Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


Five Degrees Hotter? A quick reality check

Sunday 9 December 2012

As a Strategic Futurist I love a good scenario like the rest of us in the futures community. And where I choose to diverge from many in my field is in the pragmatic applications of futures and foresight thinking. Scenarios left as 'what ifs...?' are at best, theoretical. All of my clients and most of the audience who've seen me present know that I am first and foremost a pragmatist – I want to know what you are going to do as a result of what you perceive your future potential to be.

An article in The Age on the 8th of December, authored by Adam Morton, Ben Cubby, Tom Arup and Nicky Phillips under the heading '5 Degrees Hotter?' depicts a highly plausible future if, as science is now suggesting, we extend global warming well beyond the oft stated '2 degree' cut-off point, before things start getting well out of hand.

Dry spells, heat stress, flash floods, food issues and more all paint a less then comfortable view of Australia's potential future. Unfortunately I sense a bit too much 'either / or' thinking which perhaps is a result of a lack of room for providing a bit more depth to the story. The article is here 

In theoretical scenarios we are told a future, but rarely do we engage in the 'how will we likely respond?' discussions, which is what shifts futures thinking from theory to practise (at least it shifts gears toward pragmatic action). This is why the VAST majority of scenario thinking in Australia and arguably around the world, is in my opinion, at best theoretical. Can be interesting, can be fun, can be 'oh wow' and 'oh geez' but rarely does it ask for 'What will we do now?'

I've seen country towns fall for the trap of a scenario process that never gets to the 'okay, what are we going to do about it?' stage. I've seen Visioning process that (unusually) create multiple competing Visions for the one entity, ensuring NONE of them will ever be achieved. I've seen large corporations develop extremely well defined and in-depth scenarios, only to gain minimal advantage because the pragmatic stage has either been ignored, or the mental shift required to take advantage of the opportunities threatens the 'this is the way we do things here' model of operation. Normally the fault lies in the process, not the intention.

Which is why I'm a Strategic Futurist – I want an explicit link between what you perceive could happen and what preparations and actions you will take as a result.

So let me talk about the idea of human agency, the pragmatic action stuff of future potential as considered in the 5 Degrees Hotter article.

Food production will take place in Vertical Farms which can better manage water and nutrient supply, produce crop yields year round and be sited near to where the majority of people now live. Production of livestock based proteins will be an extremely expensive process due to heat stress and, water usage and fodder limitations. Simply put, costs will see us change our diets. Yes and I know we aren't too far away from the 'dish derived proteins' – a.k.a Lab Grown Meat.

The beach may be less conducive to relaxation in summer due to the heat, but people will respond by swimming earlier in the day, later in the evening and more often during the Autumn and Spring months. Of course don't get me started about what swimming at dawn and dusk might mean for sharks without reliable food supplies, but hey, we adapt or not and assume the risks with each action we choose.

The second airport in Sydney will have been opened for at least 40 years by the time we reach 2100 so flooding a runway at Mascot will be less of an issue. What will be an issue is production of biofuels for planes in the first place.

Home designs will be significantly different to capture below the ground cooling options which will off-set power consumption of air conditioners, (increasingly be priced out of the market) as well as new roof designs to provide more shade and protection from hail storms and lightening strikes. Expect to see significant retro-fitting of house stock and suburban city design to cater for the extreme (yet more normal) weather events. Municipalities will also change their approach to local infrastructure and planning laws to cater for changing usage needs for locals (they need to start that planning and design process sooner rather than later)

Pragmatic futures thinking takes the theory and says 'now what?' For the past 15 years the Insurance Council of Australia have been factoring in weather events in the 'housing belt' that takes in Southern Queensland down through to Newcastle and pricing accordingly. That housing belt will stretch and widen in coming years, yet people still think that global warming can be avoided. The Insurance industry is already on the front foot of the issue of 'mitigation'.

Whilst the 5 Degrees Hotter scenario is pretty uncomfortable, it is highly plausible. But not all of us will stand still and merely watch. What pushes my curiosity buttons is how many of us will act and how soon.

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