and Oxford-trained environmentalist, led us into the lush, green English forest near the college. During this day we got close to the trees, the plants, and the earth. We meditated, touched, and literally embraced the trees that stood tall and silent around us. Dr. Harding proffered science, knowledge, and insight into the fragility and beauty of the Earth while instructing us to become very silent and still though several techniques and exercises. That day we not only saw and experienced all four quadrants, but we became one with and in love with the Earth.
What is urgently needed is for government and business leaders, investors, academics, resource owners, and the public to reconnect and experience the environment in a way that everyone on that Schumacher College course did on that wet winter’s day. Richard Slaughter’s work calls us to do this. I hope the sequel he writes to The Biggest Wake up Call in History is titled The Greatest Love Affair in History. For if we do not fall in love with our home, the Earth, if we do not “wake up” and care for this planet as we would our most treasured children, then surely the human race will wake up to the biggest nightmare in history.
1 See the recent special issues of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (Vol. 4, No. 4, and Vol. 5, No. 1), which feature 14 articles that analyze integral approaches to sustainability and climate change (Wilber et al., 2009, 2010).
2 This figure is adapted from Rockstrom (2009, p. 472).
Rockstrom, J. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(24 September), 472-476.
Slaughter, R.A. (2009). Beyond the threshold: Using climate change literature to support climate change response. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 4(4), 27-46.
Wilber, K. (1977/1993). The spectrum of consciousness.Wheaton, IL: Quest Books.
Wilber, K., Esbjörn-Hargens, S., & Lord, L. (Eds.) (2009). Climate change I [special issue]. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 4(4).
Wilber, K., Esbjörn-Hargens, S., & Lord, L. (Eds.) (2010). Climate change II [special issue]. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 5(1).
Ron Cacioppe is based at the Australian Institute for Sustainable Development, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.
From: Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 6(2), 2011 pp. 157–162.
Suppose that you are watching a foreign language movie with subtitles in your mother tongue. You tend to trust the translator while making sense of the scenario. All of a sudden a professional independent interpreter comes and makes you aware that the series of pictures that are passing before your eyes actually tell a totally different story and the subtitles are indeed incorrect. And it seems that he is quite right when he presents his own account of the narrative. Slaughter has done the same in his new impressive work. He provides different subtitles and narrates a totally different story of our world while helping us make sense of its past, present, and future developments. As always, and of course as expected from him, he tends to censure ‘the modus operandi of industrialised cultures, the mad pursuit of endless material wealth, and the business-as-usual path.’ He warns us that the marketing geniuses and the dominant media are shepherding us toward a huge cliff. They try to convince us to worship the holy cow of growth and ‘hyper development,’ blindly following the ideals and life styles of the ultra rich, and pushing the limits of the bubble of human wants as far as they and we can. But the real price we will soon have to pay is our own existence on this planet to the extent that ‘if we remain unmoved we will indeed see the biggest civilisational crash ever experienced on this planet and the rapid onset of a dark age that could last for centuries—and perhaps forever.’
Inspired from the Integral Perspective, this superbly written, well-structured book that will enjoy a broad general readership follows a problem statement and problem solution line of argument. It sheds light on a number of crucial world-shaping processes and wicked issues such as climate change, global warming, the onset of peak oil, and in general sustainability. By using the metaphor of ‘wake up call’ the author attempts to ‘tone down language, apply understatement and generally try to present the evidence without causing undue alarm.’ Throughout the book he raises awareness about the futures and contributes to further learning by highlighting the point that the humans’ individual and social sphere of thought and experience is limitless, unbounded, untapped, and thus yet not released. The central theme of this post-conventional work in futures studies is that the human agency ought to be encouraged, informed, and motivated by alternative worldviews and it should ‘go beyond what is already known.’ Slaughter accompanies the reader in a journey of receiving new wisdom and insight through what is ‘constantly occurring between interior and exterior domains and between individual and collective ones.’ He believes that such a journey can and should lead us ‘into richer modes of being and a deeper engagement with reality.’ The fundamental solution to urgent global problems is, in his view, to combine ‘intelligence and appropriate values to prefigure a very different outlook and a transformed future world.’ In spite of the need for appropriate global leadership it is also noted that the potential contributions of the currently descending power, the US, and its rival ascending power, China, are both highly uncertain and doubtful.
Slaughter does not downplay or deny the ‘liberating nature of futures studies’ and in particular ‘its central keystone methodology of scenario building. Yet he emphasises that ‘scenarios are only as good as the thinking that goes into them.’ A strong and method-based argument is provided to highlight the crucial need for understanding and altering the ‘mindspace’ of both the scanners and scenario builders. He refrains from using the usual key word in the scenario planning and futures literature, ‘mental model,’ however, points out that ‘the software that operates within each person’ is the key which is almost always ignored, overlooked, or neglected. Like many other Integral specialists he supports the notion that only through the creative destruction of implicit mental models rather than of explicit infrastructures we can find ‘the levers of change’ and ‘negotiate to set and bring about social innovations.’ The bottom line of his brilliant, comprehensive, elaborate, and methodic work is that ‘the social and human interiors play a host of active roles in mediating responses’ to each and every one of ‘the most urgent items calling for our collective attention and response’ because ‘for individuals, there is no behavior without the interior motivation that drives it; for collectives, there is no system without the interior culture that supports it.’
Both for professional futurists and advanced learners of the field The Biggest Wake Up Call in History is a must read piece of work because the author eloquently introduces and effectively uses an ordered, systemic conceptual framework which is based on four dimensional perspectives on the world, four levels of complexity, and six value levels.
The underlying four dimensional window consists of Upper Left (UL)—the unique interior world of each individual; Upper Right (UR)—the exterior world of human action and behavior; Lower Left (LL)—the interior worlds of cultures, languages, institutions, and Lower Right (LR)—the familiar exterior physical world we inhabit. Four levels of complexity through which reality is perceived are preconventional, conventional, post-conventional, and integral. And the six sets of values are color coded as Red—egocentric and exploitative; Amber—absolutist and authoritarian; Orange—multiplistic and strategic; Green—relativistic and consensual; Teal—systemic and integral; Turquoise—holistic and ecological.
Slaughter, himself a leading and authoritative futurist, proposes that the above mentioned Integral method has completed a forty-year process of futures studies development and application and may help the new generation and wave of emerging scholars and practitioners of this field to embark on the next phase of futures studies or foresight work.
This framework along with a number of other relevant categories and levels helps us see not only the dark side of hyper growth which is polished and window dressed in some extreme cases like Las Vegas and Dubai but also provides an overview of a number of proposed transition strategies and pilot projects and initiatives which presumably pave the way for the realisation and spread of the opposite extreme memes in the future. Slaughter uses illuminating figures, one after another, to critically address and debunk the firm ground of the advocates of the status quo and in the meantime he brings ‘to our attention a constellation of paradigms, worldviews and values oriented toward sustainability.’
