Most analyses of climate change and its consequences today are based on projections that include within them a number of plausible scenarios for human greenhouse gas emissions. The intensity of these future emissions is, however, inherently uncertain, since it depends on socio-economic developments over the length of the 21st century which cannot be accurately predicted. Depending on how emissions evolve, as simulated by current models, the level of planetary warming in 2100 by comparison with pre-industrial norms varies between 1.5 and 5°C or more. Using this approach, we are able then to attach a level of climate change to a particular socio-economic scenario and deduce the impact in a variety of areas. It is also possible, conversely, to determine the global emissions policies compatible with a given temperature-change target.
This article by David Salas y Mélia is based on a different style of foresight thinking known as ‘backcasting’, which consists in taking a future climate situation, thinking backwards from it and relating the events that led up to it. Here the author imagines himself in 2101 and examines the chain of events that caused planetary temperatures to rise in 2068 to a peak of 3.1°C above pre-industrial levels, focussing particularly — as part of our series of articles devoted to things maritime — on the oceans. He points to the lack of concern in current times, which will not allow sufficiently vigorous action to be taken to actually limit climate change. He goes on to outline the geo-engineering techniques envisaged as ways of countering these shortcomings and the consequences of the developments that ensue. Finally, he describes the choice of the ‘Big Sunshade’ technique to reflect the sun’s rays back into space before they reach the Earth, which will make it possible to slow down the warming process and avoid the worst scenario, but will not prevent a decline of life on the planet and major losses to our ecosystems. But we are only in 2021… Is there still time to overcome our lack of concern and undertake the drastic actions required of us?
The Futuribles ‘Futures of Yesteryear’ feature exists to draw attention to past writing that has proved accurate (or, alternatively, wayward) in predicting the future. Quentin Scavardo’s article is a little different. Going back over what anticipations of the future — and, particularly, of the year 2000 — looked like in the four decades preceding that emblematic date, he stresses how the conditions of the time significantly influenced those predictions, which we can see to have been directly skewed by the events of that period.
This article is taken from Scavardo’s master’s thesis Une histoire au futur antérieur: les peurs de l’an 2000 au XXe siècle [A History in the Future Anterior: Fears of the Year 2000 in the 20th century], work which, drawing on foresight studies, polls and media analysis, reveals the diverse range of viewpoints through utopian, dystopian and eschatological narratives, the latter speaking more of fears than of hopes. A lesson emerges here on the need for the foresight community, when working on issues with long time-scales, to take a broader view of contemporary problems and to remember, in a period characterized by so much uncertainty and anxiety, that the worst outcomes do not inevitably eventuate.
Ouvrage monument de presque 800 pages, dont une centaine de notes, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, de Robert J. Gordon, s’attache à décrire le mode de vie américain depuis la guerre de Sécession (1870). Pour faire prendre conscience de cette « révolution du quotidien » qui s’est traduite par un doublement de la richesse tous les 32 ans aux États-Unis au XXe siècle (lorsque, à titre illustratif, les Anglais connurent ce doublement en quatre siècles, entre 1300 et ...
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Futuribles avait conduit un petit exercice collectif d’imagination au moment des élections présidentielles de 2012 . Il s’agissait alors d’envisager les élections présidentielles de 2017. Sept membres du comité de rédaction de la revue avaient bien voulu se prêter au jeu. Celui-ci ne prétend pas à la rigueur des modèles de prévision ni à la technique des scénarios prisée en prospective. Il s’agissait seulement d’évoquer et d’échafauder des possibilités, en fonction de clefs de ...
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Last December we celebrated the five-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, which revived a literary tradition begun by Plato — the detailed description of a society that its creator views as ideal. Nicole Morgan, a leading Thomas More specialist, takes a fresh look at this now classic work and its author, a great scholar and statesman, who in it outlines his vision of the optimal form of government as he and his humanist friends of the time saw it. A vision which, in the context of the 16th century, he could serve up only in the form of this humorous narrative that gave us the term “utopia”.
Quel aurait été le nouveau destin de Napoléon « si » celui-ci avait gagné la bataille de Waterloo ? Imaginer un scénario, une « uchronie » ou une Histoire « contrefactuelle », dans lequel l’Histoire aurait pris un autre cours, semble vain puisque la réalité historique est connue. Quentin Deluermoz et Pierre Singaravélou, deux historiens, expriment un autre point de vue en montrant dans leur livre que l’Histoire contrefactuelle peut être utile aux travaux historiques. Leur ouvrage comporte trois parties : une enquête sur les raisonnements ...
