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.


To See With Fresh Eyes – Integral Futures and the Global Emergency

This new book will be published by Foresight International in early 2012 in soft cover and pdf, with eBook to follow. Following the publication of The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History I decided to re-visit my personal archive of previously published articles, papers and chapters. Over a couple of months I pulled together several folders on a number of topics, one of which was Integral Futures. That was as far as it went until I read an outstanding paper by Terry Collins and Andy Hines on The evolution of integral futures – a status update (World Future Review, 2, 3, 2010 pp 5-16, WFS, Bethesda, M.D.). Here is how they described it.

Integral Futures is an approach to futures studies that adapted Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory to futures practice. Integral Theory is not exclusively the domain of Wilber, but he is its leading exponent and was central in popularising the idea. The domain is expanding with new voices and ideas increasingly contributing to the conversation. A key concept underlying Integral Theory is to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible when exploring a topic.

In their overview they provide a valuable timeline of work carried out by various people over a decade or so and, in that light, it seemed to me to be time to pull some of my own contributions together and to make them available in one place. This I’ve now done. Andy Hines has been across these developments since he visited us at the Australian Foresight Institute a year or two after teaching had commenced (in 2003) and has proven to be a discriminating and clear-eyed participant observer. So I was particularly grateful that he provided us with a Foreword to the new book. It is reproduced below with his permission, along with my own Introduction and a list of Contents. In making this work newly available I’m not expecting that it will be a best seller. I do hope, however, that it will be of some value to those who are interested in new and empowering perspectives that can and are being brought to bear on the global emergency. In my own case some of the emerging concepts, methods, perspectives and so on have certainly provided me with ‘fresh eyes’ and many new insights. Let us bear in mind, however, that integral theory, integral futures – futures of any variety at all – are of little use unless they help to shed new light upon, motivate new actions to deal with, the new realities that surround us on every side and challenge us to our very core.

Foreword by Andy Hines (To open click here)

Introduction (To open click here)

Contents (To open click here)

Education for the 21st Century Revisited


Partly as a tribute to Hedley Beare (see below) and partly because the issues raised in the earlier edition are at least as significant today as they were in the early 1990s, a revised and updated edition of this book can now be obtained from the FI site. The book, which has long been out of print, has been re-constituted from original pre-publication files. Besides a new introduction it contains new figures and appendices. The latter includes three reviews of the original book, a brief rationale for futures in education, a short ‘op ed’ piece published in The Age newspaper, a personal tribute to Hedley Beare and, finally, a short reflection piece that considers the book in the light of subsequent developments.

As the world slowly becomes aware of the global emergency humanity has created for itself, I hope that works of this kind will be taken up and used more widely. PDFs are available from the FI site:

To read the 2011 Introduction to Education for the 21st Century Revisited Click here

The Biggest Wake Up Call in History


For the past year or so I’ve been working on project with the above title. I chose it because, rather than viewing the emerging planetary crisis merely in fatalistic or downbeat terms, I wanted to see if it was possible to re-frame it in a more positive light. Like most others who’ve been paying attention, I acknowledge the seriousness of our situation and also the fact that it could indeed bring the whole human enterprise to a relatively sudden and ignominious end. Given our careless uses of the environment and our penchant for ignoring planetary limits that, certainly, is the diminished future toward which many trends point.

Yet, as has been known for a long time, ‘trend is not destiny.’ With our in-built capacities for foresight, forward thinking, anticipation and choice, there’s still time to come to grips with our predicament and to change direction. Human destiny is not set in stone. We are perhaps the only animals that can see emerging futures clearly enough to make decisions about how our everyday modus operandi can affect our collective prospects for good or ill. The big question seems to be ‘can we change course in time?’ There’s plenty of evidence to support both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.

As I discovered during my research, this fact provides a vital clue. While many continue to be entranced by the latest technological wonders – currently iPads and 3D televisions – the keys to our future lie elsewhere. But, as I reviewed a broad range of hard copy and on-line material, I found surprisingly few pointers to that widely overlooked territory.

