20th Anniversary of the KBFS

Futs_KBFS_25_3_1993_small2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (KBFS). It first appeared as a special issue of Futures in March 1993. Besides the editorial it contained 7 original papers, 10 ‘divergent perspectives’ (from as many different countries) and no fewer than 5 bibliographies. The first book edition was a three-volume set presented in a sturdy slipcase. The first volume covered Foundations, the second Organisations, Practices and Products and the third Directions and Outlooks. It was officially launched at a World Future Society Conference (WFS) in Washington DC during July 1996. Hughes de Jouvenel, Wendell Bell and Hazel Henderson assisted with the launch. Two further hard copy editions followed. Then in 1999 and 2000 KBFS_ProfEd_2005_smallmy son Rohan and I converted the original files into html documents and assembled the first CD-ROM. It was followed in 2005 by an expanded 5 volume professional edition that was subsequently adopted for university courses around the world. A succinct account of how and why the KBFS was developed, along with some of the feedback it received, can be found on the FI site here. Also see here under Futures Archive.

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Rights of Nature Tribunals

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22nd October, 2016, Banco Court, Brisbane

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is described as ‘a worldwide movement’ seeking to create ‘human communities that respect and defend the rights of nature.’ A founding member of this alliance is the AELA or Australian Earth Laws Alliance. Both organisations have held Rights of Nature (RON) tribunals, the most recent of which took place in the smart, modern surroundings of the Banco courtroom in Brisbane’s civil law precinct. Some 150 people were in attendance for this serious, yet inspiring and well-organised event. The day opened with a dance and welcome to Yuggera country by the Nunakal Yuggera Dancers. After brief opening remarks by the forum chair, Dr Michelle Maloney, the first of four sessions got under way. The program was as follows:

  • Session 1: Mardoowara / Fitzroy River (Western Australia) VS Federal and State Governments;
  • Session 2: Forests of Australia VS Federal and State Governments;
  • Session 3: Great Artesian Basin VS Federal and State Governments and the Unconventional Gas Industry; and
  • Session 4: Great Barrier Reef and Atmospheric Commons VS Federal and State Governments and Fossil Fuel Industries. (The full brochure is here… )

The format consisted of opening statements by representatives of each natural constituency. This was followed by questions / comments from the panel, and expert testimony from a variety of people with close knowledge of each area. Foremost among these were people of the land whose laws and practices to protect and sustain it go back thousands of years. Supporting them were other workers in those areas, scientists and legal representatives. Each case concluded with a summing up phase during which details of specific actions, policies and recommended changes to laws and regulations were put forward. This deliberately formal structure proved much more effective than the usual lecture or panel since it brought into play a whole series of overlapping accounts, each representing a different aspect of the area and the issues it faces.

forest_community_2016_smallSome of the key points that emerged are as follows.

  • Instead of using the broad-brush term ‘environment’ which is arguably too static, we could usefully refer to our ‘life-support system.’
  • Terms like ‘Gaia’, ‘Mother Earth,’ ‘nature spirits’ may be too amorphous to have sufficient impact. We could perhaps ascribe to certain natural features the status of ‘a living person.’ This would help us to recognise the living, systemic qualities of, for example, the Great Artesian Basin, the Great Barrier Reef and what remains of Australia’s ancient forests. There’s an ironic precedent here in that companies were provided with this very status by a US court many years ago, with predictably disastrous results.
  • In the Bunya Mountains near Brisbane there’s an interpretive sign that explains how clearing the forest replaces biotic volume with mere area. During the second session a similar point was made – the older forests are far richer in terms of species requirements, services, niches for life, carbon uptake, resistance to fire and so on. The current policy, however, is to replace old forests with new ones that are essentially monocultures set out in rows (for easier harvesting). There’s thus a double loss of volume and rich diversity that city dwellers are unlikely to appreciate.
  • For native peoples their law is the only law that matters because it is based on caring for and protection of the land. Post-colonial laws have proven to be inadequate and primarily address how the land and its resources are to be harvested, dug up or otherwise exploited.
  • Even though laws, regulations and legally binding agreements exist they are routinely ignored by federal and state governments. (Hence the need for RON forums.) In the case of forests, for example, existing laws provide triggers and referral options that are devolved to states. But they are seldom applied or enforced because the latter have unresolved conflicts of interest between development and protection. De facto exemptions that circumvent attempts to protect natural features are regularly provided to large-scale, commercial operators. This is another legal failing but it could, in principle, be corrected.
  • The overall lack of interest by the Federal government is demonstrated by the fact that the Forestry Act currently in use dates back to 1959.

