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FutureScapes April 6: Global Drivers of Change

Welcome to the latest edition of FutureScapes. Today we take a look at some of the global drivers of change that may have a hand in shaping the future over the next decade and beyond. Specifically, we focus on economic, policy and governance drivers, and shifts in economic systems.

In this issue:

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Writings on the Future:
Drivers of Change

By April Koury, Iva Lazarova and Rohit Talwar from The Future of Business

In these drivers of change we explore some big picture views of how our world could play out in the next two decades and the potential implications for individuals, society, governments, and business. These drivers examine how the key economic, social and technological forces, emerging ideas, and developments discussed in the rest of the book could come together to drive fundamental change. In particular they highlight critical current and future technology revolutions that could disrupt and reshape how we live, how we govern and the future purpose, role, nature, and conduct of business.

You can also listen to this chapter on The Future of Business Podcast on iTunes, our RSS feed, or our YouTube Channel.

Emerging Paradigms

Age of Abundance – The Singularity Movement argues that, counter to the peak proponents, advances in science and technology will lead to a world of post-scarcity or abundance between 2020 and 2050. Nanotechnology, genetic sciences, bio and molecular manufacturing, robotics and AI will result in great efficiencies in resource usage and management, as well as offer up a whole new host of plentiful new materials. This will extend to lab-grown meat, replacing the need for animal farming.

Innovating to Zero – Innovating to zero is the idea of creating a “Zero Concept” world, where companies will deliver energy solutions, goods, and services with zero carbon emissions. Some extend the idea to include delivering goods and services with zero environmental impact. Technologies that will assist in the drive for zero emission include wind power, the travelling wave reactor (TWR), solar PV, and third generation biofuels (biofuels derived from algae).

Circular Economies – Traditional linear economies are based on a “take, make, dispose” model, whereas circular economies rely on the re-use of resources to extract maximum value and minimize waste before being safely returned to the biosphere. Governments as well as businesses are taking notice of the potential economic and ecological long-term benefits of investing in a circular economic model. In 2012 a report sponsored by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that a subset of the European Union manufacturing sector could realize net material cost savings of up to $630 billion per year by 2025 through switching to a circular economic model.

Civic Ecology – Civic ecology practices are community-based environmental stewardship actions that enhance the green infrastructure, ecosystem, and human well-being within urban areas. In essence, communities come together to care for nature typically in places marked by disaster, poverty, and environmental degradation. Activities include community gardening, tree planting, and park cleanup. Civic ecology practices are growing in number as the need for global sustainability initiatives becomes increasing prominent.

Environmental Market-Based Instruments (MBIs) – Environmental market-based instruments are policies that provide incentives to polluters to reduce their negative environmental impacts. Carbon taxes and “cap and trade” policies are the most widely adopted MBIs. Continued global growth is expected to increase the adoption of MBIs to encourage more sound behavior in carbon usage and provide the funds to finance ecological protection.

Community Sustainable Resource Management Schemes – Local community initiatives are encouraging communities to reuse, recycle, repurpose, and share resources. In Mexico City, for example, at the Mercado del Trueque, families exchange recyclable materials for fresh produce. On its opening day the Mercado collected an estimated 11 tons of recyclables from 3,000 local families.


Rising Energy Demand – Global energy demand is expected to increase by one-third by 2035, with emerging economies accounting for more than 90 percent of that net energy demand growth, according to the International Energy Agency. Low carbon energy sources like renewables and nuclear could meet about 40 percent of the growth in primary energy demand by 2035.

Scale of Alternative Energy Adoption – Oil prices are expected to rise in the longer term as the pressure on fossil fuel supplies drives up costs over time. This could result in a growth in the use of alternative energy by publicly owned energy utilities, existing private sector players, and new providers. Sources could include a combination of solar, geothermal, tidal, wind, biomass, nuclear, motion capture, and other forms of alternative energy. Self-managed alternative energy supplies are becoming increasingly popular at the corporate level. They provide firms with more options for fulfilling their energy needs, and allow them to decouple themselves from the price volatility of the public energy supply.

Growth of Fracking – Hydraulic fracking involves drilling vertically into the earth to release gas and oil by using a high-pressure fluid to cause fractures and cracks in deep shale rock formations. Trillions of cubic feet of gas and oil by using a high-pressure fluid to cause fractures and cracks in deep shale rock formations. Trillions of cubic feet of gas and oil may be extracted this way. Though the fracking market is expected grow from $13.33 billion in 2013 to $19.8 billion by 2020, environmental concerns and governmental regulations banning fracking may hobble this energy source.


