Archive for April, 2011


Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a Global Sustainable Society

April 1, 2011

Peter Ellyard
Preferred Futures Institute
Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a
Global Sustainable Society
Journal of Futures Studies, March 2011, 15(3): 175 – 190
1. Contemplating a Global Sustainable Society
This essay describes the already-in-progress transformation of 21st century society into a global
sustainable society and a set of proposals to help consolidate this future. The essay is in three parts
and ten sections. The first part is a discussion about a current thinking about sustainability, and summarizes
current trends and probable futures. The second part describes a preferred future vision of a
global sustainable society and outlines some of its key characteristics. The third part delineates
some strategic actions which will be required to realize such a society by the year 2050.
Global trends are already shaping the emergence of such society but this fact is not widely recognized.
I believe that humanity will have developed the knowledge to achieve such a society by
the year 2025 and this could be realised globally by the year 2050. The values shift to a new global
paradigm under which such a society will operate is already emerging.
To enhance the probability that this transformational journey is successfully completed, new
mindsets and forms of global cooperation are needed, including changes to how these global transformations
are financed. The design rules and the social and physical innovations needed to consolidate
such a society can be broadly described even though the majority of them are yet to be invented.
By introducing and describing these emerging rules and innovations this essay also seeks to
demonstrate that it is possible to nominate many of the new goods and services which will enter
global markets between today and the year 2050 and, thus, to describe much of the emerging 21st
century global economy.
2. Should We Be Optimistic Or Pessimistic about Our Common Future?
There are some who think that humanity is already fatally endangered by global trends including
through already out-of-control climate change, over consumption, social inequity, and inter-tribal
and inter-religious conflict. These include Australian medical and environmental authority Frank
Fenner, and the creator of the Gaia hypothesis James Lovelock, both in their 90s, who have both
reached their pessimistic conclusions after dedicating their lives to making a world where such an
outcome were avoided. Lovelock concludes that humanity can only be saved by the universal adoption
of nuclear energy as a primary energy source. In addition, Tim Jackson (2009) in Prosperity
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without Growth argues that the problem is the Gross National Product (GNP) growth
itself and that we need a new model for economic development, because it is impossible
to ‘decouple’ GNP growth from resource use. Sadly he offers little in visualising a
preferred future alternative scenario might be possible. Moreover, Jackson said in his
2010 Deakin Lecture that ‘we have no idea about what this economy looks like’ in his
2050 future and that ‘we don’t know what life is like in such a scenario’.1 In this he is
part of a long tradition of eco-thinkers including such luminaries as Paul Ehrlich and
David Suzuki, who defined these complex problems superbly but for the most part
offered little vision and proffered simple and insubstantial solutions.
In contrast most futurists by nature are optimists. They might still be daunted
when contemplating the challenges required to transform our planetary society to a
universally sustainable and prosperous one. However, they mostly would believe that
humanity is mature and intelligent enough to accomplish whatever is necessary to
realize such heroic destinations: that is, transforming from destroyer to purposeful
adaptive builder. I am part of this tradition and it is my view that with some new language
and some new tools we can make the current system, including our addiction to
economic growth, work better and deliver an outcome we all seek; a sustainable society
on our Planet.
It is not sufficient to aspire to survive when one can aspire to thrive instead.
Thus, in my work I often use the word ‘thrival’ as an aspirational goal. Now this word
does not occur in any dictionary – at least yet – but the fact I needed to invent this
word says a lot about the lack of loftiness of the aspirations of English speaking people.
It also helps to illustrate the relative absence of inspiring visions relating to what a
sustainable society in the mid 21st century might look like.
Furthermore, we cannot work to realise any future that we do not first imagine
and imagination in this regard is sorely lacking. Indeed it is noteworthy that genres
such as science fiction are dominated more by apocalyptic than inspirational and aspirational
content. What is needed is a new fictional genre we could call ecofiction.
Hope is the best way to overcome fear and it is through imagination and vision we can
generate hope. For as the Book of Proverbs has told us where there is no vision the
people perish.