Toward the end of the third session one of the panel members identified the central issue that underlay much of the detail of the day. The point was made that the multiple failures of law and administration noted throughout were ‘not accidental.’ They were and are direct consequences of a system that’s primarily evolved to serve the rich and powerful. Furthermore, the worldview of the latter could not be more different to that of native peoples.

Reflection, Critique and Paradigm Formation

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Post-colonial law is a law for the rich as defined by Western Colonial interests. It is also founded on Judeo-Christian culture that embodies an injunction to ‘subdue’ the Earth and its creatures for human use. We now know that the utilitarian principles that emerged from this culture and permeate its worldview are utterly unsuitable for our present world, its natural features, the people who are alive today and their descendants. By contrast, the laws, rules and practices of the world’s native peoples should be respected and given new legal standing. A combination of science, rights of nature law reform and the leadership of native peoples are needed to make this happen.

Richard A Slaughter, Brisbane, 23rd October 2018

A tribunal for the Earth: Why it Matters by Cormac Cullinan

Imagine how different the world would be if courts decided on the legitimacy – or otherwise – of human conduct on the basis of whether or it was in the best interests of the whole community of life. Imagine if there were an international tribunal that concerned itself with the fundamental rights of all beings, including humans, and decided matters on the basis of what was best for the Earth community as a whole, regardless of politics; an Earth Tribunal of respected individuals that drew on the wisdom of humanity as whole, respected the laws of Nature and was not beholden to governments or corporations. The establishment of the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature is intended to give effect to this dream. Read more…

Summary of Tribunal on the Great Barrier Reef by Michelle Maloney, 2014

I am honoured to present this case on behalf if the Great Barrier Reef to the International Ethics Tribunal that the Rights of Mother Earth are being violated, because the Great Barrier Reef’s very existence is under threat. The Reef is under threat from a combination of land based marine pollution, the existing and proposed expansion of coal port development in human settlements adjacent to the reef and the escalating pollution of the atmosphere, which is causing devastating climate change. Read more…

Policies for a Post-Growth Economy

Alexander_Policies_PG_EconOccasionally an item comes along that deserves and requires greater attention than usual. In my view this is the case with a short monograph by Sam Alexander with the above title. I’ve reviewed it for the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) quarterly journal, Compass. The latter is only available to members so I’m placing the review here to provide wider access. A link to the monograph itself is provided on page one of the review.

One day it would be interesting to sit down and assemble some of the most significant ‘signals of change’ generated over the last half-century by concerned people of all kinds and from different fields. In an alternative history that is perhaps now lost some of those signals would have not been dismissed out as ‘loony left’, ‘Greenie fantasy’, ‘scientific nonsense’ and the like. Nor would some of the world’s most powerful actors have succeeded so completely in promulgating global agendas founded on their own rather specific requirements and needs. Read more…

Global Integrity Summit Day One: The Big Picture

Griffith University, Brisbane, 13th October 2015

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It’s rare to attend an event such as this one that ticks nearly all the boxes. When my wife and I decided to register it was simply on the basis that it offered three consecutive sessions on issues of major significance. They were:

  • Free speech, freedom of the press and integrity in journalism
  • Big data, privacy and surveillance, and
  • Climate change and climate justice.

The event was held at the impressive Brisbane Conservatorium on South Bank. Read more…

Overshoot Day 2015 – The Biggest Story of the Year?

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In Australia, as in most other places, Thursday August 13th 2015 came and went without any particular fanfare or comment. Yet on that day the Global Footprint Network (GFN) issued a press release that was picked up and commented upon mainly, it seems, by certain on-line ‘niche’ media. It turns out that August 13th was the day that humanity crossed a threshold that went far beyond the merely symbolic. It was the day in 2015 when the collective demands of humanity upon natural systems exceeded what can be regenerated within a year.

The costs are evident in a number of ways that include deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Interestingly enough, what the GFN calls Earth Overshoot Day fell last year in early October – which means that our demands on an increasingly constrained world have grown much more rapidly, perhaps, then even the environmentally aware among us may have suspected. Even more interesting is that these challenging facts achieved virtually zero exposure in terms of conventional column inches or airtime. Humanity carried on oblivious to the implications of its spiraling demands. The fact that these are undermining its present and future is evidently a truth that cannot be spoken. It therefore continues to be avoided and overlooked.

The GFN calculates the date of Earth Overshoot Day in the following way. It:

calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in 2015: (Planet’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day).