The Biggest Wake Up Call in History is an attempt to apply what I’ve learned over some three decades of futures and foresight work. Ironically, therefore, I had to set aside nearly all of the ‘futures literature’ and to scan more widely than ever before. As a result this work makes reference to many different fields of enquiry. Key questions that arose were: how can so many contributions fit together within a coherent whole? Also, how can many different kinds of truth be honoured and adjudicated? There’s never likely to be an answer to such questions that will satisfy everyone. Pluralism reigns. The culture wars continue – both within nations and between different cultural spheres. Nor will the post-modern tendency to critique everything subside overnight. Complexity, pluralism and difference are here to stay. That said, a method that can handle such challenges is a vital part of any credible attempt to respond to a world in deep crisis.

I’ve found an Integral perspective useful as it is perhaps most able to provide a panoramic and in-depth view of the issues and concerns before us. As a perspective and method it is far from static. It is a process that evolves and changes from year to year. To the extent the present work succeeds, it is to no little extent a result of the power, depth and inclusiveness that this perspective offers.

The work will be published in eBook, PDF and hard copy formats. In the meantime here are two ‘tasters’ of what is to come – a draft introduction and chapter outline. To access the full work, you may want to bookmark this weblog and check back from time to time. Please also note that I’ve provided a visual intro and overview of the book on the page here that also carries the same title. To access it just click on the relevant entry on the upper right section of this front page. Another page records some of the early comments received in response to pre-publication drafts.

Introduction To open click here

Overview of chapters To open click here

Robert Jungk and J.G.Ballard Interviews

I first met Bob Jungk in the 1980s – which was rather late in his long career. At the time I did not really appreciate the role he’d played in so many lives, not least of which was to lead the opposition in Germany to nuclear power. Nor had I read his best seller Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, first published in 1956. But I do have a clear memory of him taking the podium at a World Future Society meeting in the USA right after a featured ‘big name’ speaker. He glowered at the audience and, in his thick German accent, wondered aloud how it was that he appeared to have ‘boarded the wrong aircraft.’ It was his way of saying how strongly he disagreed with the previous speaker’s emphasis on the latest technical wonders. As I soon learned he had, after all, spent half a lifetime warning of the dangers of technology-led views of the future and arguing passionately for more nuanced, human approaches and the wider use of foresight. It was one of my earliest exposures to the chasm that existed – and still does to some extent – between the ‘European’ tendency to focus on human, social and cultural issues and the ‘American’ preference for new technologies: the ‘car of the future,’ the ‘conquest of space’ etc., etc.


While never formalised in any way Bob became a kind of mentor. I would look forward to meeting him here and there and each time deepening the conversation. Apart from the aforementioned US gathering, and others I may have forgotten, I met him in Barcelona, Beijing and, finally, in Salzburg. I treasure the photo I have of he and I standing together on the Great Wall of China in 1988. Not long afterwards I received a copy of his book Future Workshops with a hand-written dedication thanking me for inspiration! That was typical of his generosity. He was one of the founders of the World Futures Studies Federation and, as such, a figure that many people looked up to, not only in Austria and Germany but also in many other places.


The last chance I had to spend any time with him was during a 1990 forum held in Salzburg at the library he’d established there. Allen Tough, a Canadian colleague, was on hand to take the above shot of us having a brief conversation between presentations. I also recall having lunch with his family and meeting at the library late one evening to continue our discussions. It was a fitting end to an all-too-short but, for me at least, life-changing relationship. When I look back at how my own views of futures, and Futures Studies, developed, Bob Jungk is one of those key people who helped me to ‘clear away the fog’ and begin to understand what it was all about. I believe he influenced many people in this and similar ways. Years later, on a visit to Hiroshima, I was bemused to see a copy of his book Children of the Ashes on display in the museum there. In the interview he mentions how speaking with those caught up in the conflagration profoundly affected his own views and subsequent life work.


The interview (placed here in the new Interviews section) was first published in 1992 in the Australian Commission for the Future’s handsome 21C journal. He was very happy with the layout of the piece and I certainly agreed that the title ‘One Man Revolution’ was appropriate. This was also the year he ran as a Green Party candidate for the Presidency of Austria. He passed away two years later leaving a big gap in the lives of all who knew him.


