Masters of Strategic Foresight (MSF) Wake – 25th November 2016

In late November some 150 people turned up at the Kelvin Club in Melbourne for a private function to celebrate the success and mark the imminent closure of the MSF program at Swinburne University. The original program was set up in 1999 at the invitation of the then VC, Iain Wallace, as the Australian Foresight Institute (AFI). With Barry Jones as its patron and an experienced and capable board, it soon acquired a distinctive national and international profile. As is well known I was appointed as Foundation Professor of Foresight and ran the AFI until 2004. At that time a new VC was appointed who pursued a very different agenda which, for reasons best known to himself, included closing all the university’s institutes. The foresight program was then absorbed into the Business School. Peter Hayward took over the directorship and ran the re-named MSF for the next decade. The program will close in 2017 after 17 years.

During that time perhaps 200 ‘mid-career professionals’ have taken the program or, in some cases, taken units of particular interest from it. Listening to those who undertook the course one hears many variations on a consistent theme. That is, how it changed lives, allowed people to see the world and themselves differently and, in the end, to discern new personal, organisational and social options. So while the program had its ups and downs it will be remembered as an outstanding success, and one of which all those involved can be proud. And more have been involved than can be named here. They know who they are and thanks are due to each and every one of them.

It was fitting that Joseph Voros, who’d taught in the program longer than anyone, was the MC for the evening. His enduring penchant for formal wear received expression during the evening with many choosing to emulate his spotless dinner suit. A space was also made to remember some of the colleagues who were no longer with us: John Batros, Frank Fisher, Richard Neville, Jan Lee Martin and, of course, Adolph Hanich. Adolph was, in many ways, the genial ‘godfather’ of the AFI / MSF. He’d not only provided the original suggestion that led to its establishment but also enduring support and encouragement throughout.

Yet this was by no means a heavy or solemn occasion as evidenced by the many vibrant conversations taking place between people who’d shared both the frustrations and joyfulness of the course. Peter Hayward, also in formal attire, was in high demand to be thanked and pose for photographs with appreciative students and others. The Sass and Vibe Quartet performed in a cappella (unaccompanied) mode, to the delight of all. Finally a brilliant dash of humour was added to the mix with the Foresight Foursome. This was the brainchild of Bec Mijat who worked with artist John Corba to produce delightfully witty caricatures of Joe Voros, Peter Hayward, Rowena Morrow and myself. These ‘luminaries’ were re-named as The Voroscope, Captain Foresight, Madam Tomorrow and, for myself, Richard A. Sorcerer! Hopefully this initial group will be expanded over time.

Sass and Vibe provided a farewell musical wind-down and the after-party moved downstairs to the bar where conversations continued well into the night. Overall, it was a highly successful event that all who were there are unlikely to forget.

Further information

AFI history and program: Open here

AFI foresight monographs: Open here

Remembering: Open here

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.


Rights of Nature Tribunals


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


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



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?


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.


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:

About Earth Overshoot Day:

Global Footprint Network:

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.

Critique of Global Trends 2030

The US National Intelligence Council has produced a number of reports on the global outlook. Well-known and respected critic Michael Marien invited a number of credible futurists to respond to the latest one. The resulting issue of World Future Review published by the Washington-based World Future Society is, in my view, one of the best ever. I’m happy that my piece ‘Time to get real: a critique of Global Trends 2030 – Alternative Worlds’ was included. It can be found here under General Futures Papers.

Caring for Future Generations – Can the fall of civilisation be avoided?

These are the titles of two public lectures I gave during 2013. The first, on caring for future generations, was the result of an invitation I received to give the second annual ‘Socratic Lecture’ at Thirroul, NSW, in March. The second, can the fall of civilisation be prevented? was given at Griffith University in Brisbane in November. As anyone who has followed my work will know, I’ve pursued these twin themes over a number of years and also written extensively about them (especially in The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History, 2010).

Stephen O’Grady, a communications officer at Griffith, very kindly perused some of the background documents and provided a very clear, concise and, I think, readable, two page overview of the November lecture that I’m making available here.

Caring for future generations… (To open click here)

In addition I’m also adding to the site an overview piece I wrote for a special edition of the journal On the Horizon (vol 21 no 3, 2013) edited by my colleague Dennis Morgan. The issue contained a number of papers that responded to The Biggest Wake-Up Call book.

Defending the future (To open click here)

Finally, three of the leading papers from this issue can also be found on the newly-updated page Biggest Wake-Up Call – Feedback (under Futures).

Recovering the Future (2013)

This is the title I chose for my first book written in Australia. It was published in 1988  by the Graduate School of Environmental Science, Monash University which, at that time, was headed up by my colleague Dr. Frank Fisher.

Now, 25 years later, I found myself reaching again for the term. The motive for so doing partly derives from a discussion I had in Melbourne a few weeks ago with a group of foresight practitioners. I felt that, while the spirit was certainly willing, there seemed to be a general lack of new ideas. I then discovered that the date of the general election – Saturday, 7th September – was also the very date that had been previously designated as Threatened Species Day.

But there was no hint of the latter in any of the media.

This reminded me, yet again, of how we privilege ourselves, our way of life and, in particular, the human economy above all else. It’s as if the natural world upon which we entirely depend, has simply been shoved into the background, as it were. So I set out to write a somewhat provocative ‘think piece’ about what this means and how Australian futurists and foresight practitioners could respond. Here is the result. I’ll most likely revise it again in the near future.

Recovering the Future: A New Agenda for Australian Futurists and Foresight Practitioners (To open click here)