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At a time when, as we go to press, the French government faces opposition from a section of public opinion to the El Khomri bill for the reform of labour law, it is interesting to re-read the report Le Travail dans 20 ans [Work in Twenty Years’ Time],published in 1995 by the French General Planning Commission –particularly the preface by its chairman Jean Boissonnat. Though that report contains some manifestly erroneous predictions (such as the fear that France will by 2015 be suffering from a shortage of labour), it turns out to be remarkably topical on the need to reform labour law, arguing that greater scope should be given to collective bargaining, that there should be greater flexibility on the labour market for developing employment, and that a limited-term “Activity Contract” should be introduced etc.
As this summary of the Boissonnat Report shows, government strategists were already calling for a transformation of labour law within a framework of partnership, to adapt French companies to observed or anticipated socio-economic developments. And their initial diagnosis is still valid today: “the primary cause of difficulties [is to be] sought… in the articulation between economic mechanisms and the operation of society… It is the collective inability of the country to conceive and organize work differently that must be challenged.” The recommendations of those days reveal themselves to be even more relevant today in the light of the developments we have seen, but the problem of their implementation remains wholly unresolved.
As the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) approaches (to be held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015), there have in recent months been increasing debates on global warming and ways of stemming its further advance at the planetary level. Yet previous COPs have shown how difficult it was to arrive at concerted international regulation in this area, even if environmental issues have come, within a few decades, to occupy an important place on the political agenda. However, as Jacques Theys shows here in the specific case of France, though we have actually come a long way in terms of concern for ecological issues within national policy, the road to an ecological and energy transition that matches the challenges to come still seems a long one.
With more than 40 years of experience in the arcana of government environmental policy behind him, Jacques Theys assesses how well environmental issues have been integrated into the political agenda over the past half century. In that assessment, he identifies several waves of development which, though they may have brought notable advances, neglected to remedy a number of failings. Among these latter, we may highlight the “isolation” of the environmental problem (as a sectorial rather than a general issue), “excess of technocracy” in dealing with it, lack of attention to the social dimension of environmental challenges (which has probably limited the mobilization of opinion) and a cautiously passive stance that has meant simply reacting to problems rather than anticipating them. These lessons and the perceived difficulty of reconciling the timescales of nature, society, the economy and politics give a good indication of the magnitude of the problems to be faced in the next half-century where the political management of environmental questions is concerned. It will no longer do to be “always fighting the last war”: environmental issues will have to be anticipated and de-compartmentalized –a cultural revolution preliminary to the more political revolution that is meant to secure the transition.
As we are putting this issue to bed, Europe is undergoing one of its most serious diplomatic crises since the end of the Cold War. Ukraine is currently torn between those who favour closer relations with Europe and pro-Russian activists, Crimea having seceded and become part of Russia once again. The sound of marching armies is perhaps not far off, which seems staggering to several generations of Europeans just a century after the outbreak of the First World War. That was a war with enormous consequences for the continent. The retrospective analysis of the political and strategic choices that brought it about is not without interest from the standpoint of foresight studies.
Jean-François Drevet homes in here on three elements relating to strategy or forward planning from the outbreak and conduct of the 1914-18 war, which had outcomes that were at variance, to say the least, with what the parties concerned had anticipated. These are the Franco-Russian Alliance, which, though presented as a force for peace, led to a generalization of the conflict; the Schlieffen Plan which, by violating Belgian neutrality, led to a British intervention that was decisive in the defeat of Germany; and the French strategy of all-out attack, which proved very costly in human lives in the age of the machine gun. Such errors of foresight, committed by competent, well-informed personalities persuaded of the rightness of their positions, shouldn’t be forgotten, says Jean-François Drevet, particularly in a current context of economic and financial crisis in which the forces of international high finance –the contemporary equivalent in power terms of the early 20th century’s armies– regularly flout the warnings and calls for regulation emanating from the rest of society.
Futuribles journal, which was launched in 1975 by Hugues de Jouvenel, has been in existence now for 40 years and the current issue is number 400. Futuribles occupies a special place in the world of so-called generalist magazines, both by its longevity and its continuity of editorship. It is also distinguished by its resolutely forward-looking orientation and the desire to deliver the kind of information and thinking to its readers that are indispensable for understanding the contemporary world and for acting, as a consequence, with maximum lucidity. The aim, to quote the argument of Hugues de Jouvenel, is ultimately to empower ourselves to be architects of a chosen future, not victims of one that we simply undergo.
