I have often been asked how I became a futurist. A part of the answer is that, starting in my 20s, I read works by three people who, in my mind, were the greatest futurists of the last third of the 20th century: Alvin Toffler, R. Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan.
Toffler wrote “Future Shock” and “The Third Wave,” which shaped my thinking about “ages.” This led me to coin the phrase “the Shift Age” and write several books about it. Marshall McLuhan was, and still is, the greatest futurist and thinker about media. He saw things in their contextual whole. He correctly said that we don’t watch media as much as we live in media. R. Buckminster Fuller invented the geodesic dome and was a rapid-fire thinker and speaker of world renown. His two books that most affected me were “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” and “Utopia or Oblivion: the Prospects for Humanity,” both of which were written in the late 1960s.
Of course, I have read dozens of other books about the future in addition to a lot of science fiction and technology books. But it is these three greats - Toffler, McLuhan and Fuller - who I have referred to as the futurists on whose shoulders I stand to look well into the 21st century.
I have the great good fortune to be futurist in residence and guest lecturer at the Ringling College of Art + Design. One of my responsibilities is to guest lecture for a variety of professors, and I found that I consistently wanted to guest lecture in professor Tim Rumage’s classes. I soon realized that Tim, the head of environmental studies at Ringling, is one of the smartest people I have ever met about Earth's interconnectedness.
We decided, more than two years ago, to write a book about climate change. The process took much longer than expected. As time passed, we became increasingly alarmed by the feedback the planet giving humanity. The forecasts from the early 1990s about how bad climate change was going to be in 2040 were actually being manifested in 2014! This presented a problem: How could we finish the book without it being quickly out of date?
So we decided to publish a short, high-level book, readable in two to three hours, that covered the big issues about the topic and to have a companion website that could be constantly updated.
“This Spaceship Earth” was published in December.
The words of Fuller and McLuhan have stayed with me for 45 years. McLuhan said, “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” Fuller said: “We live on this Spaceship Earth but do not have an operating manual” and “In several decades, humanity would approach a fork in the road: utopia or oblivion.”
All three statements are still relevant, but the one that has altered what I now do for a living is the last one. I have spent a decade suggesting that coming transformative changes might lead humanity to utopia. After two years of research, it became clear to me that climate change was the oblivion Fuller forecast, that there may be no civilization as we know it in 2100 unless collective action is taken by 2030. I decided that it would be a dereliction of my professional duty as a futurist to not speak about climate change. But how?
McLuhan supplied the answer: We are all crew! We must think like crew, as this spaceship is the only place we have.
Climate change will, over the next 20 to 30 years, affect businesses, particularly in Sarasota, more than any other single thing. For those who face it and think and act like crew, there are huge opportunities. For those who think climate change is still politics and not physics, much will be lost. It is worth noting that in a recent poll, 65 percent of Americans said they believe climate change is real and caused by humanity.
Tim and I, along with local tech marketing entrepreneur Bob Leonard and Ringling graduate Devin Lee Ostertag, have just launched a global facing non-profit, headquartered in Sarasota to create crew consciousness. It is called ThisSpaceshipEarth.org and our beta website has just been launched. Please take a look, and if you would like any of us to speak to your company or a group you belong to, we will be glad to do so, for free.
I will write more about the economics, health issues and Sarasota specifics around climate change in future articles.