He also argues that high converging technologies and their promising spectacular innovations could be useful if and only if options for the fusion of them with ‘advanced values’ will be seriously explored. Otherwise, ‘embedded in conventional taken-for-granted worldviews with inadequate values’ they will be definitely misused, and thus aggravating the already aggravated situation. The author who is both hopeful and proud of the eye-opening potential of the Integral method is open to divergent thinking and radical new paradigms that may violate the oldest implicit assumptions in the current knowledge enterprise or as he puts it ‘the standard scientific worldview.’ He asks, for instance, what if the ‘assumptions of Vedic science that consciousness is universally primary and gives rise to matter’ turn out to be correct? While dealing with the global predicament, Slaughter draws our attention to the point that the non-material aspects, that is individual and collective interior ones, are usually poorly reflected in science. Thus the reader is shown that the emergence of new ideas, the expansion of horizons, and the creation of new possibilities hold out real hope for innovation and change. And the best hopes lies in the Upper Left (UL) quadrant where the ‘unique interior world of each individual’ is at work, where ‘accelerated psychic development’ can and should occur to build ‘the most constructive response to the global emergency.’ Accelerated psychic development is all about human developmental stages, of the development of higher order moral, cognitive and other capabilities without which ‘the development and successful application of foresight’ will be unreasonable, unattainable, and ultimately compromising.
The essential success factors of futurists, in this view, are whether they can design, structure, and finally communicate ‘a layered series of words and images’ to their audiences. Otherwise, the chances of their messages being heard and acted upon will dramatically decrease. And the most effective suggestion to overcome such a hurdle is to aim at the ‘unique inner world of individuals, the hidden landscape of human identity, purpose and motivation’ because ‘it is here that global issues are framed and understood.’
Frustrated by the undue focus of researchers and practitioners on the lower right and upper right quadrants – that is the exterior, tangible, and easily measurable – this book is also a call for an even-handed touch on each domain in pursuit of a broader and more systematic picture. Otherwise powerful new forces may be hidden and unnoticed in the upper left and lower left domains, the interior, intangible, and hard to measure by empirical science. The most intriguing question presented for the reader to ponder is what if these left domains—rather than economic and technical development—started to become the focus of attention? Such a question would make a lot more sense if we could read in a second edition of this book the autobiography of Slaughter himself in an appendix. Because the most important context for making sense of Slaughter’s maverick approach toward the civilisational challenges is the ups and downs of his personal life. The interior struggle of himself and his stages of development undoubtedly shaped the content of his book over the course of many years. Such an appendix would certainly help readers gain some insights and understanding into his untold interior story of life and ‘particular perceptual filters, habits and preferences for perceiving and understanding external reality.’
This is the most arresting title I have seen on a book in a long while. I was compelled to read it. Richard A Slaughter has in my opinion written an important book here. It is about the “civilisational moment” we find ourselves in at the beginning of the twenty first century. Slaughter is a futures and foresight practitioner and this book is a pertinent piece of writing that shows the usefulness of this field when applied to our contemporary global challenges of climate change, global warming and peak oil. The author is clear about the challenge we face when he says, “Humanity has become a global force in its own right and one that is degrading the global commons at a frightening rate.” He notes that part of our wake up call will involve revising our favoured cultural assumptions: first that we are in control, secondly that the environment is a set of resources awaiting human use, thirdly that energy will continue to be available and affordable, fourthly that growth can continue without any limits and finally that technology will secure our collective futures on Earth.
What I enjoyed most of all about this readable book is the emphasis he places on the need for individual interior change. The civilisational challenge we face is ourselves: namely our perceptions, our values and our worldviews. The source of our pathologies is inside us and the solutions to these pathologies also lie within us. We need courage to face what we know and the energy and capacity to act. Slaughter makes considerable use of the Ken Wilber integral development / vision map. He elaborates on the different domains of this map: our internal experiences, our collective cultures, our external behaviours and our social systems and institutions. Slaughter sees this map as an aid in finding the necessary reserves for the civilisational challenge ahead. This map, in particular the individual interior domain, is one place where “courage, energy and capacity” can be found and climate research is only beginning to attend to these interior realities. He reviews the current literature on climate change and finds much of it wanting in the domain of individual interior life where we have our morals, our values, our spirituality and our interpersonal and aesthetic potentials. This inner world of individuals he calls, “the hidden landscape of human identity, purpose and motivation.”
Slaughter makes it clear we are in the midst of a planetary emergency. He talks about a “perfect storm” bearing down on humanity. Only open and prepared minds can see the dangers ahead. Slaughter talks about “social foresight” now being a structural necessity. We all have the capacity for it. Such foresight will enable us to see that we are much closer to the very brink than most of us realise.
Slaughter invites the reader to go beyond collapse to a new narrative. He thinks we still have time to design pathways that will lead to a civilisational escape route. We need to wake up to the fact that we are applying old solutions to new situations with decreasing success. We also tend to see ourselves as “masters of creation” with nothing but the laws of physics standing in our way. We take ourselves “out of history” seeing ourselves as exempt from the trajectory of collapse. Slaughter calls for a new narrative around “descent” knowing that this is a new way of being and acting that is currently outside the frame of most peoples thinking.
As we race towards our massively carbon producing / polluting rugby world cup I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a “wake up call” about what is really important for our world and where we need to go find the solutions for the civilisational moment we are all present to. You might also consider getting your local library to purchase this book.
From Tui Motu Inter Islands Magazine, New Zealand, July 2011, p. 28.
I have to say that although I started to read part one in detail I soon began to skim through it. You were preaching to the converted in this instance. I was particularly interested in chapter five on confronting the collective shadow. I thought the parallel you drew between Jung’s individual shadow and a collective human shadow was really powerful. I had not thought up to now of the significance of the size of these problems in terms of the drain on planetary wealth and resources and therefore the need to bring them out of the closet where they have been sitting endlessly in the ‘too hard’ basket.
I found part two engrossing and often felt impatient that I couldn’t find time to read it faster. I will be going back to read bits of it more closely to better absorb the ideas and techniques you present. I would like to be able to write and talk about them more clearly and simply for the consumption of friends, family and groups I belong to.
Your mapping of the complex predicament of humanity on planet earth and the integral approach to finding a way through to some sort of sustainable future is a real tour de force. I feel sure it will inspire others to interpret it and find ways of reaching into many different communities.
From what I glean in reading, conversation and going to lectures on various topics in Wellington I think the debate has already started to move from the science to how to communicate its meaning to decision makers and the public. This applies to a number of areas where the science is sound, yet there is no movement in policy – not just climate change and resource problems but in the social and health sciences too.
Much as I hope you are right Richard and we will find a way through humanity’s predicament and much as I was inspired by your book I still feel rather pessimistic. However that may be age talking. Time does not appear to be on our side. I hope I am wrong for the sake of our children and grandchildren and generations to come.
