World in 2050: Walking a tightrope over a ravine

Today I was asked for a metaphor to describe the state of the world in 2050. My answer: walking a tightrope over a ravine.

The question as part of a new international research project conducted by the Foundation for Facilitating Research and Social Forecasting of the Post-Crisis World on “Vision 2050: A New Political and Economic Map of the World”. The organisation was established in Moscow in early 2009, at the initiative of several well-known (says the website) Russian public and professional organizations, including the Public Opinion Foundation, Stock Market Development Centre, the non-commercial partnership Business Solidarity and others. I was approached via LinkedIn and did it as my variant on Tim Smit‘s dictum to do one request in three – it might stimulating, it might help make connections, what’s the harm? (See also ‘often creating change is about creating options’ in an earlier post.)

The questions themselves were stimulating, if a little too much relying ‘choose your top three’ for my liking. The questions also made me reflect on the difference in biases between myself and the Russian organisations – nuclear weapons had a higher prominence than I would have guessed, a curiosity into markets vs state planning, and there were requests for thoughts on post-Soviet states which I couldn’t get close to answering.

Then there was question three:

3. Please suggest a metaphor to describe the state of the world in 2050.

Which gave me a long pause for thought, before I wrote:

Walking the tightrope across a ravine

pessimism of the intellect: we will have 9 billion people to feed in a world deeply affected by climate change, and increased resource demands. We will miss many opportunities to create a sustainable future.

optimism of the will: we will have mobilized vast financial resources, capability and potential of global society to address crises as they occur

result: walking on a tightrope, where one false step things come crashing down, but if we get across then world society can become safer again.


Three things to unpack from this metaphor:

-“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” is a quote from Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. Noted geographer Mike Davis uses at the end of his brilliant essay “Who Will Build The Ark?“, which explores the Anthropocene, the term in geology for our modern period, when the biggest influence on ecosystems is human society.

what I like about my metaphor: implies the future is of our making; brings in the uncertainty; and plays off the normal eco-doom with a faith in progress.

what I don’t like: cross the ravine makes it seem like a sharp end to normality, then tricky period, then shar transition to new normal when we’re more likely to experience a series of juddering crises and then, optimistically, a gradual improvement and return to resilience.

All of which begs the question: what metaphor would you use to describe the state of the world in 2050?



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