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Time Warp on Climate Change

 

In yesterday's New York Times, there were two articles on climate change. The first was a front page piece about how President Obama will try to end-run Congressional paralysis on dealing with climate change by seeking to update the existing Kyoto treaty in ways that comm...
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


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Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ And Other Clues to the Coming Instability Eugene Linden With a New Afterword by the Author for the Plume Edition In THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ and Other Clues to the Coming Instability (A Plume Book; On-Sale: February 5, 2002), veteran journalist and social critic Eugene Linden offers a provocative way of thinking about the future. “We will know much,” writes Linden, “...if we can answer one question: Will life in the next century be less stable than it is now.” Linden argues that the remarkable stability and economic growth since World War II gave baby boomers a false sense of security, and, more importantly, camouflaged deep forces that will likely plunge the world into a protracted period of economic and social upheaval. Since September 11, Linden’s argument has taken on new urgency as some of these forces have been violently thrust before the public. By outlining the nine clues that will play the greatest roles in shaping our future and examining the potential effects each of them will have on society, Linden presents a clear picture of the challenges that need to be addressed, and the pitfalls of not heeding these warnings. In the chapter entitled “The Rise of the ‘True Believers’” Linden describes how radicals and religious fanatics are both a product of instability in the world today and a likely indicator of greater instability to come. As recent events have proven, any of the clues to the coming instability can have momentous effect; taken as a whole, the nine clues outlined in THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT could reshape the known world, and in as little as 50 years. Since the dawn of history, prophets, seers and marketing gurus have sought to answer what the future holds, almost to always find their predictions humbled by the whims of fate. In Linden’s case, however, what was published in 1998 as a look at the future looks more and more like a description of the present. Prescient sections of the book examine the destabilizing aspects of religious fanaticism and infectious disease, and describe as well as how they might transform the way we live. For those people wondering whether the world is at the point of a major transition, Linden offers a clear and useful way of looking at the future by taking a fresh look at the landscape of the present. The book deciphers the larger meanings of the wage gap, recurring currency crises in the developing world, changing climate, migration, shriveling supplies of water and other clues to future instability. Then, in a series of scenarios set in such places as New York (where Linden describes a future that Americans can now more easily imagine), London, Northern California, Mexico and the Congo, the author shows the various and often surprising ways in which people react to instability. Some will welcome stronger family ties and the end of youth culture, but an unstable world also may see less innovation and investment. Finally, Linden describes how the potential for instability lies in the very nature of the consumer society itself, and how the world might side step the pitfalls of instability. In a new afterword Linden updates the book to address events, including the attacks on September 11, 2001, that have occurred since initial publication in 1998. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Eugene Linden is an award-winning writer on science, nature, and the environment, whose articles have appeared in many publications, including Time magazine, National Geographic, and The New York Times. In recent years he has consulted for the U.S. State department and the United Nations Development Program, and he is a widely traveled speaker and lecturer. In 2001, Yale University named Linden a Poynter Fellow in recognition of his writing on the environment. Linden is also the author of The Parrot’s Lament (available in a Plume edition), as well as five other books. His newest book, The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity, will be published by Dutton in August 2002. Linden lives in Nyack, New York. Visit Plume Books on the web at www.penguinputnam.com Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

Since 1998, when The Future in Plain Sight was published, I’ve been watching the nine clues to future instability that I put forth in that book come into to the headlines one by one, and, unfortunately, way ahead of schedule. The basic argument in TFIPS is that the contours of the future might best be glimpsed through the filter of stability. While predicting whether we’d all have personal flying machines is a fool’s errand, we could know a lot if we could make an informed guess as to whether the future was likely to be more or less stable than the present.

With that in mind, I proposed nine, long wave-length trends/clues that strongly implied that the future would be less stable than the present. After exploring how different an unstable world is from a relatively stable one (less investment and innovation, religion/family/clan more important, etc), the book offered a series of scenarios set in the year 2050, which tried to put some flesh on what such a future might look like.

Alas, it looks like we won’t have to wait until 2050 to see this unstable future. We have had vivid, real world examples of the disruptions wrought by religious extremists (the chapter “The Rise of the True Believers” was written before the religious right gained ascendence here, and radical Islam began its bombings and wars); a disappearing Middle Class (“the Ubiquitous Wage Gap”); markets wrecking economic chaos (“Hot-Tempered Markets”); and so on.

And now, with the Ebola crisis, unless the world takes action real fast, we are going to witness the unholy synergy of three other clues offered in the book – “Infectious Disease Resurgent,” “A Biosphere in Disarray,” and the inherent instability of swollen, emerging nation cities. Wholesale ecological disruption very likely played a role in Ebola jumping from its animal host to humans, its emergence also signals that the “honeymoon” from infectious disease that started with sanitation in the late 19th century and the discovery of antibiotics in the 20th, is coming to an end, and the swollen cities of emerging nations are providing the springboards for the return of the microbes.

In the years since I wrote that book, I’ve looked back many times, wondering whether I was wrong about any of the clues, or whether I missed one that I should have added. One such candidate for inclusion is the rise of international criminal gangs. The drug cartels and their affiliates have made much of Mexico to dangerous to travel, and similar, large scale criminal enterprises destabilize scores of cities around the world.

As for a clue where I might have overstated the threat, there is one that bears directly on whether or not the world will contain the Ebola threat. That clue focused on the destabilizing aspects of the emergence of megacities. Given their size and importance to regional economies, it is easy to see how problems in a megacity could bring down an entire nation’s economy. What happens to Japan, for instance, if radiation from Fukushima continually worsens and makes Tokyo uninhabitable, or, what happens to Brazil if large parts of Sao Paolo really do run out of water, as is threatened now? On the other hand, these giant cities also create a critical mass of intelligence and the capital to deploy it. There's a ray of hope in the fact that an Ebola carrier made it to Lagos, the very poster child of a city always on the verge of collapse, and yet the city was able to respond and contain the disease. If the home of kleptocrats and email scams can deal with Ebola, maybe other African cities can too. Go Lagos!



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