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Archive: global warming

January 6th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Innovation | Comments Off

Entering the new year 2012

So, we are back. Had a wonderful holiday in Peru visiting Machu Picchu among other places. Truly an awe inspiring place, matched only by New Zealand’s south island, and parts of the Canadian Rockies for grandeur.

Machu Picchu Christmas Day 2011

We here at Futurist.com continue to work on getting the new site ready to launch. Given that we have years of content and it turns out a rather quirky legacy in terms of some back-room functionality issues, what we thought would be quick and easy has turned out to be a bit harder. We are still hoping to introduce the new look by mid-month, so please stay tuned. We will blog here a bit in the mean time.

Many things are on my mind for 2012 in terms of future issues. Strategic issues include…

    How the rich-poor gap issue in the U.S. and the world will play out this year. Interestingly the Greek historian and biographer Plutarch, who lived from 46-120 AD once made this observation, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Unfortunately, so far the dynamic seems to be mostly that the severely wealthy interpret the current political climate as an attack on them, rather than as a call to re-ignite a system that builds the middle class and lifts up the poor.
    Energy and politics. Last year I forecast that 2011 would be a year in which it would become clear whether we’ve hit peak oil, or not. If it did become clear, the evidence is that we have not hit peak oil. Yet, one must wonder whether all the industry hype about shale plays in gas and oil really mean that a new era of abundance is here, or whether this will turn out to be more hype than reality. A whole lot of public policy and global economic implications are at stake.
    Climate change and global warming. Strangely 2011 was the year that this topic became virtually forbidden in the U.S. Politicians are not allowed to mention it, unless it is to say either they do not believe in climate change, or that the science is still too uncertain to do anything about it. My friend Dennis Walsh, a sustainability futurist from Canada, surprised me the other day by agreeing – saying its past time to talk about climate change, as there is no prospect of a sufficient public response anyway. Instead, he suggested, going forward it will be better to concentrate on raising the issue of planning for weather anomalies and local catastrophes. This is interesting. You’ll be hearing more from Dennis when we launch DoTheFuture.com, which has also been delayed, but will also launch this month.
    Technology dominance. There may still be no more important dynamic in the world than the continued spread of communication technology, namely smart phones and wireless nets. It was strange to stand in Machu Picchu and talk to the kids at home via my iPhone – actually had better reception than some places around Seattle Washington.

Finally, at some point I will say a few words about the Mayan calendar and the impending end scheduled for 21 December this year!

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist, author, speaker, consultant, and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech, workshop or consultation contact Futurist.com.

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September 22nd, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Innovation | 2 Comments

Future Trends and Philanthropy: How good are your predictions, Glen?

One of the most frequently asked questions to me as a professional futurist is, “So what have you gotten right in the past when you’ve been predicting the future?” Now, I don’t sell myself as a predictor, really. In fact I tell people I am more a consumer of those who specialize in predictions, and from that information I try to see the big patterns so that I can help clients most effectively plan to create their own preferred future. Still, when doing a keynote speech, I always say, “here are some future trends, and what they might mean,” so of course, I am rightly subject to the question of whether I get things right, or wrong, in retrospect.

Not long ago I was editing some video, and came across a speech I did for the American Red Cross, on the occasion of their 125th Anniversary Celebration, in 2006. It was one of my all-time favorite speaking events, in Washington DC. I admire the long history and the good work of this volunteer organization. The assignment included not just a 30-minute keynote, but facilitating the whole audience of several hundred in a set of quizzes using electronic polling, as well as moderating a panel that immediately followed my keynote. But in this blog, and in the video, I want to zero in on a 15-minute segment in which I outlined what I considered, in 2006, to be the five major trends and their related challenges for philanthropy in general and the Red Cross specifically as they looked ahead to their next century.




When I look back at this speech, I must say I am pretty proud of how well I was anticipating the next several years. For example, in the speech I say,

It is quite clear that we are living in a time period in which the gap between rich and poor is growing, by most measures. The middle class is being more and more squeezed…that means a growing wealthy class with large amounts of money to give, and therefore the creation of [their own] foundations and significant new large scale programs…but it means a squeeze on workplace giving…As the middle class feels their budget extremely squeezed, and that appears to be the case in the next few years, the likelihood of them increasing their amount of giving diminishes, and therefore the [need] to increase giving means we have to increase participation in giving, more so than the amount of giving, from a squeezed middle class.