The futurist in each of us
The futurist in each of us is part prophet, seeking to answer the question what will
be the future or the probable future, and part visionary, seeking to answer the question
what should or could be the future or the preferred future. The prophet is the manager
in each of us. The manager considers current trends and activities and prophesies the
probable future that would result from their continuation. The manager then implements
strategies to avoid obstacles and threats, overcome problems, minimize risks,
and manage resources, to ensure the destination is safety, effective and efficiently
reached . The visionary on the other hand is the leader in each of us. The leader envisions
a new preferred future destination that is more relevant or more heroic than current
probable future destinations and then chooses, motivates and mentors the strategic
actions required for its realization.
Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a Global Sustainable Society
Management therefore involves problem centred strategic thinking, which focuses
on minimizing or eliminating current problems and those likely to emerge through this
perpetuation of current trends. Probable futures visions and problem centred strategies
in combination will result in the realisation of a merely less awful future, not a magnificent
one. Leadership on the other hand involves mission directed strategic
thinking, seeking to include in a strategy what is required to realise a preferred future.
The current conversation about our global future is too dominated by management
thinking. The bottom line is we cannot work to create a future which we do not first
imagine. And there is simply not enough use of imagination in current discourses
about realizing a sustainable future. What is needed is affirmative action for leadership
If we are going to successfully imagine and build a sustainable global society then
we need to visualize its core characteristics as a preferred future and then assemble the
elements of a strategic mission to realise it. There are many characteristics of such a
society that can already be described. And, as I will outline, many of the transformations
needed to realise it are in progress.
There is already a global conversation occurring about the year 2050: it is increasingly
popping up in global political discourse. International climate change negotiations
use the year 2050 as a target year for emissions reductions and for the creation of
a safe climate world – a phrase first used by Spratt and Sutton (2008). And many
NGOs around the world are increasingly mentioning the year 2050 as a time when
humanity should have completed transformative journeys of various kinds. The year
2050 should also be a major focus of discourse within the futures profession. A core
question in any 2050 conversation is ‘what does the world need to negotiate, design
and implement in order to realise a sustainable society by the year 2050 and what will
be the characteristics of such a society?’
The fact we are having this conversation at all is something to be celebrated for
humanity is not renowned for its far sightedness. As we struggle to negotiate, design,
build and implement arrangements that will achieve this result, what major goals need
to be achieved if we are to create a sustainable planetary society: one which is prosperous,
sustainable, harmonious and just, by that year? What should be our vision and
what should be the key strategies to realise this vision?
Answering this question was the core purpose of my book Designing 2050
(Ellyard, 2008). My shorthand description of this preferred future is a sustainable
global society that is characterised by ‘sustainable prosperity’. Reaching this aspired
for destination requires a mission for collective global collaboration.
Humanity has not only commenced discussing aspirations for the year 2050, but
is also building the negotiations infrastructure to realize it. In his lighthouse essay The
Tragedy of the Commons Garret Hardin (1968) outlined the kind of negotiations that
are necessary to achieve such a sustainable world. He suggested an essential question
that should characterize such negotiations: what forms of mutual coercion must we
mutually agree upon? This is the essence of current global negotiations such as in
post–Kyoto climate treaty negotiations. It is also present in many other global dialogues
such as creating a fair and free trading system through the WTO Doha Round,
solving global financial crises through the G20, or achieving global nuclear disarmaJournal
of Futures Studies
ment through the UN. The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference also recognised
an additional element characteristic of such discourses. We have now become so globally
interdependent with a shared fate that there no longer can be winners and losers –
we will either all win or we all will lose. The pervading feeling about the Copenhagen
outcome was that we all lost.
If we are to become effective shapers of the future we must change the way we
think and perceive the world around us and we need a good intellectual toolkit to
become more successful creators of the future: and to achieve this we all should
become both more effective responders to change (or resilient future takers), and more
effective shapers of change (or purposeful future makers). The major tools in this kit
are management and leadership, design and innovation, and learning. However, shaping
global futures is like charting a course in a 6 knot tide. Whatever our aspirations
we must plan for the fact that the tide is already taking us somewhere. As it happens
this tide is not taking us on to the rocks as many, including Fenner and Lovelock, fear.
