Visioning Alternative Global Futures, November 2000

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© Hazel Henderson, November 2000
( 997 word count )

Visioning Alternative Global Futures”

As technological change and globalization speed up, political leaders are looking further into the future.  Even as they wrestle with all the daily crises, many are stressing foresight as vital.  Anticipating the future and preparing policy options for voters’ consideration is becoming the essence of democratic leadership.  President Fernando Henrique Cardoso recently launched such a visioning of Brazil in the 21st century.  President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic has convened his Forum 2000 explorations since 1998.  An international conference on our global future was inaugurated at Tamkang University in Taiwan with the support of President Chen Shui Bian. These new democratic leaders are embroiled in all the familiar issues of technological change: “old economy to new economy” restructuring, conflicts over energy sources, climate and pollution, poverty gaps, work place and consumer protection standards.   They know they must look beyond the horizon to address these concerns.  Just as global corporations plan their market strategies and products decades ahead, so too must today’s governments and political leaders.  Futures research, planning and forecasting are coming out of the closet — from the backrooms of corporate strategic plans, advertising and market research into the daylight of open public conferences on the future of the whole human family on our interdependent planet. Media covering such conferences are still mystified.  They do not see such wide-ranging scenarios of global futures as “news.”  But the definition of news is also changing – from the daily scattered events and scenes of conflicts, fires, floods and disasters – to a deeper probing of the underlying forces and processes that drive events.  Many schools of journalism now sponsor such deeper inquiries, including those related to the ethics of media owners, editors and journalists in reporting news.  After all the wrong calls of winners by media during the recent US presidential election – few now accept the view that media are objective.  Yet it is still their responsibility to strive toward such goals of impartiality and completeness.  Media can also learn to report on future trends and research.  They can expand their slavish over-reporting of economic forecasts, technological hype, corporate earnings and profit projections to pump stock prices.  Reporting on forecasts of social trends, resource availability, population, technological impacts on people and the environment merit as much or more attention. Fewer people own stocks and bonds, but everyone must breath clean air, drink pure water and require access to good food and basic resources.

In today’s rapid global change, many media owners, editors and reporters still see the world through conventional filters.  Rape, riot and ruin was the recipe for selling newspapers.  In television “if it bleeds, it leads” is too often the formula.  So anti-WTO protestors and politicians alike are tempted to escalate their rhetoric and act out their debates in theatrical forms for TV cameras.

Two recent cases in point are the exaggerated conflicts over two obsolete nuclear power plants, one in Taiwan and the other in the Czech Republic – both of which I witnessed first hand.  In Taiwan, President Chen Shui Bien recently fulfilled his campaign promise and cancelled a one-third constructed, fourth nuclear plant – after 20 years of careful study and public review.   This quite rational, fully democratic decision created a firestorm of overreaction among Chen’s foes in the old guard KMT party he defeated in the May, 2000 election.  Both the power plant opponents who staged peaceful demonstrations and the KMT promoters of the nuclear plant, used political maneuvering and hyperbole, and waged media seeking campaigns.  The KMT and other factions support the “old economy” as opposed to President Chen’s “new economy” vision of a clean, high tech “Green Silicon Island”.  The KMT are pushing ahead with their reckless plan to impeach President Chen.  In the Czech Republic, the border rows with Austria over the Temelin nuclear plant continue.  Activated in October, this Soviet-designed plant is closer to Vienna than to Prague.  Amid protests by “new economy” green and renewable energy advocates on both Czech and Austrian sides of the border, Austria still intends to block the Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union if the plant is not closed.  Meanwhile, in both cases, Czechs and Taiwanese have access to many renewable technology alternatives for meeting their future energy needs without the hazards and radioactive waste storage costs of nuclear power.

But in Taiwan, Czech Republic, Europe, the US, Brazil, OPEC countries and all energy producing and consuming nations – the energy wars, like the earth’s climate are heating up.  The “old economy” sectors:  fossil fuels, nuclear, chemicals, construction and other heavy industries still control politicians and legislatures through their trade associations, ad campaigns, media ownership and influence, lobbying and campaign contributions.

The budding renewable energy, information and green technology sectors of the “new economy” still do not have this kind of entrenched political and economic muscle.   One can only hope that the new wave of democratic leaders: President Cardoso in Brazil, President Chen in Taiwan, President Havel in the Czech Republic, can rally their supporters by continuing to articulate their new visions of alternative futures.

Even more crucial, will be the media’s grasp of these deep forces restructuring societies through technological globalization and economic interdependence.  The “new economy – old economy” debate is one aspect of these deep forces now shifting the industrial base of our societies from traditional land, materials and fossil energy to deeper knowledge of planetary and biological processes, greater efficiency in resource use, recycling, renewable energy and the information-communications revolution.

As our mass media see and report the daily events in the world’s growing number of deadlocked democracies, the economic and corporate restructurings, the natural disasters, the globalization debates through new lenses – we may see ourselves in these larger contexts.  We may then recognize the longer term options, choices and opportunities that lie in our future.  Futures research will then become a vital part of everyday politics:  anticipatory democracy. Everyone has a stake and a right to participate in building a global future that works for everyone.

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Hazel Henderson’s latest book is Beyond Globalization:  Shaping A Sustainable Global Economy, for The New Economics Foundation (U.K),  and Focus on the Global South (Bangkok)   See for book ordering information.