Friday, January 07, 2011

Gazing into the crystal ball: prognostications will continue to be popular

Recently, I considered one of the moral dangers of attempting to predict the future, namely, hubris, a mistaken alignment to the future that elides the priority of human receptivity over (re)action. However, there is a further difficulty in picturing the future, particularly at the scale of society: difficulty.

Making concrete predictions of likely or possible global scenarios over the next five, ten, twenty, fifty years is a difficult well-nigh impossible task, yet it doesn't stop plenty of people from trying. For example, The Guardian has just published 20 predictions of the next 25 years. At the moment, there are parts in a number of these scenarios that I find plausible and others I find fairly unlikely (including for instance key elements of the second and ninth). Yet the great problem with predictions of this nature (taking one arena of the present world and trying to explain what it might look like in 25 years) is that no arena is an island. Few of these scenarios seem to have thought deeply about the possible interconnections between some of these fields. How could possible political backlash over deteriorating energy security affect banking? Or how might worsening climate change affect attitudes and policies towards fossil fuels?

Here's Michael Tobis making another attempt at what the next few decades might look like. Michael predicts the collapse of industrial civilisation and is called an optimist for saying it won't be before 2030. Feel free to provide links in the comments to other specific predictions of coming decades.

I reflected back here on the shortcomings and benefits of such activities. However, at the moment I don't think I'm willing to make any predictions more specific than that the next few decades are likely to be very bumpy indeed.

One exception to this I'm happy to make is that such prognostications are likely to continue to be popular for the foreseeable future. And that most of them will be wrong.


byron smith said...

Jeremy notices 5 obstacles to economic growth [in the UK] in 2011, and so goes against 77 of the top 78 economists in the UK.

byron smith said...

Richard Heinberg: The limits of trends. Some useful reflections on the difficulties and inherent limits on thinking about the future by extrapolating present trends.

byron smith said...

8 ways the world will change by 2052. I note some of my disagreements in the comments, but it is an interesting exercise, if for no other reason than to bring various assumptions out into the open.