No doubt many people would be willing to contest the methodology and its conclusions – and so they should. After all the implications are profound. But the sad fact is that the conversation is simply not taking place out in the open where it can gain traction and inform any meaningful public discourse. There’s a precedent for this elision of uncomfortable reality that refers us all the way back to 1972 and the publication of the first Limits to Growth (LTG) study. As Karen Higgs (Collision Course, 2014) and others have pointed out, it has become increasingly clear that the conclusions of the LTG constituted a rare and valuable gift to humanity that humanity was unprepared or unwilling to receive. The study and its authors were subjected to severe abuse because they challenged the primacy of economic growth – one of the fundamental assumptions of the social and economic order. Now, however, the results of failing to heed and understand the LTG over several decades means that we are currently facing extreme versions of the problems that had earlier been foreseen.

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The GFN can, therefore, in some ways be regarded as a successor to the LTG team. But the methodology has changed and, I would argue, improved. Looked at as a date that moves forward each year ‘overshoot day’ provides another clear signal about what is happening. Moreover, the GFN team draws a surprisingly positive implication in its press release. It suggested that: ‘the global agreement to phase out fossil fuels that is being discussed around the world ahead of the Climate Summit in Paris would significantly help curb the Ecological Footprint’s consistent growth and eventually shrink the Footprint.’ Similarly:

The climate agreement expected at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 21 this December will focus on maintaining global warming within the 2-degrees-Celsius range over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. This shared goal will require nations to implement policies to completely phase out fossil fuels by 2070, per the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), directly impacting the Ecological Footprints of nations. Assuming global carbon emissions are reduced by at least 30 percent below today’s levels by 2030, in keeping with the IPCC’s suggested scenario, Earth Overshoot Day could be moved back on the calendar to September 16, 2030 (assuming the rest of the Footprint would continue to expand at the current rate).

The press statement goes on to assert that ‘this is not impossible.’ Yet these hopeful suggestions adhere to a highly improbable trajectory. Given the current state of social upheaval and geopolitical conflict in the world – to say nothing of dissonant values and uneven development – the chances of contending nations and over-powerful corporations agreeing to rein in humanity’s demands on the Earth appear negligible.

The truth that seldom gets reported anywhere in mainstream media is that the human enterprise is running a long way beyond any reasonable prospect of moderation or control. It follows that the forces most likely to engender changes of course are those that are emerging from the global system itself. That is to say, the planet is adjusting to our collective impacts with glacial but unstoppable momentum. As a result we are, as James Lovelock puts it, in for a very ‘rough ride into the future.’ It’s hardly surprising that currently affluent populations would rather avert their gaze than admit to themselves that the world is running out of options.

Review of Higgs, K. Collision Course: http://richardslaughter.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/Collision_Course_Review_Final_070415.pdf

About Earth Overshoot Day: http://www.overshootday.org/about-earth-overshoot-day/

Global Footprint Network: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/at_a_glance/

Illustrations courtesy of the Global Footprint Network

Collision Course

Higgs_Collision_Course_smallAt the end of May I gave the opening address to the annual conference of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) in Melbourne. In the audience was a local councillor from Redlands, Brisbane, by the name of Paul Bishop. The title of my address was Responding to the Biggest Wake-Up Call in History (taken from the title of my 2010 book). When I met Paul afterwards I discovered why he’d seemed rather animated during the address. One of the sources I used to illustrate my theme was a book by Kerryn Higgs called Collision Course. It turns out that Paul had just bought the book and was very interested in reading it. He’d heard the author on Radio National and had, in fact, already made contact. Which is how I found out that she was due to visit Brisbane in the near future.

Laurie and I caught up with Kerryn at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) during the afternoon of her visit and spent a couple of hours getting to know each other. We were fascinated to learn that Kerryn had spent fully eight years researching and writing the book. The spark for her was the same as it was for myself. That is, she read the original Limits to Growth (LtG) book back in 1972 and was subsequently perplexed and concerned at the way that powerful groups in the USA, Europe and Australia worked hard – and successfully – to marginalise it. Quite obviously the notion that ‘growth cannot continue forever on a finite planet’ was one that had to be put down at all costs. Unfortunately for the rest of us this misguided and ill-conceived campaign succeeded. The whole LtG story and the vital messages it had for humanity were brushed aside and forgotten by most people.