Myra Harpham, Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand
Futurist Richard Slaughter has never shied away from engaging tough and critical issues. And over his career, the issues have been getting tougher and more critical–perhaps reaching a zenith with The Biggest Wake Up Call in History. In this work he tackles what he–and many others–see as an impending civilizational disaster that requires urgent action, yet most people are either unaware or unconcerned about it.
The book is organized simply and effectively around two purposes. The first part details the problem and the second suggests solutions. He critically reviews works of leading proponents of the impending disaster school to make the case for the problem. It usefully brings together many different voices and perspectives, and makes it clear that he is not a lone futurist voice in the wilderness. In fact he argues that futurists have been all-too-quiet on this issue. The essence of his solution is the need to reframe conventional thinking.
Since introducing the Integral Futures notion with “Transcending Flatland” in 1998, his work has been informed by this perspective and lens, becoming more comfortable and adept with it over time. Some may find it a bit of a force-fit at times, that is, there may be other ways to come to similar conclusions, but that doesn’t detract from the usefulness for his work and others who are using it. In this book it provides the perspective and framework from which to frame and respond to the wakeup call.
This is a provocative work that pulls no punches. Slaughter believes strongly in the urgency of the impending disaster and has little patience for those who don’t see the situation the same away. Those who agree are the awake, and those who don’t are not. This is a tough position but one could argue that a healthy futures ecosystem ought to be able to handle such strong normative viewpoints. And certainly, even if one ultimately doesn’t share the sense of urgency, the argument presented is sure to make one at least pause.
Put simply, “we are in fact already right in the middle of a planetary emergency with no simple solutions, no easy exits.” The outcome if nothing is done “will consign our children to a diminished and unlivable world. Humanity has collectively outgrown its world and is exerting a range of impacts upon it that are progressively reducing its capacity to sustain the wide variety of life it once possessed.” And if you’re not alarmed yet, “we have precious little time to act to avoid the worst outcomes.” Strong stuff! In a nutshell, we are fouling our own nest. He collects and synthesizes an overview of accounts of human-induced ecological damage, and supports these with an account of the related social, cultural, and economic factors. Futurists will likely be familiar with the issues, but may nonetheless find this compilation compelling (I did). If you are feeling that perhaps they have been overly complacent about these challenges, this work will splash some cold water in your face.
To the author’s credit, even though he is making some strong statements–one might say accusations–he does not get overly emotional nor wag fingers about it. Readers judging themselves unawake will not feel scolded and preached at. For instance, Slaughter asks, “who’s fault” and responds “no-one’s and everyone’s.” He understands how humanity has reached this point, and rather than laying blame, seeks to understand and find ways to address it. The problem is analyzed for the purposes of understanding and moving to solution space.
Some may find a bit of anti-technology slant. For instance, Slaughter suggests that new forms of communication have undermined face-to-face communications. While the technology can have that effect, perhaps a stronger one is that it stimulates the desire for more face-to-face communication. I recall as a child that my social circle was largely limited to kids on the block, but my children and so many others have a much richer and wider range of friends, many of who they will seek out later in life. Regardless, it is clear that he believes technology will not save us, and that this belief in a technological fix contributes to keeping us asleep. Put directly, “there’s simply no prospect of resolving the situation by any technical fix whatsoever.” This echoes a similar point made by the Limits to Growth folks in their 1972 original work and their 20- and 30-year update. Their work was criticized for overlooking the role of technology, which they directly addressed and reached the same conclusion as Slaughter does. Indeed he includes the “Limits” work as part of framing the problem.
This point is an important one. It is fair to say that the prevailing belief is that there are technological solutions that will come to the rescue. If you believe Slaughter and the works he cites, however, it will not happen. Rather, the solution lies in addressing cultural and individual beliefs. In other words, we have to change our collective minds about what’s happening, recognize the challenge, and mobilize appropriately, or better yet, integrally, looking for solutions that address the individual values and behavior, cultural viewpoints, and the physical and social infrastructure.
Serious work is called for. Slaughter cautions us not to be lulled into complacency by existing social innovations. He suggests that even well-respected efforts such as the Bruntland Commission and the reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are “convenient fictions adopted largely to pacify public opinion.” They have done little to slow economic growth and its associated impacts. Again, more strong stuff! He is not optimistic about the prospects for the large-scale social change that he believes is necessary. He suspects that it will require a major disruption to get the attention required to contemplate the necessary structural changes.
He includes a nice table that charts “60 years of insight into the global system” that highlights the works that have warned about the civilizational disaster. This is a terrifically handy compilation that readers will likely be citing down the road. Included are major works, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb, E.O, Wilson’s The Future of Life, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse. He makes the point that it’s not as if we weren’t warned.
He devotes a whole chapter to the phenomenon of overshoot and collapse popularlized by the “Limits” series, noting that the problem comes from delays in feedback. When the feedback does come, it’s too late to effectively act. What is needed is social foresight. While he concludes that overshoot and collapse is a structural reality, there are still opportunities for intervention.
He suggests that the notion of descent could be a more positive narrative than collapse. The reasoning is that talking of collapse leads people to tune out, and reframing as descent not only may keep people’s attention, it is also a more accurate description of what happens.
By descent, he notes that the fall of the Roman Empire, for example, was not sudden, but rather gradual and discontinuous. Similarly, the decline of industrial civilization is not likely to involve a sudden and final crash. And “we can still influence it to minimize the chances of reaching the worst outcomes.” It is somewhat chilling to note that good news that in contrast to notions of abrupt collapse, we have “a descent trajectory could resemble that of a very uneven ladder with alternating periods of turbulence and relative stability. During each of these we could regroup, recover, and perhaps moderate the process.”
He cites Las Vegas and Dubai as extreme examples of hyper-development—“the last great statements of the hyper-growth era.” They are examples of a misguided worldview. He notes that “human beings equipped with powerful (albeit fossil-fueled) technology may have temporarily suspended various environmental limits and conditions, but they have very clearly not suspended the laws of physics.” This is a key point. In our course on Social Change at the University of Houston, the “idea of progress” is identified as a dominant view of social change in westernized societies. The sense is that progress is inevitable and continuous. But when taking the long-term historical view, it is clear that fossil fuels have ignited a terrific boom. “Progress” assumes that a sufficient substitute will come along. But what if it doesn’t? Rather than banking on this development, Slaughter suggests that a reduction in demand is a more promising route to follow.
He devotes a chapter to the metaphor of a shadow economy, based on the psychological concept that individuals often project parts of themselves they dislike onto others. He suggests societies do much the same. We repress aspects of the social situation we’d rather not face. One is organized crime. The other, perhaps of greater interest, is what he calls the “fantasy economy.” As money has gone virtual, “the amount of abstract trading has far exceeded the value of real trade, leading to “ethically bankrupt financial speculation still taking place and continuing to exert real-world costs and penalties.” He cites the work of futurist Hazel Hendersen in tracking and exposing these practices. And he notes the connection of the addiction to growth and accompanying draining of natural resources. It’s a systemic problem.