Resource Scarcity – Resource scarcity greatly impacts many aspects of business decision making, from location to securing raw materials and supplies. Every resource will become a battle ground as nations seek to secure access to food, water, raw materials, rare earth minerals and other energy resources. Sustainable resource management is gaining increased government attention due to the combined pressures of climate change, population growth, economic growth, and of course, resource scarcity.

Peak Everything – According to peak everything proponents, humans are reaching the peak limits of our planetary resources including oil, water, carrying capacity, and all raw materials. For example, peak oil production is expected to hit between 2015 and 2020 (although advances in technology continually push that date into the future). The FAO warns that world food production needs to increase by at least 70 percent to meet the demands of a growing population by 2050.

Food Security – In the coming decades, population growth coupled with reduced access to fresh water and declining arable land will resulting in mounting pressure on food security globally. The regions expected to have the largest population growth (Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa) by 2050 are currently seen as the least well equipped to meet these growing food demands and to deal with food security challenges, increasing the risk of conflict in the future. However, growing agricultural practices like permaculture, vertical farming, community gardening, edible landscaping, and urban fruit gleaning are redefining where and how we grow food, and will help alleviate future challenges to food security.

Climate and Environment

Climate Change – Experts agree that the planet is experiencing a rapid change in global and regional climate patterns. This is predicted to lead to increased sea levels, changes in the amount and the pattern of precipitation, and the expansion of deserts in subtropical regions. In particular, extreme weather and heat, drought and heavy rain, maritime acidification, and the extinction of living organisms would lead to decreasing yields from agriculture and fisheries. Severe climate change effects could also lead to increasing numbers of refugees. Governments worldwide are facing the challenge of developing policies that mitigate these effects and also build resiliency into our systems. Many nations may simply be unable to cope with the costs of protecting against severe climatic incidents and remediation after they occur.

Developing Materiality of Biodiversity Impacts on Business – Environmental impacts such as growing resource scarcity, biodiversity loss, and degradation of ecosystems provide new opportunities and risks to investors, shareholders and, insurers given corporate reliance on these assets.

Futures Finds in Media

How Machines Destroy (And Create!) Jobs, In 4 Graphs via NPR

From NPR’s Planet Money, a few great interactive graphs & charts showing how machines have destroyed some ‘traditional’ jobs like farming, but also how they’ve been responsible for creating new careers and decreasing the cost of goods among other things.


The Scarlett Johansson Bot Is the Robotic Future of Objectifying Women via Wired

“If a man can’t earn the attention of the woman he longs for, is it plausible for that man to build a robot that looks exactly like his love interest instead? Is there any legal recourse to prevent someone from building a ScarJo bot, or Beyonce bot, or a bot of you?”


In 2015, the future of energy experienced a major shift via Tech Insider

For the first time ever, developing nations spent more on renewables than developed nations. Developing countries spent $156 billion on renewable projects using sources like wind and solar, while developed nations spent $130 billion.


CRISPR Dispute Raises Bigger Patent Issues That We’re Not Talking About via Singularity HUB

“…we’ve been ignoring two important lessons from the CRISPR/Cas9 patent dispute: patent systems no longer fit the realities of how science works, and patents give their owners significant control over the fate and shape of technologies.”


Functional skin—complete with hair and oil glands—grown in lab via ars technica

“The mouse-based study, published in Science Advances, brings scientists closer to pulling off the feat in humans, which would provide synthetic skin grafts that could treat burn victims and patients with various skin diseases.”


Brains of Veterans with PTSD Changed after Mindfulness Training via FUTURITY

New research is showing that mindfulness training is acutally altering the connections in veterans’ brains, helping them avoid getting stuck in a ‘flashback loop’.


The Answer to Nuclear Waste Storage and Transportation Could Be Metal Foam via Futurism

CMFs may just be the new way to store toxic waste: “Researchers discovered that composite metal foams (CMFs) are significantly more effective at insulating against high heat than the conventional metals and alloys. CMF consists of metallic hollow spheres—made of materials such as carbon steel, stainless steel, or titanium—embedded in a metallic matrix made of steel, aluminum, or metallic alloys.”

Rohit on the Road


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