3. Global Trends and Changing Paradigms
Key long-term trends, already moving humanity towards a global sustainable
society in the 21st century include:
• A more integrated, interdependent, yet culturally diverse world is being created
through the combination of globalisation (increasing global interaction and
interdependence), tribalisation (fracturing of old nation states and empires into
separate tribal entities as with the old Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) and technological
innovations that increase our interconnectedness, interdependence, and
our awareness of the lives and views of other cultures, and of our shared fate.
• A massive expansion of universal education that is encouraging people to look
beyond tribal roots which emphasises difference and to see themselves as part of
a humanity that emphasises both cultural difference and human unity.
• A substantial growth of the educated middle class through globalization. This
now numbers about 1.5 billion, of which China and India accounts for 500 million.
This has major implications for global paradigm shifts and the creation of a
global sustainable society.
• A single integrated global market place for ideas, products and services
informed by the emerging 21st century values of ‘planetism’ (this will be discussed
• The interdependent relationship with reciprocal obligations is becoming the
dominant model in personal, business, workplace and international relations.
• A growth in communitarianism (giving priority to community rights over individual
rights when these are in conflict) and a relative decline in its opposite,
• A rise in the global support for democracy, with autocratic administrations
increasingly becoming international pariahs and punished for being so. The
number of democracies has increased from just 12 in 1945 to 125 today.
• The increasing use of a new suite of measures which utilize growing global
interdependence and international collaboration to penalize rogue nations, comDesigning
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panies and organizations. These utilize trade sanctions, customer boycotts,
strikes on capital investment and the freezing of bank accounts.
• The increasing dominance of international and regional forms of governance
versus national governance in shaping the future. This is illustrated by the
increasing influence of the likes of the EU and ASEAN, the G20, the World
Bank, WTO, and the International Criminal Court, and NGOs such as World
Vision, Amnesty and Transparency International and the WWF.
• Global transnational corporations and on-line businesses are now as influential
on 21st century markets, investment and trade as governments, and these have
become increasingly vulnerable to judgments about whether they are good planetary
• An ever increasing number of multilateral agreements that are steadily eroding
the power of national governments
• The ageing of populations as more people join the middle class and seek to have
careers and families with fewer and better-educated children and more women
seek more equality and democratic freedom.
• Increasing support for religion and tribalism that respects difference, and an
escalating pariah status for religion and tribalism that does not.
• An evolving integrated global investment and financial system operating under
one set of rules, and the gradual demise of national currencies. This will lead to
the establishment of a world central bank within ten years and a single global
currency within twenty years.
• The increasing proliferation of products and services which promote sustainable
production, consumption, development and lifestyles
• The cultural customization of products and services in a global market place that
increasingly celebrates difference and diversity within global unity. The development
of what I call World Industries.
• The globalization of organized crime, terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and of
the collective response by humanity to these threats.
In The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth, Kenneth Boulding (1966) discussed
the need for the transformation of what he called the cowboy economy into the
spaceship economy. If we try to turn the above trends into a narrative we can begin to
see how paradigm shifts are transforming the world from a ‘Cowboy’ to a ‘Spaceship’
culture as first envisioned by Boulding.
The dominant paradigm of the 19th and much of the 20th century was modernism.
Becoming and remaining modern through modernization has been the major driving
force of change over the past 200 years. Being ‘modern’ was a-la-mode and desirable
and its opposite – being ‘old-fashioned’ – was undesirable and often ridiculed: there
was little respect for the old ways of doing things and we preferred new ways simply
because they were new.
Modernism became deeply entrenched and it transformed the world through the
forces of imperialism, colonialism, religious evangelism and the power of western science
and technology. It was intensively expansionist: there were always new territories
to conquer and cultural mindsets to ‘modernize’. Indigenous worldviews were
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regarded as inferior and incompatible with Western modernist thinking, and modernists
believe they should ‘civilize’ other people for their own good.
