We are all time travellers now, intent on becoming past masters at seeing the future. As the last 12 months saw the economic systems we rely on threaten to topple like some vast house of cards,horizon-scanning skills became more valuable than ever. The International Institute for Environment and Development was already on the look-out.
For a research body like IIED, mapping the future is essentially another form of research. Even more pertinently, the field of sustainable development that we have helped to pioneer is defined by the long view — by concern for future as well as present generations, and for living within the planet’s projected limits.
We use what we know to predict the unpredictable, whether that is the behaviour of rainfall or of financial markets.
It’s now nearly 50 years since US sociologist Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock — a book about ‘too much change in too short a period of time’. In a world where the bottom can drop out of a global system almost overnight, this view still has resonance. But we — agencies, societies, countries, regions — are learning. And as we pull together out of collapse and towards greener growth, two perspectives give us that crucial thing, a sense of direction.
One is from the people who, over decades, have recognised that sustainable development is the only road to a viable future. The other is from the villagers and slumdwellers who, on every continent, fight for a future against often staggering odds. Both views have shaped IIED, and both remind us that humanity is nothing if not resilient and resourceful.
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