This was in 2006 remember, when attention to the growing income gap was generally off the radar, except among a few futurists, economists and other social observers. I also discussed the tremendous impact that the rapidly accumulating public debt would have on public agencies and their ability to spend in the future, some two years before the economic collapse of 2008. All the attention we pay now to public debt did not hit full force until just the past year. This is some of what I said back then:

In terms of public agency trends, what is going on [in 2006 remember] is quite clear. The deficit that we are in the process of creating at a federal level in the United States will, once again, for the next decade or two create a tremendous drag on public agencies to flexibly and creatively respond to the issues of our day. Now we will probably work our way through this again, as we work our way through political elections and changes over the next couple of decades, but for the next two decades this deficit is going to be a tremendous drag.

To summarize all of the five trends that I outlined in 2006..

    Demographic Trends, including increasing diversity in the U.S., the aging population, the millennial generation, and on the horizon the impending population decline in parts of the world. There are implications for what the Red Cross looks like, who it serves, and the possibility of a major surge in volunteerism.
    Trends in Philanthropy, including the impacts of the rich-poor gap and the squeezed middle class discussed above, and the demand for competency and transparency in large non-profits, driven especially by our “highly interconnected and blogged world.”
    Communications and Technology, including the coming dominance of the cell phone world-wide and thus its utility in changing communications during disasters, and the lesser known impact of nanotechnology, specifically the introduction of nano-water filtration. In 2006 1.2 billion people lacked access to clean water, and half of those hospitalized in developing nations were there because of water borne illness. I note the recent, at that time, availability of simple technologies like the Life Straw, that can filter water simply for very low cost, simply by sucking on a straw.
    Trends in Public Agencies, primarily the coming issue of public debt, which was completely obvious to me during the second term of the last U.S. President, but was generally off the radar at the time.
    Global Warming. This is a term that has lost favor five years later, because it has been effectively politicized rather than left as a scientific issue. But in 2006 I was noting that, for science, global warming was a settled issue, and just months after Hurricane Katrina, the long-term implications for an organization like the Red Cross, were clear to me,

What this means is the potential in our lifetimes, not the next several centuries, but in our lifetimes, of changes to weather patterns on the planet. Wild weather, in other words. As the planet heats up the frequency and intensity of storms is likely to increase…Global warming is real. It means as an organization we are going to have to face wild weather over the next many decades. It’s time to acknowledge it. It’s time to do more than ever to get ready for it, and perhaps it is even time to begin lobbying for everything we can do to reduce the impact of global warming.

Looking back now, five years later, I feel pretty good about that speech and my ability to help an important organization accurately see what was coming.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video producer and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.

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March 15th, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy, Innovation | 2 Comments

Future of Nuclear Power II

When in my last blog I noted the very early reports of an initial explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, I also suggested this would be a problem for the large-scale nuclear power plant industry. An obvious point. What we did not know on Saturday was that two or three more plants within the larger complex would go into critical failure, with exploding containment buildings and even one report of a breech of the core containment.

Now on March 15 it is becoming clear that the situation was significantly underestimated early on, and that a potential catastrophe looms. The nuclear plants themselves are failing one by one, but worse, the nuclear waste containment pools have begun to fail as well. To my surprise the waste containment pools in these older model plants are situated on the roof of each power plant building. The pools are, according to reports, 40 feet by 40 feet, and 45 feet deep. On the bottom of each pools sits spent nuclear fuel. The word spent is a bit misleading, as this fuel is capable of becoming very hot, burning, and tossing huge amounts of deadly radiation into the air, the equivalent of a dirty bomb.

The earthquake and tsunami that disrupted or destroyed the cooling circulation for the reactors themselves also destroyed the circulation to the waste pools. Now, with the roofs blown off of two of the reactor buildings, and the water reportedly boiling in one of the pools and the side of another breached, it becomes increasingly likely that we will see very large releases of radioactivity. The latest plan is to use helicopters to drop water into the pools, something that sounds like a pretty desperate measure.

Here is the point of discussing this disaster, when much more detailed descriptions are available. Like many futurists, along with environmentalists like Stewart Brand, in recent years I have become more interested in the prospects for nuclear energy as part of the solution to global warming. I have been clear that large-scale reactors like those at Fukushima were problematic for two reasons. One problem is that private industry will not take the risk of building these plants without massive public subsidies, which by itself suggests they may not be good bets for the future. The other is that while the safety record of these plants has been good, the risks when a catastrophe inevitably occurs is almost incalculable, up to and including vast areas uninhabitable. As I write this Japan has declared a “no-fly” zone over the Fukushima region, and is literally relying on workers to accept near suicide conditions to try to combat the emergency. As Eugene Robinson notes today, this all starts to “look like a bargain with the devil.”

Wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy – yes, scaling them up is a huge undertaking. But none of them can suffer this kind of disaster with consequences that can last for centuries. Perhaps there will still be a future for very small-scale nuclear plants, the kind the Energy Secretary Chu has touted. This is something that requires a lot more study. While the middle of disasters is a bad time to make predictions, the future of large-scale traditional nuclear power looks bleak, and appropriately so.

[Update: The first response to this blog prompted me to dig some more regarding the cost/benefit of nuclear power as an answer to global warming. One of the more interesting sources I came across today is a 2006 report from the Institute for Energy and Environment Research, by Bruce Smith, entitle “Insurmountable Risks.” He presents an interesting case that nuclear is generally much more expensive than people assume (and this explains why massive subsidies are required to build new plants), and that these costs are increasing rapidly. Investors understand that a 2 billion dollar investment can turn into a 1 billion dollar clean up in about 90 minutes. But mostly he anticipates (in 2006 remember) the kind of one-off catastrophes we are currently witnessing, arguing that such events are not unlikely but rather inevitable given the complexity of the machines, the fallibility of human operators, the fickleness of weather and geology, and enough time. The money quote may be this one, in which Smith himself cites an MIT study…

…the expense and unique vulnerabilities associated with nuclear power would make it a very risky, unsustainable, and uncertain option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the authors of the MIT report themselves conclude:

The potential impact on the public from safety or waste management failure and the link to nuclear explosives technology are unique to nuclear energy among energy supply options. These charac- teristics and the fact that nuclear is more costly, make it impossible today to make a credible case for the immediate expanded use of nuclear power.

I also noticed this article today, an interview with a Russian official involved in the Chernobyl cleanup, in which he warns that the industry is not good at putting safety over profit.

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March 11th, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy, Innovation | 2 Comments

Carbon Nation a Great Film – Go See It.

Film director and producer Peter Byck watched An Inconvenient Truth some years ago and thought, “If that is the problem, what is the answer?” Thus began an odyssey now in its forth year to conceive, produce and now to show the new blockbuster documentary, Carbon Nation. The film opens today in San Francisco. Go see it!

I had the opportunity to chat with Peter last week at a Seattle V.I.P premier of the film, sponsored by the Boeing Company. Peter hosted the event and answered general questions, as he will be doing this evening in San Francisco. The film suggests a feasible path to reduce carbon emissions to the scientifically supported level of 350 parts per million, especially through the wide spread application of wind and solar power. Recalling the swift transformation of industrial processes from the manufacture of autos and washing machines to war material seventy years ago, the film argues persuasively that the idea that we cannot scale up carbon friendly sources of energy is not actually true. It is simply current policy.

At once humorous, visionary, challenging, and informative, Carbon Nation is the new must see film on our common future.

Private screenings can be booked now, and DVD’s will follow the theatrical run, as might a proposed television series.



Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.

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January 3rd, 2011 | By Brenda Cooper | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy, Environment & Energy, Science & Tech | 1 Comment

Striking a Balance: The Yin and Yang of Futuring

This is a guest blog by Brenda Cooper.

As long as I’ve been alive, humanity has obsessed over its demise – at its own hands. In second grade, stern teachers sent me crawling under desks to avoid nuclear war (talk about a culture of fear – today has nothing on the sixties). Now we are convinced that climate change will do us all in. Both, by the way, remain real threats. It’s important to guard against evil. Think of that as the yang of futuring, whether done over the dinner table, around the water cooler, or from the dais. But I think we’re missing the yin: we’re failing to notice the good all around us.

Back in the crawling under desks part of my life, people who lived in other countries were unreachable to me, and had I wanted to talk to one, it would have cost a lot of money. Today, I have a phone that’s also a camera and a link to a world of information and entertainment – and to people all over the globe. There’s a good chance I can avoid or find a cure for most diseases that could directly affect me. We’re finally developing a real space industry (sorry – I’m a geek – but whatever it is you love, there is almost undoubtedly progress).

Take the climate change problem. It feels intractable. Old entrenched industries are fighting tooth and nail to hang on to things we KNOW are bad for us (remember the tobacco industry). But people all over the world are working on it. Wind TurbinesAmerican car companies are coming out with good electric cars, China is building green cities, and here at home, in the city where I work, we have a green building program and a green business program. For all that it feels too slow (may be too slow), we’re changing fast on this one as a society. When I drive from here to Oregon, I go through a forest of futuristic new white windmills. I think in almost every pain point where technology changes make a difference (travel, carbon, medicine, communication) we’re changing faster than ever before, and our intent is good. We are a capable species.

Yet I hear more fear of the future than excitement, more worry about what we’re doing than celebration of it. We could do with a little balance. I am not suggesting we relax our vigilance about climate change or terrorism or even nuclear war. But we could pay attention to the good as well. I hope we all work on that for 2011.

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