A key component of modernism was the concept of ‘progress’, which was short
hand to describe how much of the rest of the world had been transformed into
European-like status. Communities all over the world established ‘progress’ associations
of one kind or another to promote the tide of modernity.
Most people supported ‘progress’ as indigenous peoples were massacred and then
‘assimilated’ from the 1850s to the 1950s, as beautiful heritage buildings were replaced
by ugly modern apartment blocks, and as mangroves and wetlands were destroyed for
coastal developments. Joni Mitchell summed up this feeling by singing in her 1970
song ‘Big yellow taxi’ that ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot’.
Those born after 1970 sometimes have difficulty in understanding how earlier
generations could have perpetrated so many destructive changes and called them
‘progress’. By the late 1960s the limits and the dark side of modernism had become too
significant to ignore.
After 1970, a successor to modernism emerged called (logically enough) postmodernism.
Postmodernism provided the means for a critical deconstruction of the
modernist tradition, which it replaced with a collage of modern and pre-modern forms
and traditions, plus some genuinely new concepts such as sustainability.
In the postmodern era the merits of many old ways of doing things and of viewing
the world are being reaffirmed. Postmodernism fosters the view that the world would
be a better place if we paid more respect to pre-modern and traditional practices.
There are many examples of the influence of postmodernism in the visual arts,
architecture and music. A medical illustration of the switch from modernism to postmodernism
is what many people do nowadays if they feel sick. They might consult a
conventionally trained doctor. However, they might also consult a Chinese herbalist,
an Ayurvedic doctor, an acupuncturist, a shiatsu healer, a naturopath or a yoga master.
They understand that over the centuries the world’s diverse cultures have devised
many ways to heal illness. They will appropriate and perhaps integrate the approaches
they think will be most efficacious as their own personally customized healing solution.
This is the essence of postmodernism, which involves sampling the world’s cultures
and other people’s ideas and appropriating those most suited to your own needs.
In the postmodern era we even changed our language: swamps in the modern era
became wetlands. Slums in the modern era became heritage buildings. Postmodernism
today seeks to amalgamate the best of the old with the best of the new, such as retrofitting
a 19th century building with 21st century spaces and technologies rather than
demolishing and replacing it.
What paradigm will embody a worldview, dominate 21st-century global public
opinion and express the 21st-century just as modernism expressed the late 19th and
the first two-thirds of the 20th-century? Postmodernism won’t do, because it is essentially
a deconstruction of modernism. It is a paradigm of transformation, encouraging
us to prepare for success in the 21st-century by combining the best of the old with the
best of the new.
Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a Global Sustainable Society
4. The Birth of ‘Planetism’
A new paradigm I term ‘planetism’ is emerging and should be dominant by about
the year 2020. This is the paradigm of the spaceship culture, the paradigm of the cosmonaut.
This paradigm is already informing and shaping 21st-century global public
I believe that planetism will shape the 21st century in the same way modernism
shaped the 19th- and 20th-centuries. People then gave their first allegiance to their
tribe or nation. In the 21st-century they will give their first allegiance to the planet, to
Spaceship Earth, they share with the rest of humanity.
In my work over the last 15 years I have identified nine values shifts that are characteristic
of the transformation of global paradigms since the mid 20th century and
emergence of planetism. Planetism will inform international public opinion and shape
international agreements by 2020. Many people would be sceptical that such a global
transformation could be completed by then. In fact I am not suggesting that these values
will be universally held in 2020. However this is possible, even probable, by 2050.
Table 1 below presents the nine values shifts involved in this transformation:
Table 1
The Shift from ‘Cowboy’ to ‘Spaceship’ Culture
5. Imagining a 21st Century Sustainable Society
R. Buckminster Fuller in his essay Education for Comprehensivity (1970) said
wealth combines two factors – the physical, which is conserved, the metaphysical,
which can only increase. This metaphysical component principally consists of the sum
of data, information, knowledge, wisdom, design, planning and innovation.
A sustainable society will live by the planetist values listed above and as these
values spread so will the concept of such a society. Those who suggest that a sustainable
society is only possible by decoupling economic growth and resource use do not
give sufficient appreciation to the metaphysical component of wealth and prosperity.