Wikipedia. Brief overview:

Right Livelihood Award, 1986:

Images of RJ:

Summary of Obituary from December 1994 World Futures Studies Federation Bulletin, by Richard Slaughter:

Obituary from The Independent, by John Calder:

J.G. Ballard

I spoke with Ballard in the comfortable lounge of a hotel in Manchester. The hotel was, in its way, another constructed reality scripted and choreographed like a film set, an illusion standing in stark contrast to the chaos of large-scale road works outside.  Such “nested environments” were, of course, second nature to Ballard, for whom, perhaps, the whole world resembled a fantastic stage. (This also explains why he owned original works by the Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux.) He was certainly at ease in a role he knew well. Despite the self-revelation inherent in his work, he was, nevertheless, a private man, seldom seen in public. Yet his cordiality and unhurried manner, his direct gaze and ready conversation made for an easy rapport.

The interview took place at the Plaza Hotel, Manchester on 2nd October 1991. Edited and published in 21C, Issue 5, Autumn 1992, pp 78-81, Commission for the Future, Melbourne.

Posted in Interviews

Applying Integral Thinking to HIV/AIDS and Climate Change/Global Warming

How do you demonstrate the value of new thinking? One of the best ways, perhaps, is to show how it can be released from various ‘ivory towers’ and applied to pressing concerns in the real world. The Integral perspective has been around for some time so opinions will vary on whether or not it represents truly ‘new thinking.’ What is clear, however, is that it is being applied to some of the most intractable and serious global issues. Two papers are provided here that demonstrate this very clearly. One, by Barrett Brown and Don Beck, looks at ‘How to tailor public communications about HIV/AIDS to different worldviews.’ It not only provides a layered account of the characteristics and implications of five different worldviews it also provides some striking graphic examples that illustrate some of these differences. The summary table on p. 6 is particularly valuable and I’m grateful to the authors for allowing me to post the document here.

In April 2009 I placed on this site a series of in-depth reviews I’d written of a number of works on climate change and global warming. The second paper provided here is the full text of the work that eventuated. It is called ‘Beyond the threshold: using climate change literature to support climate change response’ and was published in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, vol. 4, no. 4, 2009, pp. 26-46. The paper explores patterns in the literature and makes suggestions about how the integral lens can both clarify issues and support necessary actions. It concludes by discussing new kinds of motivation that will be needed to resolve the global crisis.

These papers are two samples from a rapidly growing literature. For those who would like a concise overview of Integral theory, the most useful and concise introduction I know of is by Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and it can be found here:

Communicating about HIV/Aids

Beyond the Threshold (of climate change)

Will Education Systems Wake Up to the Civilisational Challenge?

In early 2008 I was invited to present a paper at the Australian Council for Educational Administration (ACEA) conference in Brisbane. I thought carefully before accepting. My PhD (Lancaster 1982) had been about the need for futures perspectives in education. Since then I’d travelled the world, written books, given countless presentations and workshops. In most cases the responses were positive – teachers, parents, students and many others hardly needed convincing that there were challenges ahead to which educators had to respond (as well as visions and dreams to possibly fulfil). Yet the longer I worked the more I came up against a fundamental problem – education systems are fundamentally biased against taking the future seriously. They are simply not prepared to accommodate anything more than the most trite and superficial treatments of futures. As I discovered in Queensland, structural innovations can get a long way down the track but they fail because they do not obtain consent at the highest levels and are then either dropped or marginalised.

So what was I to do? Was it worth making yet another effort to help educators ‘wake up’ to the changed world that is rapidly approaching? As human impacts on the global system reach crisis levels and global warming is finally being recognised for what it is, were people likely to be more receptive? I thought it worth a try. The link below will take you to the paper I wrote. It is short, to the point and tries to make clear that we are, as a species, finally ‘out of time.’ We need to ‘wake up’ to the global crisis that we ourselves have created and deal with it honestly and openly. School systems are, of course, only one part of the social fabric, but I continue to believe that unless they play their part in equipping students for the now inevitable transitions before us, they are failing to fulfil their statutory obligations as well as their moral ones.

The paper is called ‘Beyond ‘the future of…’ Responding to the civilisational challenge,’ and it was published in the ACER Conference Papers, ACER, Melbourne, 2008, pp 14-18.