By Mandla Reissmann MA: Futurist. Consultant. Freelance Writer. Team Leader.
Let me start this article by introducing myself, I am a Swazi by birth and my main area of expertise is in economics, in the discipline of Futures Studies. I am well versed in strategy through my studies and work in the Futures discipline. Being a Futurist doesn’t mean that we are in the business of predicting the future from a crystal ball, but instead thinking carefully about the future and building a consciousness of what is to come. This naturally leads to connections with Ecological issues that are dealt with in this publication by ECCO.
Futures (plural) Consciousness is something that is part of the experience of life, in the same way consciousness can be said to be a general woken state. We take for granted that we are constantly choosing and predicting things in our day to day life as well as in the grand scheme of entire lifetimes or generations. In eSwatini our Kingdom is steeped in traditional practices that have been in place for generations. We pay homage to the way things were and how they brought us to where we are today. The past is important for discussing issues of the future. We learn from the past in order to shape our futures.
We generally seek answers from two types of knowledge about the future. The ontological or metaphysical question; does the future exist? And the epistemological question; can we know the future? The answer to both can be generalised. The future cannot be predicted; there are many alternative futures. The future is not predetermined, however, the future can be affected (Amara 1981).
Futures consciousness is the basic understanding that the future is not singular and not random. It is within human means to shape where we end up; as we continuously journey from past to present. This is true on all levels; from personal issues to complex social problems considering any disciplines that apply. It is about empowering people to shape the future rather than showing it to them as though it is predetermined and “out of our hands”. Allowing people to take responsibility for the future, deeply considering sustainability and social consciousness among many other things.
Now (April 2020) we are facing a worldwide pandemic with the COVID-19. Deepa Pullanikkati PhD (Co-Director of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network, Consultant based at CANGO, eSwatini) writes about the “unsustainable normal”, or, the way in which we have been carrying on until COVID-19 disrupted us. “Normal” right now is far from optimal in terms of sustainability. We have all been on lockdown for some time now and no doubt look forward to going back to normal life, but where does normal lead us? Pullanikkati urges us to rethink what normal is, in other words, to be conscious of what “business as usual” leads us to in the future. Contained in this type of thinking is the “new-normal”. (Pullanikkatil 2020)
The idea of normality is linked to our individual choices that are rooted in society and culture. What is normal for one person or culture is not always normal for another. COVID-19 has forced us to think outside of our national borders and consider our participation in a global issue.
- How could our actions change things when we all go back to “normal”?
- What does the “new normal” look like? (visualise it)
- What are the useful versions of the “new normal” to consider? (good and bad)
Futurists dedicate themselves to exploring these types of questions, thinking about and describing how optimistic and pessimistic scenarios would play out. It is important to consider what we want to avoid as well as what we want to achieve.
The translation of Futures research into everyday terms is complex because, “The futures terrain is messy, full of probabilities and improbabilities, that futures work does not easily lead to straight forward solutions and techno-fixes” (Ramos 2006). Even if it is not obvious on a personal level that we are facing ecological turmoil as well as an unseen virus; it is important for us to take heed of the work put in by researchers of all types. Scientists have been warning us of pandemics like COVID-19 as well as the global climate crisis for a long time now. Our inability to grasp these things fully means that we must have faith in those who do. This is the first cultural change that is necessary to face the challenges ahead. Having Futures Consciousness means understanding that yet unseen effects of our actions are important. Predictions grounded in fact allow for us to make robust plans for what we want to achieve and what we want to avoid moving forward, ultimately crafting the world we want to see with a greater sense of personal and collective agency.
My first inclination is that we need to work, to define the “new-normal”. Our current “locked-down normal” is shown to be beneficial to the environment. While everyone stays home, our carbon footprint is unprecedentedly reduced and the benefits of this are showing, for example, “animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom” (Pullanikkatil 2020). “According to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, data recorded between January and March 2020 reflects an 84.5 per cent increase in days with good air quality in 337 cities, and satellite data from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration shows a decline in nitrogen dioxide over China.” (Kumar 2020).
The harsh truth is that a solution to the climate crisis looks something like “lockdown”, however, we are not likely to react to the climate crisis with the same extremity and haste. Decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels means making sacrifices in air travel and other freedoms that come from fossil fuel based mobility. To mitigate the climate emergency, fossil fuel based global industries and economies need a total restructure in the long term, it is possible to make this transition in a less drastic (and hopefully more equitable) fashion than “lockdown”. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the need for more equal economic systems, especially in terms of healthcare and social support (Wyns 2020). Similar types of services will be needed to deal with the global climate emergency. The hope is that COVID-19 will make us more conscious of the best ways to deal with such problems and pre-empt accordingly.
Futures Consciousness can lead us to the “new-normal”. It is applicable on all levels from personal to global scale. Nothing is too little or too small to make a difference. Awareness of our own impacts and mindfulness of them can inspire innovation and action for a better future. Please ask yourself, what can you do differently in your own “new normal”? Then act on it!
Amara, Roy. “The Futures Field: Searching for Definitions and Boundaries.” The futurist 15.1 (1981): 25-9. Web.
Fletcher, James. Electrogravitic Life 5 (Digitally Remastered) . 2017. , https://www.deviantart.com/jamesf63/art/Electrogravitic-Life-5-digitally-remastered-681608966.
Kumar, Pushpam. “COVID-19 and the nature trade-off paradigm.” Mar 31, 2020. Web. Apr 17, 2020 https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/covid-19-and-nature-trade-paradigm.
Pingleton, Joe. Social Distancing . 2020. https://www.deviantart.com/joepingleton/art/Social-Distancing-834060130.
Ramos, Jose. “Consciousness, Culture and the Communication of Foresight.” Futures 38.9 (2006): 1119-24.
Wachter, Daniel. Tree City. 2012. , https://www.deviantart.com/danielwachter/art/Tree-City-296194537.
Wyns, Arthur. “How our responses to climate change and the coronavirus are linked.” Apr 02, 2020. Web. Apr 14, 2020 <a href=”http://<https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/climate-change-coronavirus-linked/>.