A sustainable society need not be a non-growth society. Furthermore, much of the
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growing metaphysical component of wealth creation will help to ensure that the physical
component is conserved, protected, restored and appropriately utilised.
Sustainability discussions tend to concentrate on dealing with the elimination of
unsustainable practices and behaviours (problem centred strategies), such as in current
debates about the implications of economic growth. What is much rarer is positively
visualising, designing and building sustainable alternatives (mission directed strategies).
Lessening an undesirable outcome is not the same as creating a desirable outcome
and, as already stated, a sustainable society has to be imagined first before it can
be created. Reducing carbon emissions is not the same as imagining, designing and
building a zero carbon-emitting alternative. There is a difference between cleaner production
and clean production and the mindsets we use to realise each of these differ.
6. Sustainable Prosperity
Readers will likely be familiar with the “triple bottom line” first suggested by
Elkington (1999) in Cannibals with Forks. While this a significant conceptual
advance, turning this into a practical process to evaluate sustainability has met with
limited success because this good idea has not spawned the development of many significant
management tools.
In their seminal book Natural Capitalism Hawken, Lovins, A. and Lovins, H.
(1999) used the concept of natural capital as a component of total capital along with
human, financial and manufactured capital. These are key capital inputs into the
processes of development, production and consumption. While I find this concept useful
and important it is only part of the equation. We also need to consider the outputs
of development, production and consumption. Unsustainable outcomes are outputs
(products) of these processes not inputs. Therefore a new language that addresses the
output side of these processes is needed if we are to make significant gains in our
attempts to realise a sustainable future. After consideration I decided to use the output
related concepts of prosperity and poverty as measures. Prosperity and poverty can be
used as measures of total value – as a sum of quantity, quality and complexity – of the
outputs of development, production and consumption.
To operationalise this, a new language can be used to better bring economics and
ecology into a single conceptual framework. Imagine a sustainable 21st century society
to be one that enjoys sustainable prosperity.
Sustainable prosperity involves the simultaneous realization of economic, ecological,
social and cultural prosperity. The modernist concept of ‘progress’ often meant
that the creation of economic prosperity simultaneously created ecological poverty,
and sometimes also social and cultural poverty. Decimating and polluting ecological
systems to create ecological poverty was once acceptable if it also realised economic
prosperity. These activities were often accompanied by the utterance ‘you can’t stop
progress’. Similarly social poverty-by, for example, lessening social cohesiveness
while promoting individual access to opportunity – could also be an outcome of a
development process to realise economic prosperity. Likewise cultural poverty (decimating
cultures through assimilation and by conscious destruction) could equally be a
consequence. Forest clearance can be seen as an equivalent of ‘slum clearance’ where
Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a Global Sustainable Society
forests with high heritage, carbon sequestration and biodiversity value are clear felled.
This modernist practice still continues in many places as we cut rainforests to establish
oil palm plantations or for other ‘productive’ purposes. As we log these forests we
simultaneously realise economic prosperity and ecological poverty. Realising sustainable
prosperity in forestry means creating practices and innovations that simultaneously
realise economic and ecological prosperity.
A sustainable society will simultaneously realise economic, ecological, social and
cultural prosperity and not increase one form of prosperity whilst impoverishing
another. Ecotourism and cultural tourism is a good example. Here ecological and cultural
prosperity is turned into economic prosperity without impoverishing nature and
culture: this is sustainable tourism.
7. Ways and Wares
Many new innovations, goods and services will be needed in the next generation
to realise a global sustainable society. These innovations will assist the innovators
themselves to economically prosper by doing ecological, social and cultural good.
They are already in increasing demand in global markets and a new ‘planetist entrepreneurial
cohort’ is already commencing to provide them. These innovations, products
and services will be dominant components of the global economy in the 21st century.
Furthermore, the vast majority of the products, services and technologies which
will dominate global markets in the next four decades and which will realise a 21st
century sustainable society, have yet to be invented. A new language for describing
these innovations is also needed to facilitate their identification and creation. We cannot
describe the innovations themselves but we can, in this way, describe the purpose
of these innovations. I have coined the concept of ways and wares to fulfil this function.