In sum, the problem lies within us. We focus on the externals, but it is really the internal human intangibles—the perceptions, motivations, values, and worldviews that are at the root of the problem.
The second part of the book searches for solutions. Since the problem comes from us, so must the solution, in the form of changing our values and worldviews. Some of my own research into this realm suggests a ray of hope. Values and worldviews are indeed shifting away from the materialist emphasis at the core of the growth imperative that in turn is driving the civilizational challenge. The big question is whether these shifts will happen in time. The tough news here is that values change very slowly, as has been document by Professor Ronald Inglehart and colleagues at the World Values Survey. The potential is there, but it may take the “disruptive event” suggested earlier to catalyze this change to a critical mass.
Slaughter uses the Integral Perspective to explore the worldviews and as a framework for analyzing fourteen works on climate change, noting what portion of the Integral Framework that they speak from. He notes that ten of the fourteen works emphasize the cultural and social system perspective, and suggests that “further work on climate change and related issues needs to pay as much attention to interior worlds and external actions of individuals as it does to their collective equivalents.” In other words, most works are addressing the challenge at the systems level, and not paying enough attention to the motivations and values of individuals. He suggests the emergence of social foresight as a mechanism to promote the development of skills in reading the signals of change and thus contributing to a greater awareness of the civilizational challenge. He traces this emergence in five stages of development, each building on the previous:
- The simple unreflective use of social foresight in daily life
- The use of futures concepts and ideas
- The use of futures tools and methodologies
- Foresight processes, projects, and structures
- Finally, the social capacity foresight emerges in which long-term thinking becomes a social norm.
Most would probably agree that the leading edge in societies today is stage four.
He reviews a series of seven proposed transition strategies, including Jorgen Randers (one of the Limits to Growth authors) One Degree War Plan, which seeks a more aggressive target of 350ppm concentration of CO2 than the currently proposes 450ppm. This would reduce temperature rise by one degree and almost halve anticipated sea level rise. Slaughter sees here, as with the review of climate change, that the role of “human identity, purpose and motivation” is overlooked. Several conclusions emerge from the review:
Shifts away from passive consumerism
Reductions in energy consumption across the board
Re-localizations, especially in relation to food production
The pursuit of strategies to increase resilience
Restoration of the natural environment
The need to wean societies away from their addiction to economic growth
Again, my client work suggests such notions are not totally alien to the multinational sector who is targeted as a chief culprit. Futurists have been bringing such notions to their attention for years. Slaughter might argue that such efforts, introduced within the current “consumption” paradigm, are marginal or even misguided. He may be right. On the other hand, to introduce these notions in a more alarmist fashion would likely be off-putting to clients. Bad news is not popular in these circles and will not get much, if any, hearing. Thus, the conundrum, does one introduce aspects of the civilizational disaster in “palatable” form or take a stronger position that tells the bald truth. I say emphatically “both!”
Futurists should also be interested in Slaughter’s advocacy for the integral framework as a means for devising more comprehensive and holistic solutions. He suggests that the integral framework leads to translation and transformation are two key approaches for waking people up. Translation suggests finding out where people are at and devising messages that appeal to them. Transformation, moving people to higher levels of development, is useful in that at these higher levels, the message of the urgency of the civilizational challenge becomes obvious. He notes that some may object to the transformation message, which bluntly suggests that “we have the truth” and need to pass it on to those who lack it. But he suggests that the urgency of the problem requires bold action that must get past such sensitivities.
The challenge is whether transformation can happen fast enough and at a large enough scale to be impactful. Most of the values shifts in place are still not reaching high enough levels to be effective–Slaughter, referring to Don Beck and his Spiral Dynamics work, suggests the really significant changes happen at the 2nd tier of worldviews. Alas, perhaps 2% of the population is at this level today (and that may be optimistic).
Some may question why an integral framework is needed to reach the fairly obvious conclusion that one should tailor messaging to appeal to different worldviews. Insights can be reached by other means, but does that detract from integral? I don’t think so. Slaughter himself notes that “the Integral Vision certainly does not appeal to everyone….and it should not reified.” Clearly, he has found an approach that feels brings his work the next stage of its development, and if it produces products such as The Biggest Wake Up Call in History, then the futurist and global community should consider ourselves grateful beneficiaries.
Andy Hines, Foresight Vol 13, No 2, 2011, pp 37-42.
Review of Richard Slaughter’s Biggest Wake Up Call in History Just as global consciousness and global civilization are starting to emerge within humankind, its birth has become complicated – threatened by a crisis that is starting to spiral out of control. This crisis, the “global problematique,” is not easy to understand, for it is multifaceted and runs deep beneath the veneer of civilization and the soul of man. However, as Richard Slaughter points out, “understanding” is not the only obstacle to meeting this challenge of the future: denial, greed, collective shortsightedness and forgetfulness, and a lack of political will also further complicate an already difficult situation. As a matter of fact, the situation and prospect for humanity’s future is more than just “difficult” – it represents the gravest crisis ever – just at the time of its birth as a global entity; it is, indeed, the “biggest wakeup call in history.”
This “wakeup call” will either result in birth or miscarriage for humanity, depending on our response; thus, it is imperative that “we,” as the people of this planet, not only understand the nature of the crisis but collectively confront it before “time” runs out – a critical factor that Dr. Slaughter brings to our attention poignantly; we are in a race against time, a race that we are currently losing, so “time” is a luxury we cannot afford as we continue haphazardly on a “business-as-usual” path to a questionable future.
Dr. Richard A. Slaughter, a well-known, pivotal figure in the interdisciplinary field known as “futures studies,” is the author of several foundational books in this still emerging and relatively unknown field; now, with the publication of The Biggest Wake Up Call in History, he has consolidated and expanded his prognosis on the predicament of industrial civilization in a masterful way that reaches beyond the field of futures studies to a broader audience. This is a “must read” book for anyone who cares about the future of humanity and our planet, which is currently imperiled by a destructive pathology – the modus operandi behind the unsustainable growth paradigm of this civilization.
The Biggest Wake Up Call in History draws upon a wide range of works within and outside of futures studies, all of which have in various ways spelled out the predicament and perils of the path of unsustainable growth. Slaughter, however, does not merely repeat previous warnings but probes into social psychology to question why it is that these important works have, hitherto, for the most part, either been ignored, dismissed, or unfairly attacked and distorted. One example he gives particular attention to is the Limits to Growth (LtG) research project of the Meadows’ team and the Club of Rome during the early 1970s and in the two subsequent updates since then. Slaughter revisits the LtG studies to determine whether the “overshoot and collapse” conclusion of the report is based on solid evidence and, if so, asks what this implies. In other words, if the research is indeed based on solid evidence, how then are we to interpret the poor reception and unfair attack on its conclusion and overall message?
