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Global MegaCrisis: Four Scenarios on the Future of Progress” Special Issue, Journal of Futures Studies

FROM: Michael Marien, William Halal, and Jose Ramos

RE:  Invitation to respond to “Global MegaCrisis:
Four Scenarios on the Future of Progress”
Special Issue, Journal of Futures Studies, Dec 2011


      The fundamental question in serious futures-thinking has to do with
the idea of human progress.  All matters considered, will life be
better for humanity as a whole, for countries and organizations, for
communities and families, and for individuals in the decades ahead?
Until the past decade or so, progress was widely assumed.  But in
recent years this assumption has become problematic.  The Great
Recession, still unfolding in some places, has dampened prospects for
many.  The multiple threats of global climate change and more extreme
weather events darken the long-range horizon.  World population
continues to grow, despite a declining rate of growth, and food,
water, and energy issues are emerging.  Political polarization and
gridlock appears widespread.  On the positive side, many new
technologies are emerging that can potentially alleviate if not
“solve” some if not many of these problems.  So, overall, should we be
very negative about future prospects, largely negative, largely
positive, or very positive?
          The two authors of the lead essay have engaged in a public
debate on this question over the past two years.  We both agree that a
“Global MegaCrisis” is emerging, if not yet entirely here for all
areas of the world.  We disagree as to the outlook: Halal believes
that new technology will probably make things better; Marien argues
that it is possible but not likely, too little too late.  After
exchanging several long e-mails, we published our first version of
this debate in World Future Review (1:5, Oct-Nov 2009).  A second and
more popularized version appeared in The Futurist (45:3, May-June
2011).  A third version appeared in World Affairs: The Journal of
International Issues, 2011.
      This version refines our dispute and adds some new references.
Similar to the other versions, it seeks to engage readers in
discussion and debate through the device of four scenarios on a single
axis of pessimism and optimism.  By quantifying the rough
probabilities of the four scenarios, one can easily see where one
stands in relation to others on this scale.  But then one must ask if
the arguments for the assigned probabilities are persuasive.  And many
arguments can and should be made for each scenario.
      The value of this exercise is not only to put the idea of progress on
center stage, where it rightly belongs, but to encourage reflection on
the two more complex middle scenarios (the largely negative “Muddling
Down” and the largely positive “Muddling Up”), rather than the extreme
negative position (of widespread disaster, Armageddon, species
extinction, all-out nuclear war, or collapse of capitalism in all
forms) or the extreme positive position (often implicit, but made
explicit by those advocating the technological Singularity and/or
widespread change of consciousness).
      The Journal of Futures Studies is inviting a number of distinguished
futurists and other futures-oriented thinkers, as well as several
students, to ponder these scenarios.

The only caveats are that each respondent must:

1) Stay within a limit of between 500 and 1,000 words;
2) Quantify (% wise) the likelihood of each of the four scenarios over
the next decade and provide some argument in support of the position
taken; or provide a short argument why you chose to not quantify, or
your argument against the approach taken in this special issue (or
possible argument for an alternative);
3) Submit your response by September 10th 2011 to give W. Halal and
M. Marien time to formulate a conclusion. Email response to:
jose@actionforesight.net ;
4) Format your contribution using JFS editorial guidelines:
http://www.jfs.tku.edu.tw/invauthors.html .

Halal and Marien will attempt to briefly respond to most or all of
these comments.  And maybe, as events in our age of turmoil,
uncertainty, and multiple transformations unfold over the next few
years, we might try this exercise again.

About the Special Editors

Michael Marien edited Future Survey for the World Futures Society for
30 years, preparing some 21,000 abstracts, and is now embarking on
establishing the website: GlobalForesightBooks.org, which is broader
and more timely than Future Survey, albeit not as deep. GFB.org now
has some 2500 mini-abstracts of futures-relevant books published since
early 2009, and long "Book of the Month" abstracts, most of which
underlie his emerging worldview. Michael Marien describes himself as a
“biophilic post-Unitarian nondenominational social scientist who hangs
out with futurists.”  He has a  (1970) Ph.D. in Social Science and
National Planning, and is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and

William E. Halal (Ph.D.) is professor emeritus of management,
technology, and innovation at George Washington University (GWU), with
degrees from Purdue and UC Berkeley.  He has published 7 books and
hundreds of articles, consults to corporations and governments, and is
a frequent speaker, once substituting for Peter Drucker. Halal is also
president of TechCast LLC – a virtual think tank tracking the
technology revolution. TechCast was cited by the National Academies as
one of the best forecasting systems available, and has been featured
in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and other publications. Halal also
co-founded the GWU Institute for Knowledge & Innovation. Previously,
he served as a major in the Air Force, worked as an aerospace engineer
on the Apollo Program and as a manager in Silicon Valley. He received
the 1977 Mitchell Prize for his article “Beyond the Profit-Motive,”
and was cited by the Encyclopedia of the Future as one of the top 100
futurists in the world.

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