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)

Rally and March for the Great Barrier Reef

A large crowd turned out in Brisbane on Sunday 25th August to draw attention to proposed developments in northern Queensland adjacent to the reef. A rally was held in Queen’s Park followed by a good natured march around the CBD. The document below gives my impressions of the event. A few of the pictures I took on that day can be found on this site under ‘Images.’

Reflections on the Save the Reef Rally and March (To open click here)

Here are some other resources associated with the event and the vital issues it raises. To get a quick impression click on the Source News and ABC Reports below.

Bill McKibben’s piece on: How Australian Coal is Causing Global Damage: False Profits, was published in The Monthly, June 2013, No. 90.

Photos of the event:

The Source News Report:

ABC News Report:

Also see Felicity Wishart, Politicians risk future of reef for sake of progress Retrieved 12th August, 2013

Grappling with the day after tomorrow

The above is the title of an article by Catherine Armitage that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 27th May, 2013. The sub-heading read ‘futurists are struggling with mixed fortunes in their field of commerce.’ While I was glad to note that a number of people had been interviewed I felt that, overall, the piece had missed the mark and conveyed a less than credible impression of this vital area. Rather than contest every point I chose to focus on a few key items. My response is reproduced here. Also see a more detailed ‘hands on’ practitioner response by Paul Higgins below.

Hi Catherine,

I was interested in your take on ‘Futurism’ in Australia in today’s SMH and glad to see that you’ve spoken with more people.

In my own view ‘Futurism’ is a term that really refers back to the early iterations of the discipline as they took shape in the US. But being part of an ‘ism’ neither appealed greatly to me and nor do I think it appeals to the new generation. I was happier using terms such as Futures Studies or, better, foresight practice / practitioner. The latter links back to what we all do in daily life and is therefore not at all esoteric. It’s also possible that the numbers of those earning some sort of living may be understated in your article.

‘Obscure’ is too harsh a term to use to describe ‘Integral’ and ‘CLA’. If you consider for a moment the vast range of disciplines, fields, paradigms, methods of enquiry etc. etc. that foresight people have to be able to cover then you might concede that some of their own working methods need to reflect that depth and diversity. I’d simply say that if FS / foresight is indeed a highly skilled profession far, far removed from crystal balls, tea leaf reading etc., then those who want to practice it need to be as well trained as for any other modern information and knowledge-based profession (think lawyer, ethicist, molecular biologist).

Re: your concluding point (on the uncertain outlook for futures practitioners) a different ‘take’ or narrative is possible if one goes back to the very first issue of the UK journal Futures (published back in 1968). There one can find a paper by Robert Jungk – whom I knew well – on the need for what he called ‘look-out institutions’ or what I later called Institutions of Foresight (IOFs). One key reason why there are still relatively few practitioners is that there are so few IOFs within which they would work. My take on our own late, largely unlamented, Commission For the Future (CFF) is that it operated in a sea of hostility that made things very difficult. My conclusion was, and is, not ‘we’ve done that so forget it’ but, rather, ‘how can it be done better?’ Some of those learnings went into the design of the AFI. Few realise how essential such look-out entities are for social – not merely commercial – purposes.

It is unfortunate that while the peak of ‘economic rationalism’ is arguably past, the damage it did to this profession continues. We really do need to collectively wake up and create our own foresight / horizon scanning infrastructure here in Australia. Currently, we’re put to shame in this respect by nations such as Singapore. Given the challenges and structural instabilities before us, this lack of support for disciplined futures enquiry is not only short-sighted but profoundly unwise.

All the best,

Richard Slaughter.

Text of original article:

Retrieved 27th May, 2013

Paul Higgins response:

Retrieved 28th May, 2013


Socratic Lecture, Thirroul, Illawarra 20th March

It is an honour to be asked to present the second Socratic Lecture in Thirroul. The topic I chose is: Caring for future generations – why a wise culture trumps the growth economy. As part of my preparation I turned to Plato’s classic work The Trial and Execution of Socrates and was struck at how the genius of the man can still be communicated and felt over two-plus millennia later. It also occurred to me that, cultural and personal differences aside, the fundamentals of what are referred to as ‘human nature’ do not appear to have changed markedly over that extended period. Which may or may not be good news, given the fact that to have any chance of successfully confronting the global challenges facing us requires depth understanding in a number of domains, including that of our own interior selves.

To support this event I’ve placed two items in the Action Resources section of this weblog. First is a 5pp summary of the lecture. Second is a link to an exceptional (and remarkably brief) paper by Paul and Ann Ehrlich that attempts to answer the question: Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided? Don’t be tempted to pigeonhole this as ‘gloom and doom’ (a term I detest since it indicates lazy thinking / avoidance). Related items on this same weblog include a post and links to a session I was involved in that took place in Toronto last year. That session addressed what my North American colleagues refer to as the Global megacrisis.

Those looking for other related resources may wish to check the Foresight International site where copies, pdfs and ePub versions of recent works can be found:

Finally, as this was being written I was finishing the ePub version of my book The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History. The book won an APF award last year as a ‘most important futures work’ and is highly relevant to the themes of the lecture.

Socratic lecture flyer (To open click here)



Responding to the ‘global emergency’ or the ‘megacrisis’

I’ve just added a new section to the site.

It introduces five recently produced clips from a mid-2012 conference session in Toronto. The material may be useful to anyone wishing to review approaches to what, by any measure, is a vast and immeasurably challenging topic (but, I would argue, one we can no longer afford to ignore). It also acts as a kind of ‘marker in time’ that identifies the point that an extended conversation between Michael Marien, William Halal and myself had reached. We were also fortunate that Thomas Homer-Dixon was available to participate. If you only have time to view one clip, I suggest you look at his since there are few people anywhere with his depth of understanding and knowledge.

Asia-Pacific Foresight Conference

This is the long awaited third conference organised by the Australian futures / foresight community and it takes place next month in Perth on November 16 to 18. Themes include sustainability, descent futures, city futures and Asian regional futures. For further details please click on the link below.

Overview of Asia-Pacific Foresight Conference (To open click here)


Biggest Wake-Up Call in History Wins APF Award

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) marked its 10th anniversary with a series of events in Toronto during late July, most of which I attended. Among them was an evening get together in the Distillery District during which time a number of awards were presented. One of these was a Most Important Futures Work (MIFW) for my 2010 book, The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History. In the book I reviewed the global predicament, some of the strategies proposed to address it and possible ways forward in what look like increasingly impossible times. (Further details are in earlier posts; about a dozen reviews can be found on the Foresight International site, where the book can be purchased.)

The relevant award category was ‘published works that analyse a significant futures issue.’ The other publication thus honoured was Tim Jackson’s stimulating Prosperity Without Growth. It is indeed an honour to be recognised by the APF and to share the limelight, as it were, with such a ground-breaking work. The award may, in turn, make it a little easier to work toward a second edition and mainstream publication. Sincere thanks are due to all those who were involved in this year’s selection process.


Toronto Resources

As part of the preparation for WFS and APF events in Toronto at the end of July, I’ve gathered together a number of resources that are relevant to sessions I’m taking part in. There are obviously other resources on the other three sites I administer, but I thought it useful to assemble some of the most relevant items in one place. They are filed on the Toronto Resources page under: Education Bootcamp, APF, ‘Megacrisis’ session, Bio and Other Items.