Kerryn, however, was one of the people who refused to forget. In fact, as researchers began to compare some of the LtG projections with the way that the world actually tracked over subsequent years (in relation to energy, raw materials, food production, economic activity, ‘sinks’ for waste and so on), it became increasingly clear that the early work had been surprisingly accurate. As Kerryn points out in the book, the collective refusal to contemplate the issues raised over 40 years ago meant that we were now dealing with extreme versions of the problems and dilemmas that could then be seen on the horizon. She began to get angry but instead of turning that anger inward, as so many appear to do – and then becoming depressed – she decided that she had to act. She registered for a PhD at the University of Tasmania and started those years of painstaking research.

To my mind this suggests a rare quality of moral courage and determination. It’s one that’s greatly lacking in the post-modern world when few peoples’ thoughts or concerns ever seem to involve considering the roots of our contemporary malaise in an honest and sustained way. The research finished, however, Kerryn still had to face the rejection of a major London publisher that kept her manuscript for months and eventually claimed that appropriate reviewers could not be found! Following the disappointment she researched publishers that dealt with broad environmental and cultural issues and attracted the interest of MIT. This proved a very suitable match since the original research for the LtG project was carried out there. It took two years further work to transform the PhD into the book that we now have.

When we reached Avid Reader – the bookshop due to host Kerryn that evening – she’d expected only half-a-dozen people. Instead, the floor of the shop was cleared and packed full of chairs for nearly 60. We went for a quick drink at the pub over the road and then left her to gather her thoughts. Paul Bishop turned up at the conversation with a camera and ABC Radio National producer, Paul Barclay from Big Ideas, had arranged a sound engineer. A link to the audio and video will be provided once it goes to air on ABC radio.

The review can be read on this site under Futures Archive / Best Futures/Foresight Books.

New Work

The last year or so has been very productive and I’ve produced several substantial pieces of work. One of these looked at the journal Foresight in some depth and came to some startling conclusions. An abridged version was published in the APF’s journal Compass. It can be found here under Research Notes on the Futures Archive page. Another is called Re-assessing the IT revolution and is shortly due for publication in another journal. A more recent piece concerns Integral futures and the search for clarity. Part of this contains a critique of some key figures (and organisations) from Silicon Valley and speculates on the steady construction of a new Panopticon – a repressive surveillance system – that already exists in some places. A draft of the paper has been placed on the Action Resources page (along with a stimulating piece by Ugo Bardi on The future of humankind after the great crash). Needless to say this is not reading for the faint-hearted.

Of the many books I’ve read during this time two stand out: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein and Collision Course by Kerryn Higgs. A review of each will shortly appear in Best Futures / Foresight Books under Futures Archive.

Finally I am taking a look at an impossible-to-miss technical innovation that seems to be springing up everywhere. The thinking behind this new generation of high-tech advertising signs is truly astounding, as is the unapologetic but wholly unjustified sense of entitlement that they represent. Hence the working title for the piece is Rogue Signs. A draft will be placed on this site – along with several  illustrations – when I’ve had time to finish it.

Street Art Calendar 2015

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For some years I’ve been photographing street art while travelling. Over time I’ve accumulated a sample of some of the very best work around. But this is the first time that I’ve made some of these images available in calendar form. The images were taken in Toronto, Melbourne (of course!), Berlin, London, Wellington and Los Angeles. The rationale for reproducing them in this form is similar to that expressed below for the 2015 bird calendar. But there are also significant differences. I’ve outlined my views on ‘Appreciating and Attributing Street Art’ in a short, two page article of the same name elsewhere on this site. It can be found under Imaging on the Culture Jamming and Street Art page.

2015 Bird Calendar

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It is a pleasure to introduce our new bird calendar for 2015 – the fifth year running that we have done so. It’s not a commercial operation as we barely cover costs. But there are several intrinsic reasons why we do this. Foremost among them is the sheer delight in birds that we share with other people. Also, the feedback we’ve received on earlier calendars has been very positive. These images bring a little more beauty and light into our lives. Finally, it’s good to see some of the best of my work ‘liberated’ from the digital domain and issued in a more durable and accessible form.

Resisting the Advertising Onslaught

For some time I was a subscriber to the on-line edition of the Sydney Morning Herald but no longer. The reason is that I became so very weary of being confronted with full screen digital ads, some of which were pointlessly repeated ad nauseam day after day. They did not encourage me to buy anything. They just spoiled the day. I wrote to the paper’s editors suggesting that it was ultimately a destructive practice. I urged them to reconsider and abandon it asap. I also expressed an interest in an ad-free version, should it ever become available. Read on …. (to open click here)