Upon revisiting the LtG studies, Dr. Slaughter finds its fundamental thesis and science quite intact and still valid almost 40 years since the initial publication. Despite the criticism and rejection it has received, he points out that critics nit-picking over numerical assumptions about the limits of the earth often overlook a “crucial insight” that a combination of “population growth, agricultural production, resource depletion, industrial output, and pollution would lead to the collapse of civilization unless limits to growth were observed before [my emphasis] they became compelling.” In other words, the study was not all “gloom and doom” as it has often been misrepresented; instead, it asserted that humanity has been afforded a window of opportunity to prevent the scenario of overshoot and collapse – the central message of LtG. However, almost 40 years later, the time capital has been nearly spent as the window is closing; now, humanity is very likely already living in the “overshoot” mode.
The time for misplaced faith in technological fixes is over, states Slaughter, for “fixes” serve to only postpone the inevitable overshoot and collapse of industrial civilization; they merely divert attention from the “ultimate problem” – “how to deal with growth within a finite system.” Thus, critics can argue until their faces turn blue about the accuracy of numbers or whether the model “truly” represents the “real world,” etc., but none of that changes the fundamental thesis, its equation and its conclusion.
Yes, the LtG thesis has stood the test of time, and even as Nature herself has validated it since through “developments” in peak oil, fresh water depletion, global climate change, species extinction, overpopulation, and the death of the oceans, the central message of the ground-breaking study was effectively ignored by governments. Dr. Slaughter proffers a couple of reasons for the rejection of LtG. First and foremost, it is simply too mind-blowing and paradigm-shaking for many to digest since it challenges the holy grail of capitalism, the imperative of the economy – its powering dynamic of “growth.” Also, perhaps, the authors of LtG, at least in the beginning, did not fully recognize the personal, social, and cultural implications of the stark, bold truth that they were presenting. Nevertheless, as Slaughter relates, they were neither shrill nor defensive as they stood their ground, unflinching through the years of criticism, “clear about their values and open about their methodology.”
One of the most important lessons Slaughter draws from the LtG series is how vital social foresight is to the survival of civilization; indeed, he writes, it has become “a structural necessity.” A limited time to respond to danger signals and a limited capacity of the Earth to withstand ever-increasing pressures are factors that an unlimited growth-obsessed civilization ignores at its own peril. Delays in response only serve to decrease the time frame and limit the choices needed to change direction and momentum, for systemic changes take decades to implement and realize. Even when social foresight is recognized, its long-term policy recommendations heeded, and major decisions made to change direction of the economic system towards sustainability, these major systemic changes still need decades to shift the momentum of a course that has been rapidly accelerating since the advent of the industrial revolution.
However, if social foresight and the long-term perspective have not yet even been made a player at the table of decision-makers, given the urgency of this civilizational crisis, what is to be done? In response to this question, Dr. Slaughter recommends that we address the institutionalized culture of denial first through the recognition that “overshoot and collapse” is no longer a “distant hypothesis” but is now a “structural reality” of the world we live in. This recognition is not necessarily a “gloom and doom” conclusion but can, to the contrary, represent new prospects for humanity’s future; moreover, since the notion of “collapse” is by no means “monolithic” or “settled,” it represents an area for further inquiry and exploration as a “transitional” period towards sustainability. More importantly, however, in order to comprehensively confront and address the global problematique and civilizational crisis during this “overshoot” period of globalized society, Dr. Slaughter believes that an integral approach is crucial.
The four-quadrant, integral perspective and approach is mostly based on the philosophy of Ken Wilber. Because integral theory is a comprehensive worldview that offers more breadth and depth to one’s perspective, valuing “interiors” as well as “exteriors,” Slaughter believes that it is the best way to address the global problematique and the issue of civilizational transformation, which is not merely a matter of finding economic, scientific, and technological innovations but also involves an understanding of the “interiors” of society too – its “human and social drivers.”
Richard Slaughter realizes that this is a daunting task, for it involves not only scientific, technological, ecological, and economic understandings and breakthroughs but also involves a deeper confrontation of who we are as a people, what we value most in life, and what kind of world we want to create for future generations. This issue of “values” is at the very heart of the problem, and we need to reconstruct our values in order to muster the courage to connect what we know from the science to the political will to act effectively together. We will need to implement radical changes in the design of infrastructure and the rapid deployment of new technologies, yet how can this happen unless we gain deeper insights into who we are as a people and culture? Without a transformation within, social transformation is impossible, and conventional sources do not seem capable of providing the necessary reserves of “courage, energy, and capacity” that are required; however, as Dr. Slaughter demonstrates in “Part II” of the book, the integral perspective and worldview is a promising strategy to meet this challenge.
The Biggest Wake Up Call in History truly lives up to its title and is a book for our time. Its penetrating analysis of our current and future predicament is comprehensive and uncompromising, and its message is urgent. Nevertheless, it does not succumb to “doom and gloom”; instead, it offers an authentic way to social transformation and a transition to a new future. The answers are not easy, as there are no shortcuts to evolution and transformation, but what is sorely needed at this time is a “wakeup call” so that we can begin to recognize the scope of the crisis and work towards authentic solutions that are, at the same time, “interior” as well as “exterior” in nature. The Biggest Wake Up Call in History indeed delivers that “wakeup call,” and it is now up to humanity to respond.
Dennis R. Morgan
Associate Professor, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea.
Review of The Biggest Wake Up Call in History by Richard A. Slaughter, Foresight International, 2010. Yvonne Curtis The Biggest Wake Up Call in History moves the climate change and “the end of the lifestyle we are used to” debates into new territory. Slaughter does not continue to debate as to whether climate change is happening and if the present historically rapid warming is largely man induced. He starts from the assumption that humanity is facing a world that is slipping deeper and deeper into a crisis and that many resources that had been considered infinite are actually finite and are approaching exhaustion.
Slaughter focuses on how we might be able to harness and use our human ability to understand changing situations. To enable decisions about which everyday practices will affect our collective situation for better or worse, to more effectively provide hope for the future.
For although he agrees the outlook is bleak, he asserts that that outlook is still not a given and that our main hope lies not only in new technologies that fascinate most, but as well in our human capacity to imagine possible futures that will enhance our well being in the long-term. His reading and analysis of a range of climate change literature found this human focused perspective missing in much of the often-quoted literature published to date.
Having set the scene, Slaughter then demonstrates that using some of the tools of the Integral Method of futuring can provide a new way of examining the global crisis to find new drivers and ideas that might speed up human initiated actions that will really make a difference.
As Slaughter states in the preface:
“I’ve found an Integral perspective useful as it is perhaps most able to provide a panoramic and in-depth view of the human and civilisational prospects confronting. As a perspective and method it is constantly evolving. To the extent the present work succeeds, it is to no little extent a result of the power, depth and inclusiveness that the Integral perspective offers.”
