Report from Earth, by Argon Desaki, Jason Silver, & Alan Walworth
“Argon Desaki, a graduate student undertaking field research for a dissertation on the evolution of intelligent life, finds himself marooned on a planet whose inhabitants’ intelligence impresses him less than their arrogance. Problems proliferate on this planet. Disruptive technologies are rapidly advancing. Greenhouse gas emissions, already dangerously high, are growing. Government is ineffective. Apathy is widespread. There are shortages of time and wisdom. And Argon’s partner, Snilya, has disappeared.
Exploring this problematic reality, wandering through a bewildering wilderness of facts mingled with fiction, Argon finds an ideal path toward solution of the planet’s problems and his own: a revolutionary Silicon Valley startup that turns dreams into reality.”
Whole Earth Discipline, by Stewart Brand, originator of The Whole Earth Catalog. (There is an online annotated version, containing footnotes with links to sources plus much of the text of the print version.)
From Animals into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari – A thought-provoking overview of human history. As the title suggests, Harari concludes that humans will soon be radically transformed into some new sort of being due to technological advances including genetic engineering and integration of physical devices with human bodies (modern hearing aids and prostheses are just the beginning). To his credit, he recognizes the future is highly unpredictable, and ends with a cautionary note:
“We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. … We are… wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.
Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied, irresponsible, and ignorant gods who don’t know what they want?”
The Hebrew version of this book was a best seller in Israel. As of May 2014, the English version is out of print. As of July 2016, the following chapters are available online:
Retitled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, what appears to be essentially the same book was published February 10, 2015.
Engaging with Climate Change – Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Sally Weintrobe ed. – Despite a strong psychoanalytic flavor many may find distasteful, this book contains some ideas worth considering, such as the analysis of climate change denial as consisting of three different forms, Denialism, Negation, and Disavowal. This book is quite expensive for 280 pages (over $100 for the hardcover, $37.52 for the ebook), so it appears to have found few readers. The sole reviewer on Amazon confesses to “not having read it myself.” (The analysis of forms of denial is — as of 5/23/2014 — available free with some other selections here.)
JOURNALS, ARTICLES, REPORTS, & RESOURCE LISTS
Outline of futures studies, a Wikipedia article, contains lists of futures studies concepts, organizations, research centers, academic programs, periodicals, and futurologists. It’s a good starting point for a survey of the field.
Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?, Lester R. Brown, Scientific American, May 2009
Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world, Robert Bailey, Oxfam, June 2011 – “New research commissioned for this report paints a grim picture of what a future of worsening climate change and increasing resource scarcity holds for hunger. It predicts international price rises of key staples in the region of 120 to 180 per cent by 2030. This will prove disastrous for food importing poor countries, and raises the prospect of a wholesale reversal in human development.”
Climate Story of the Year: Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security, Joe Romm, ClimateProgress, Dec. 21, 2011
Carbon Tax Center “Earth’s climate is changing in costly and painful ways. Yet we’ve barely started transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy and efficiency. Many factors stand in the way, including this: the price signals are too weak. The prices of fossil fuels don’t come close to reflecting their true costs. This puts clean efficiency and renewables at a stark disadvantage. A robust and briskly rising U.S. carbon tax will reduce the emissions that are driving global warming and generate revenue to pay for cutting regressive taxes that thwart job-creation.”
Center for the Study of Existential Risk, at University of Cambridge. “The Centre for Study of Existential Risk is an interdisciplinary research centre focused on the study of human extinction-level risks that may emerge from technological advances. We aim to combine key insights from the best minds across disciplines to tackle the greatest challenge of the coming century: safely harnessing our rapidly-developing technological power.”
Citizens’ Climate Lobby “The purposes of Citizens Climate Lobby are to 1) create the political will for a stable climate and 2) to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.”
Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) Mission: “To catalyze, support, and disseminate research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.”
FQXi is running an essay contest on “How Should Humanity Steer the Future?” Qualifying entries are posted here. Unfortunately, the quality of entries is disappointing. One proposes solving the world’s energy problems with cold fusion. Another informs us that “The speed of light cannot be a fixed linear or binary computed mean number of meters or number of miles per second. … Obviously, everything visible must be traveling at the same constant speed, otherwise it would be impossible to see anything.” Philip Gibbs’ entry Open Peer Review to Save the World is of some interest.
Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford – “The Future of Humanity Institute… enables a select set of leading intellects to bring the tools of mathematics, philosophy, and science to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects.”
The Future of Life Institute – “FLI catalyzes and supports research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges.”
FutureTimeline.net “Welcome to the future! Below, you will find a speculative timeline of future history. Part fact and part fiction, the timeline is based on detailed research – including analysis of current trends, long-term environmental changes, advances in technology such as Moore’s Law, future medical breakthroughs, the evolving geopolitical landscape and much more. Where possible, references have been provided to support the predictions. FutureTimeline is an ongoing, collaborative project that is open for discussion – we welcome ideas from scientists, futurists, inventors, writers and anyone else interested in futurology.”
Global Change Program, University of Michigan – “the topic of Global Change from physical and human perspectives”
HumanProgress, a project of the Cato Institute, provides a wealth of historical data about human population, health, housing, education, energy, etc.
Institute for the Future “IFTF is an independent, non-profit research organization with a 45-year track record of helping all kinds of organizations make the futures they want. Our core research staff and creative design studio work together to provide practical foresight for a world undergoing rapid change. … We’re based in California’s Silicon Valley—a community at the crossroads of technological innovation, social experimentation, and global interchange. Founded in 1968 by a group of former RAND Corporation researchers with a grant from the Ford Foundation to take leading-edge research methodologies into the public and business sectors, IFTF is committed to building the future by understanding it deeply.”
The Long Now Foundation – “established in 01996 to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years”
The Millenium Project “connects futurists around the world to improve global foresight. It was founded in 1996 after a three-year feasibility study with the United Nations University, Smithsonian Institution, Futures Group International, and the American Council for the UNU. It is now an independent non-profit global participatory futures research think tank of futurists, scholars, business planners, and policy makers who work for international organizations, governments, corporations, NGOs, and universities. The Millennium Project manages a coherent and cumulative process that collects and assesses judgments from over 3,500 people since the beginning of the project, selected by its 50 Nodes around the world. The work is distilled in the annual “State of the Future”, “Futures Research Methodology” series, special studies, and integrated into its Global Futures Intelligence System.”
RSA – “The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce): an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Through its ideas, research and 27,000-strong Fellowship it seeks to understand and enhance human capability so we can close the gap between today’s reality and people’s hopes for a better world.”
SVImpact – “SVImpact works with charitable organizations to help identify technology development opportunities and connect developers to projects they will enjoy and learn from.”
The World Future Society “is a nonprofit educational and scientific organization in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., founded in 1966. The Society investigates how social, economic and technological developments are shaping the future. It helps individuals, organizations, and communities observe, understand and respond to social change appropriately and investigates the benign effects of applying anticipatory thinking to society. … Through its magazine The Futurist, media, meetings, and dialogue among its members, it raises awareness of change and encourages development of creative solutions. The Society takes no official position on what the future may or should be like. … The World Future Society has members distributed world-wide…. Individuals and groups from all nations are eligible to join this society and actively engage in its programs and events. The Society’s annual conference provides opportunities to meet and greet fellow thinkers and to take one- or two-day courses dealing with the future.”
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