Ways are the social innovations to what we do: changes to our behaviours and
actions. Wares are the physical innovations to what we use: new designs, technologies,
products and services. Ways and wares are vehicles that enable the metaphysical component
of wealth creation to change society through transformations of behaviour and
the provision of innovations, products and services into global markets. To illustrate; a
water conservation way would involve shortening one’s shower from 6 to 3 minutes; a
water conservation ware would be a new low volume showerhead. Together these
enable effective water conservation. The values of planetism are already informing
market demands for ways and wares which increase interdependence, democracy, sustainability,
gender equality, intercultural harmony, and security. Those who create and
market these innovations will prosper economically. Many of these ways and wares
will embody the four emerging generic technologies of cyber technology, biotechnology,
nanotechnology and advanced materials technology
Ways and wares for ecological prosperity
Emerging planetist markets will demand ways and wares to create ecological
prosperity by conforming to five basic design rules:
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Live within perpetual solar income: R. Buckminster Fuller (1969) first used
these words in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, when he pointed out that there
is 10,000 times more solar energy arriving on the Earth daily than humanity could
ever expect to use. Until now we have used the product of solar income of previous
eras – fossil fuels. The challenge is to devise new ways to use current, not historical,
solar energy in our everyday pursuits. Solar income can be harvested directly via
solar/hydrogen, solar/electric or solar/thermal systems, biologically through photosynthesis,
and indirectly when solar income moves wind and water, such as with ocean
currents (solar marine hydro). Lunar income can also contribute to sustainable energy
use through tidal and wave power (lunar marine hydro). How many new living within
solar income ways and wares can you imagine?
Turn waste into ‘food’: This concept was first use by US Architect Bill
McDonough in his 2000 Hannover Principles and later in Cradle to Cradle
(McDonough & Braungart, 2002). In nature there is no such thing as waste. One
species’ waste is another’s food. In the next 40 years humanity needs to innovate
numerous ways and wares to turn waste into industrial and natural food. How many
turning waste into food ways and wares can you imagine? Many of these could be
based on bio-mimicry.
Develop, produce and consume while causing ‘zero net collateral damage’:
The concept of collateral damage was created by the defence industry to describe
unintended damage cause by warfare. It can be equally be used to describe damage to
environment, society and culture caused by development, production and consumption.
In medicine a person with cancer who is treated with chemotherapy suffers considerable
collateral damage (medical side effects) to their bodies. This is unsustainable
medicine. Sustainable medicine would occur when we can treat the cancer effectively
with zero net collateral damage to the body, because we are able (for example) to
utilise a particular gene therapy or enzyme to kill cancer cells or stimulate the immune
system to reject the cancer. In agriculture, pesticides kill many non-target organisms
and create considerable ecological collateral damage (negative environmental
impacts). This is unsustainable agriculture. A new form of biological pest management
or the introduction of a gene that results in only the destruction of the target
organism would constitute sustainable agriculture.
Just enough in place and time (JEPT): Most readers will know just in time
(JIT) processing such as that that occurs in manufacturing. Ecological damage can
occur when for example a water soluble artificial fertiliser is placed on a crop much of
which fails to be taken up by the plant, because it is either fixed by chemical processes
into an insoluble form in the soil or it is washed away in an intensive rainstorm where
is causes ecological damage (eutrophication) to rivers and offshore waters. JEPT
would involve placing insoluble fertilisers in the soil that are mobilised by soil
microorganisms in the root zone and taken up by plant roots just enough in place and
time so that no excess is available at any time to be lost to the plant in one way or
Protect, nurture, restore and sustainably manage natural systems: Imagine
soil restoration ways and wares, air quality protection ways and wares and so on. For
water we need four kinds of ways and wares, for water conservation, water protection,
Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a Global Sustainable Society
water restoration and watershed management respectively. Imagine biodiversity conservation,
biodiversity protection, biodiversity restoration, and habitat management
ways and wares.