Part One: Understanding the Problem
The book is in two parts with the first section setting the background and scope of the global problem. But this is discussed in a different framework to most earlier climate change or peak oil literature, as it focuses more on human responses rather than the science or technical aspects.
For example, because climate change is complex and has been mainly happening too slowly, it is difficult for most people in the developed world to link it to their everyday lives. While for those in developing nations and for the poor, their circumstances mean that their priorities must be focussed on just surviving day-to-day. These human realities are just as important as finding new technologies, or setting new regulations to address the crisis, as human responses will be the ultimate determining factors of which of the possible futures becomes the reality.
The chapter headings and subheadings give a good indication of how Slaughter presents this background. For example Chapter 2 Conventional responses with sub headings Business as usual; Reality avoidance and universal advertising; and Missed and misused signals.
Most of the material in the first section was not new to me, but I enjoyed and appreciated how Slaughter put the various aspects together to help clarify some of the complexity. Chapter 5 reminded me that I was also guilty as many others in underestimating the power of the “collective shadow”, exemplified by those in any community who, at times, engage in thoughtless activities that can harm many, but also those who deliberately resort to crime and promote anarchy. He includes a sub heading, The fantasy economy, in this chapter. It is not helpful to try to be charitable and not factor in these negative human activities as significant hurdles as part of any solution.
Part Two: The Search for Solutions
The first chapter in this section introduces Slaughter’s reframing of the ‘problem’, an introduction to the Integral method tools he uses to analyse some significant recent literature looking at climate change and community collapse, and the findings from this analysis. The most significant fact is that Slaughter’s analysis indicates that of the fourteen texts analysed, all bar one, engage with only two of the four irreducible perspectives of how humans view the world. They consider only the exterior physical world and to a lesser extent the interior world of cultures etc, with little notice taken of the interior world of each individual or of their exterior world of human action and behaviour. So that most of the solutions look only at technical and, to limited extent, cultural responses to climate change and limitations of resources.
He goes on to point out that no matter how compelling the facts, it is the humans who are going to initiate any action. Also that a person’s understanding, the level of their capacity to reason, and their cultural setting will limit these actions. For individuals, he defines four levels of complexity through which reality is perceived. To these, for the individual, when considered as part of a community, he adds four further levels for collective worldviews. At the individual level they range from very self focussed to those who see their spiritual self linked with others at many levels, and at the collective level they range from very traditional communities to those that are subtle, tolerant and open to the new.
Having established this lack in the current literature he then continues in Part Two to explore options that help open out possible new paths to action. One hurdle that Slaughter sees as preventing action is the fixation on continual growth being needed for success and well-being. The imperative to multiply is a basic life characteristic that drives all living creatures, but Slaughter points out this has been distorted and exaggerated in the West in the recent past, by the rise of the industrial culture and the accompanying myths and symbols that it is based on. These need to be replaced by different myths and symbols.
Life without oil, and fewer material things tend to be perceived as an inferior option for the future and as a failure for society, but that is only when defined by the present myths. It will not be going back to “old” ways but going forward differently with the new knowledge we now have that allows the creation of new myths. Part of being able to do this, is to clearly identify the current myths and why we are trapped by these myths. Slaughter uses material from K. Farnish (Times’s Up, Darington, Green Books, 2009) as an example:
“Some of the strategies—or ‘tools of disconnection’— are, he[Farnish] suggests, in common use by the powerful to keep people subjected to the current system. They are listed in Figure 8.3.
Reward us for being good consumers
Make us feel good for doing trivial things
Give us selected freedoms
Pretend we have a choice
Sell us a dream
Exploit our trust
Lie to us
Abuse us, and
Give us (false) hope.
Figure 8.3 Tools of disconnection”
The wealth of material and ideas in this section is again not easily put in a few words but chapter headings and subheadings give a hint of the scope of the suggestions for solutions. For example Chapter 7 Beyond collapse – an emerging narrative with subheadings, Peak oil and the global energy dilemma; Paths not taken; and Beyond gloom and doom.
In Chapter 11 he moves the narrative from vision to action with the following reflection;
“As I’m sure the reader is keenly aware, the central point of this book is that we need as individuals, societies, cultures and a global community to recognise the dilemma that we have collectively created. That is, to bring it to full awareness where the implications are not only visible but also unavoidable. It is only by so doing that we can develop the clarity of understanding and purpose that precedes action. If we remain unmoved we will indeed see the biggest civilisational crash ever experienced on this planet and the rapid onset of a dark age that could last for centuries—and perhaps forever. This can—and often is—read as a cause for anxiety, depression and hopelessness. Viewed, however, as a ‘wake up call’ we’ve seen that many other responses are not only possible, they actually constitute a personal and civilisational escape route. The crucial point is this. If we truly understand what is at stake and what there is to lose, if we have any feeling at all for the ethics of mass extinctions, and if we have any real concern for future generations then it does not take a huge stretch of imagination to recognise that new and renewed motives can begin to emerge and to exert pervasive effects. That is, under the pressure of insight and ethics, necessity and responsibility, powerful new forces may be emerging in the upper left and lower left domains [Wilber quantrants]. These arguably represent our best hopes for bringing about the necessary changes in current ways of life.”
Slaughter then goes on to expand on this statement and suggest the role that futures studies might have in, and in particular how the tools of the Integral method are central to, the process of finding ways that help us actually make these changes. He concludes the chapter with a brief overview of ways which three individuals he considers have “walked the talk”.
Slaughter’s final pages of Conclusion reiterate his reasons for strongly encouraging considered urgency in addressing these major global issues. He notes that new climate events are happening, new information gathered and new insights emerging that need to be added and contextualised constantly. His final sentence is tantalisingly sublimely simple.
Quite simply, it’s time to wake up and take collective responsibility for what happens next.
The Biggest Wake Up Call in History is the latest in Richard Slaughter’s line of foundational writing in future studies. I read and use Richard’s earlier scholarly compilations regularly. They have served me well as signposts and cornerstones in my understanding of futures studies, and the value of different techniques for constructively thinking about the future, that provide a sound base for action. Over the years he has consistently expanded the boundaries of the current future studies theories and methods to produce material that, I think, help more accurately identify likely nasty surprises in the future that, with the insight gained, can be better managed.
The challenge is to be able to get the messages in the book to as wide an audience as possible. Just as he identified reasons why earlier texts have not had the impact they should this publication is also limited in the audience it is likely to appeal too.
I consider The Biggest Wake Up Call in History a must read for all who are interested in future studies and those in academia. It is the foundation for them to then write the different stories needed to reach people where we are, to help us move from our present passive paradigm, to actively build our new future.
Futures Thinking Aotearoa (NZ Futures Trust)
The road “must” traveled, from collapse via awareness to action A review of “The Biggest Wakeup Call in History” How many times and how many ways do we need to hear that we are part of a group that behaves as if our planet has no limits? Given the multifarious choir of voices trying to get us to wake up, and the plethora of books sited In The Biggest Wake Up Call in History, one would think that results would be more visible. It is clear from all the evidence around us that we are still not getting the message, at least not in large enough numbers to bring us, in time, to a critical mass. Author Richard Slaughter PhD writes in the great cross-disciplinary tradition of the field of futures and critical futures studies. This time he writes for a general audience with the goal of raising individuals’ consciousness about the effects of climate change, peak oil and the concept of unabated growth.
A prominent academic futurist and author, Slaughter begins with an extrapolated warning based upon current trends. He is not alone in painting a dystopian view at the beginning of his book, as it is the structural and pedagogical method of most books of this genre. We might call the genre paradigm change literature which includes books that reveal the patterns behind our increasingly negative experiences with the economy, environment, social cohesion, weather and more. These patterns are continuations from a period before anyone now living was born.
Slaughter’s dystopian view is by far the most frightening because he has the courage to describe not what might occur (which can be dismissed as a future situation) but that “we are in fact already right in the middle of a planetary emergency with no simple solutions, no easy exits”. It would be expected that Slaughter, the futurist, would be talking about future visions; instead he presents evidence that the fall of the current paradigm has already begun. Even though many realize that it is the rich who contribute to the excesses causing our planetary crisis, it will not be the rich who first experience the devastating effects of planetary collapse, it is the poor and they are experiencing it now. We need to understand what we are facing and work together on a social and global plan. The urgency with which he sees the problems forces him to say, “Anything less will consign our children to a `war footing´…”.
Richard Slaughter’s book not only warns us, but goes to great length to help us understand the interior work we need to do. As a beginning, he points out the “conventional responses” or rationalizations we make in response to planetary crash in order to encourage us begin to evaluate our own inner discourse. Two of the five conventional responses are to opt to hope for the best or see technology as the answer. One of the author’s responses is “…there’s simply no prospect of resolving the situation by any technical fix whatsoever.”p.17
The scope of any book is the responsibility of the author and Slaughter has chosen to focus one chapter upon what he calls the collective shadow (destructive or illegal characteristics) which originates from the shadowy parts of each one of us. He shows how this unproductive behavior, of which we all are guilty, hinders us in the slowing of climate change and the increase of climate awareness. In addition to the collective shadow, one could have given time to any one of a number of human orientations that inhibit or facilitate change such as: subjugation to nature/master over nature, past to future, collective/individual and male/female orientations all of which have been researched by Florence Kluckhohn and Geert Hofstede.
As this is a book review, something might be said about the book’s organization. Slaughter is a competent pedagogue, and that is reflected in the structure of the book. He tells us what he is going to tell us, tells us what he wishes to impart and then summarizes what has been said. This occurs at the beginning of the book and at the beginning and end of each chapter. While tiresome, probably since I have read many similar books, it was helpful and a first time reader of paradigm change literature might find it necessary given the complexity of the subject.
Slaughter mentions, in several places, that the population rise that has been going on for thousands of years will be abruptly affected by climate change. He does not go into detail and he is not alone in treading lightly upon this subject. A truly open discussion could unlock doors to polarizing debates that could derail the small advances made in environmental awareness. At some point in time we are going to have to come to grips with the simultaneous deaths of multi-millions of people, the result of catastrophes to which we have all contributed.
The first part of the book was given to helping the reader understand the problem. One part of that understanding was expressed through two chapters titled “Is Overshoot and Collapse credible?”and “Contexts and extremes of overshoot”. Overshoot and collapse are terms from systems theory. With the exception of books written expressly on systems thinking, most authors in the global change literature genre do not go into or only allude to systems theory or systems thinking. It is, however, necessary to understanding complex problems and these two chapters present many general readers with a framework for seeing how the problems of today relate within a system. It is this reviewer’s opinion that knowledge of systems thinking will be the way many people will be able to identify and move on from the linear, mechanistic paradigm. It is the paradigm that has supported the systems that many culture groups and countries have been using for thousands of years. Hopefully, it will also move them to a complex, relativistic paradigm that takes us from growth based values to balance based values. The books presentation of systems work gave just enough information without being confusing.
The most important difference in this book from others in the genre is the presentation of a model or framework for understanding how individual human beings internalize and react to the concept of climate change and environmental degradation. Much thoughtfulness has been given to describing a rather complex process which includes four windows to reality and four levels of complexity (approaches to the world) shown in their hierarchy of internal development. Twenty cognitive lines are mentioned and one is described in detail, the values line. The stage and value level most relevant to mitigating a climate crisis is called integral. This framework is intended as a way forward “to deal with the interlocking series of problems facing us.”
However, there was one inconsistency that deserves mention. The above framework for understanding how individuals internalize and react to climate change and collapse is made up of hierarchical elements. Scattered freely throughout the book are various forms of the word “to develop”. Webster dictionary definitions of the word “develop” are applied to many situations. There are at least eighteen explanatory examples as to its usage, some of which are: to cause to unfold or expand/grow gradually, to bring into being, to make available or effective, to progress from earlier to later stages of individual maturation, or from simpler to more complex. The use of forms of the word “develop”, like the use of the word hierarchical, implies starting from somewhere and moving up a path to an improved or higher destination. This linear thinking dangerously underlies all the concepts of the linear paradigm. The Biggest Wake Up Call in History is faced with the dilemma of using linear concepts to explain a non-linear way of thinking.
Sprinkled throughout the book are the author’s references to futures studies and futures analysis, his primary fields of study. It is good to relate the work of futurists to the work that needs to be done in understanding the global crisis and possible scenarios that may arise. Many futurists, particularly consulting futurists, face the dilemma of delivering futures work within the existing paradigm or not being heard at all, effectively excluding all but cursory references to system collapse. Even given a variety of scenarios, far too often all of the scenarios are based in the same paradigm. A much smaller number of futurists have linked their understandings gained from environmental scanning, paradigm shifts, systems thinking and ecological actualities to their own values resulting in a need to save the planet. Richard Slaughter is one of these futurists and in the near-future I hope he will be joined by others of us who also see the dire necessity to push human change and awareness not only to save humanity, but to save the whole intricate system that has built up over billions of years. That system has an integrity that deserves to be respected for its own sake. Futurists can be instrumental in helping individuals to move from dishonoring that integrity to honoring and respecting it.
Praying (and working) for time
These days it is quite common that books include appealing remarks on the back cover; slogans like: “a must read!”, “the book of the decade!”, “ an instant classic” and other such variations. I can easily picture some of these messages on Richard Slaughter’s book. It could be something like “a call to our conscience”, or maybe a bit more dramatic, “humanity last chance for a future!”, or focussing on the empirical kind, “an astounding recollection of data and information”. Any of these would be true as many others we could think of, and yet any of these slogans would be extremely unfaithful to the book. For the book it would imply falling into the very dynamics it is trying to identify in the first place.