Ways and wares for social and cultural prosperity
To realise a sustainable society similar ways and wares are needed to realise social
and cultural prosperity. Here are some strategies for protecting, creating and restoring
social and cultural prosperity that could inform the innovation of new ways and wares.
Realising social prosperity: The creation of social prosperity and the elimination
of social poverty will require ways and wares that facilitate:
• Better functioning interdependence in community, personal and political relationships,
business supply chains and customer relations through activities such
as loyalty schemes, and our relationship with the environment.
• Effective democracy including through transparent, free and fair elections.
• Community cohesiveness through the development of shared visions of and
strategies for the future;
• Greater access to opportunity for all including the disadvantaged and disabled;
• Community collective procurement of goods and services which increases community
bargaining power in markets; and
• Effective learning through a learning culture that is life long, learner driven, just
in time, and customised for learners.
Realising cultural prosperity: Cultural prosperity can be realised and cultural
poverty eliminated through the provision of ways and wares which:
• Create economic activities such as tourism and cultural festivals based on the
celebration of cultural prosperity;
• Increase intercultural and inter religious respect and harmony and resolve conflict;
• Market cultural products and services that simultaneously celebrates tribal and
cultural diversity and the unity of humanity and offers in one place culturally
diverse products and services such as through world music festivals and world
food halls; and
• Culturally customize innovations, products and services such as food and learning
for particular cultural markets. Food is one of the ways we celebrate cultural
difference. Now in a single global market imagine the ways and wares that
would enable exporters to culturally customize food. In the 21st century we will
need food that is both clean and green (to maintain and realise ecological prosperity)
and culturally customized (to maintain and realise cultural prosperity).
Economic opportunities for innovators
Those who create ways and wares to create long term sustainable prosperity will
succeed because they will get to the future first. This pathway is equally available to
advanced developed countries – the old ‘Global North’, to emerging countries such as
China, India, Brazil and Malaysia, or to least developed countries- the old ‘Global
South’. Least developed countries could for example customize for their own needs
ways and wares created by others. Today’s problems are tomorrow’s opportunities.
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Israel and the Netherlands are world authorities on water today, because one had the
problem of learning to live with insufficient water and the other with an excess of
water. They created ways and wares to solve their own problems that they subsequently
exported to the world.
8. Sustainable Individualism
The realisation of a sustainable society means that the rights balance between the
individual and the community needs to be tilted more in favour of the community- to
create a community that is less individualistic and more communitarian. This, in turn,
means that we need to consider how that we can best assess where this correct balance
should lie. This can be achieved by defining what could be called sustainable individualism:
individual behaviour that does not create net collateral damage to the community
or the environment. Already the individual right to smoke in public or own
firearms has been restricted in many countries because the community also has a right
to clean air and safe streets: such activities cause collateral damage to the community
and the environment. The individual right not to wear a seat belt has been prohibited
not only because this protects individual lives, but also because individual injury
places increased costs on the community. The unlimited right to sue for medical or
public negligence is now similarly being limited. The community needs to be protected
from excessive medical or public litigation because the community must bear
increased insurance premiums if individual payouts for damages are excessive.
At the international level individual nations states need to be corralled to limit
their carbon emissions because the global community suffers if an agreement based on
mutual coercion mutually agreed upon is not reached. Many other examples could be
listed. What is required in all of these cases is that individual behaviours that create
zero net collateral damage to the community or the environment should be permitted
and those that do not should not. In all of these cases individual rights must be subordinated
to community rights.
9. Mindset Changes: Rethinking Who Is Rich and Who Is Poor
In Copenhagen last December there were those who still held the view that the
poor counties should only make voluntary contributions to slowing down and prevent
global warming. This is morally equivalent to saying that poor people can continue to
smoke in a café if they wish simply because they are poor but for rich people this is
banned. This thinking represents an extension of charity into an era when charity has
already ceased to be a useful concept. Charity as a concept was created in a 19th century
where dependence was more accepted, and it is ludicrous in a planetary society
now increasingly based on interdependence and the reciprocity of rights and responsibilities.
In an interdependent 21st century it is best to put aside perspectives which perceive
the world being divided into rich and poor nations and instead consider this division
as being between rich and poor people irrespective of where they might live.
Globalisation and the creation of universal market economies is spreading prosperity
Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a Global Sustainable Society
widely. There are now 500 million rich people in China plus India alone while there
are 80 million poor people in the USA. The perspective that requires rich countries
assist poor countries without reciprocal obligations by poor countries is inappropriate
in the 21st century. At the 2010 G20 Summit all nations committed themselves to halving
their deficits by 2013. As such, there will be little investment available from the
rich north to assist the poor south in the next 5 years.
Instead, new financial and investment mechanisms can be developed that enable
rich people everywhere to support poor people everywhere. Humanitarian investment
foundations can be established to operate in financial markets and trade financial
instruments such as central bank bonds. These would use investment loans from the
rich to buy and sell these instruments provided they utilise income derived from this
bond trading to create 21st century sustainable prosperity for all. Such foundations
could be given the authority to access central bank bonds on the same conditions as
commercial financial institutions. In this way rich Indians could assist poor Indians
with income generated from India’s economic growth. I am currently working with a
number of groups who are striving to put these mechanisms into place. These changes
would result in the privatisation of much of the world’s humanitarian investment and a
lessening of the role of governments and national politics in humanitarian aid.
10. Conclusions
A sustainable society is one which lives with the values of planetism, and which
has achieved sustainable prosperity. It is not a non-growth society-and it is a highly
innovative society. The physical component of wealth is being conserved and the
metaphysical component continues to grow massively. It lives within solar income,
turns all its waste into food and behaves with zero net collateral damage to society and
the environment. It is a communitarian democracy and is characterised by sustainable
individualism. It innovates the necessary ways and wares; the innovations that help
realise and maintain a sustainable society.
Many of the trends to create a sustainable society are already under way, but more
needs to be done to consolidate these trends and realize a true sustainable society. The
paradigm of planetism is emerging in the early 21st century. It is already informing
government and business practices, personal and corporate values and ethics and it is
shaping market demand for products and services. In particular our international culture
is being shaped by planetist values, the values of the rapidly increasing global
educated middle class. Innovators who wish to succeed can prosper through supplying
ways and wares that grow interdependence and trust in relationships, democracy, sustainability,
intercultural harmony, gender equality and security.
There are many mindset changes humanity will need to make to consolidate these
global trends and these will include agreeing that all members of global society will
need to contribute to global efforts to realise these outcomes, not just the rich nation
states of the world. What is needed is win/win outcomes in international negotiation
based on Hardin’s prescription of ‘mutual coercion mutually agreed upon’: in such a
world we all will win or we all will lose.
Journal of Futures Studies
We cannot work to create a future that we do not first imagine and we have not
done enough imagining about what we should seek to accomplish. This could include
a new literary genre that I called ecofiction and greater participation of culturally creative
people in the envisioning of a sustainable society.
To finance the birth of a sustainable society we need new ways and wares to
finance humanitarian investment that can operate in a borderless world, such as utilising
income derived from the sale of financial instruments. In this way the rich can
assist the poor irrespective of where both may live, irrespective of national governments
and national boundaries. This would essentially involve the formation of a
global privatized system of humanitarian investment.
By the year 2025 I believe we will know how to create a global sustainable society
and we will have implemented the core international agreements to achieve it. By
then planetism will inform global public opinion, dominate markets and ethics, and be
the dominant paradigm in many parts of the planet. The challenge in the following
twenty-five years will be to export this know-how to the rest of the planet to consolidate
a sustainable society by the year 2050.
Dr Peter Ellyard
Chairman, Preferred Futures Institute and Foundation 2050; Distinguished Visiting
Professor at Curtin University Business School
Address: PO Box 12843 Melbourne 8006 Australia
1. Jackson’s lecture at the 2010 Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures – held in Melbourne,
Australia – can be found at
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Designing 2050: Imagining and Building a Global Sustainable Society
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Journal of Futures Studies