I will try to explain my position. In part I, Slaughter devotes all required time to expose the deep causes of Earth’s distress. I can only imagine the painstaking process to obtain and assess all required data, the discipline to review systematically every contribution that confirms, or refutes, the working hypothesis, the determination to substantiate the diagnosis beyond any legitimate doubt. It would be like distilling one of those liquors in which you have to invest a considerable amount of resources, time and patience to produce a concentrated nectar. I can picture Richard not being satisfied with preliminary results, looking for additional data, for the newer input, for the last insight. In part II, the futurist returns to analyze the alternatives in front of us, the different options we do have and the implications that go with them. I’ll get back to both parts, at this point I just can say this is an awesome book, not merely for the quality and quantity of the work, but for the energy it inspires. This is truly one of those books in which you can feel the personal investment of the author, the kind of dedication it demands to get through it. In other words, this book is not made to please us, but to make us think; I do hope that it becomes a best seller, but it could not be further removed from the “The Da Vinci Code”.
I have to admit that reviewing this book has been a hard task for me. Being familiar with Slaughter’s previous work, I was warned, he has seldom been easy to read; although I’m not sure if that has been because English is not my mother language (something you are crudely aware of by now), or because I have been lacking the required brains (something I do hope you are not aware of by now). In any case, my guess is that in the competition between rigor and amenity, Slaughter has always opted for the first, meaning that he has always been worth reading but has often demanded a toll for it. Yet that is not the case with this book. This time I was able to read it more easily than any of his earlier works. I would say that he has done an extraordinary in job trying to be as understandable and easy-to-read as possible. When I referred to the hardship of reviewing I meant it left me devastated (especially part I). You see, I consider myself a well-informed person. I’ve read quite extensively on these matters and I am pretty familiar with many of the figures used in the book. Even more, I have been trying to make my own contribution for some years. I rehabilitated my home to make it more efficient. I have significantly reduced my resource consumption (and that of my family) and I certainly would like to leave a livable world for my children. However, after reading part I, I understood that what I do in favour of the planet is insignificant in relation to the many other things that I do (supposedly in an unconscious manner) that harm the Earth. Not only that, reading the book implies shattering this sort of comfortable illusion in which we have placed ourselves so we can happily live in negation, advancing to our self-extinction.
I can imagine that some readers of this piece would think: “another of these doom prophets!” My challenge to them is to read the book and then see if they can keep on dismissing the evidence so easily. Slaughter goes, layer by layer, deeper and deeper, trying to understand why we have decided to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution, why we have chosen to sacrifice the long-term future for short term profit. The answer seems to be: because of self-imposed ignorance and greed. The short version of the diagnosis would be that a perverse combination of economic, social, cultural and political factors have allowed us to break the picture into a myriad of minor parts that, individually considered, reduce the challenge dimension and, more important, provide a source of credible denial for all involved. And yet, there is a striking contradiction with other issues – security for instance. According to the 1% doctrine , a mere 1% probability of a terrorist attack justifies any required measure to stop it. But then why are so many governments reluctant to take measures in relation to a subject whose potential impact is much, much more significant, deep and lasting?
As I have said, this is a tough read because most of us have chosen in one way or another, to fall for the more common deception – to accept that maybe the diagnosis is wrong, that perhaps the data was badly processed, that we probably have more time than they say, so on so forth. I know that in some cases I have ceased, given up and have stopped arguing because it was easier and I did not want to be left out. But don’t get me wrong, the book certainly does not advocate for all of us to become some sort of apostles of the new enlightenment. Rather, it asks us to understand, to uncover, the mechanisms that explain why this has been possible and, then, to react to them collectively. It is a tragic paradox that the more we focus on the short term the more we erode the possibility of having a long-term future. It is what the Spanish philosopher Daniel Innerarity calls as “presentism” a powerful mindset that prevents us from thinking about the long-term future .
Part II deals with the pressing questions, what we could – or even better – should do? Slaughter points to a key question: the need to develop an Integral perspective; that is an outlook that includes science but that also taps in on other forms of traditional wisdom. The goal is to attain what can be defined as “accelerated psychic development” which – in time – could support a further enlightenment, not only based on knowledge but on values as well, that we so desperately need. Actually what Slaughter suggests is very close to the tenets of Post-normal science as defined by Funtowicz and Ravetz ; something that should not be surprising as they also created their theory in part through an environmental outlook. In any case if what Funtowicz and Ravetz have defined is that kind of thinking applicable to situations in which “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decision urgent” we can see the commonality with Slaughter’s work. No matter which perspective you take, the conclusion is basically the same: it’s urgent to develop new knowledge so we can act effectively upon the deep issues that are endangering our own survival.
Slaughter’s main fear seems to be that we may already be too late. At this point some degree of trauma seems unavoidable, yet in the process of going from bad to worse we may lose a great deal more. Hence there can be no excuse for not seeking to move into the right direction. So yes, the song comes to my mind “maybe we should all be praying for time” although from the author’s perspective, merely praying would not suffice unless we back up the prayers with concerted action.
To finish this review I would only add my recommendation: read the book, by all means! If you think that you already know enough, read it anyway because it will provide you with plenty of additional insight and useful data. If you don’t know, do it because we need everybody informed and aware of the challenge. If you want to change things, do it because it may well help to give you a sense of purpose and direction. And if you do not want things to change, do it precisely because not doing anything will result in the greatest change of all.
Jordi Serra del Pino
Periscopi de prospectiva i estratègia, Barcelona, Spain.
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
The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History This is the most arresting title I have seen on a book in a long while. I was compelled to read it. Richard A Slaughter has in my opinion written an important book here. It is about the “civilisational moment” we find ourselves in at the be... Read More
Futures for the Third Millennium: enabling the forward view Richard A Slaughter, Prospect Media, Sydney, 1999, 381 pp. + x Reviewed by Richard Bawden It is always a pleasure to review anything written by Richard Slaughter, as he is one of but few voices in this country to w... Read More
Time is Running Out to Save Planet Earth. Review of The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History In the days of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, people lived in fear of a hypothetical nuclear world war that would obliterate human civilization. Today, civilization’s end is no longer hypothetic... Read More
Education for the 21st Century Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter This is a 'benchmark' book for the future of education in Australia. The authors are already well regarded in the field of education and this book will stand beside Sleepers Wake by Barry Jones and Hugh Mackay's... Read More
The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History There are many books that describe climate change and the problems that the world faces due to industrial growth and pollution, but few have tackled the problem from anything other than an environmental or scientific perspective. Richard Slaugh... Read More
Futures in Education: Principles, Practice and Potential, Gidley, G., Bateman, D. & Smith, C. Commissioning Editor Slaughter, R. AFI Monograph Series, No. 5. 2004. Swinburne University, Melbourne. 94 pp. + viii. The AFI monograph, Futures in Education: Principles, practice an... Read More