But always looking forward doesn’t prevent us, from time to time, from taking a glance in the rear-view mirror and, on the occasion of this 400th issue, attempting a brief retrospective assessment. And so Hugues de Jouvenel, the founder and editor of Futuribles, has scanned these 40 years of Futuribles and identified some of the major topics covered in our pages on which we can claim to have been farsighted and even pioneering. These include foresight methods and ethics, development indicators and models, the resources and limits of our ecosystem, and social change. He also points up certain editorial weaknesses, particularly in the field of science and technology, and a number of blind spots with regard to geopolitics. After 40 years of observing and reflecting on the world and how it may develop, readers will, we hope, have acquired the conviction that the future remains, in many ways, open; and that, provided one has the right information and knows how to distinguish the essential from the merely incidental –which is one of Futuribles’s prime objectives– it remains possible to build that future or to modify its course.
Around 35 years ago a vast foresight exercise was launched under the auspices of the OECD. It led in 1979 to the publication of an almost 500-page report on the future of the world (economy, societies, North-South relations, interdependence etc.) as it might be anticipated at the time. This exercise, which was carried out under the leadership of Jacques Lesourne and dubbed the Interfutures study, was an international landmark in the history of foresight studies. This was partly because of its ambitious nature and partly on account of its determinedly qualitative stance, being based on scenario-building and recommendations for political action.
Bruno Hérault goes back over the history of Interfutures here –the context in which it was developed, the organization of the study and the tenor of the report it produced (in particular, the scenarios proposed and the recommendations to those in government). He goes on to show how the programme turned out to be quite clear-sighted about the development of societies and globalization, which was only just emerging at the time. He concludes by highlighting the strengths and limitations of the method employed.
La rubrique « Dans le rétro avec l'INA » de Rue89 sélectionne et diffuse des images d’archives issues de l’INA (Institut national de l'audiovisuel). Récemment, elle a fait une sélection tout à fait intéressante d’images d’archives évoquant un futur qui nous paraît aujourd’hui bien daté, sélection intitulée « Le futur selon la télé du passé, entre gadgets et apocalypse nucléaire ». On y trouvera des extraits d’interview d’auteurs célèbres de science-fiction (comme Isaac Asimov ou ...
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In his article on oil and gas prospects published last April (no. 373), Jean Laherrère showed (p. 25) how natural gas forecasts in the USA since 1985 have turned out to be far removed from the actual development subsequently recorded. Such retrospective comparisons are quite rare, if only because the forecasters and other drafters of long-term planning studies prefer to look to the future rather than the past. However, as is shown in this article by Marie-Hélène Laurent, François Cattier, Dominique Osso and Prabodh Pourouchottamin who have attempted to carry out such a retrospective analysis of foresight studies on energy demand, such comparisons have a great deal to teach us.
After specifying the nature of the studies analysed (forecasts, foresight studies, projections), what they cover and the way they were elaborated (the use of a reference scenario in particular), the authors – though cautious as to the relevance of such retrospective comparisons – ask themselves three questions. First, was the study wrong and, if so, to what extent and in what direction? Then, why was it wrong? They show, for example, the various types of possible error (trajectory, trend, variability etc.) and their impact, the importance of the quality of hypotheses and of the profile of the authors involved, and the lessons that ensue. Lastly, posing the question of the seriousness of the errors found, Laurent et al. seek to put things into perspective: on the one hand, retrospective comparisons help to refine the analysis and reduce the potential risks of error in such exercises; on the other, they enable us better to grasp consumption systems dynamically, to identify the sectors in which it is most difficult to bring about change, and to refine the timescales of the measures to be implemented – the key element in all foresight studies being that the hypotheses and scenarios should be communicated with the greatest possible transparency.
Albert Robida (1848-1926), a master of futurology, described and depicted in his drawings what the society of the mid-twentieth century might be like. The numerous technical innovations he imagines — the telephonoscope (an invention akin to television and the Internet) or airships and pneumatic tubes (modes of rapid transport) — bring with them changes to social behaviour: the rhythms of life accelerate; couples, focused on their professional life, exchange partners; tourism becomes routine, thanks to the development of transport; and culture is democratized.
Other characteristics of Robidian society include environmental degradation, the emancipation of women and also the creation, in politics, of a ten-yearly holiday that is a ‘“vast carnival of protest lasting three months”, a kind of letting-off-of-steam that accompanies the elections and change of government once every ten years.
Drawing on illustrations to support his argument, Dominique Lacaze lays the work of this visionary before us. In his first article, published last month in Futuribles (no 366, pp. 61-70), Lacaze described the technical innovations imagined by Robida. He now presents us with the broad outlines of Robida’s society.
The modern world that emerged at the end of the 19th century had associated with it a highly optimistic vision of the progress that science and technology were to bring to humanity. The discoveries of organic chemistry made the synthesis of new products possible (dyes, medicines etc.), electricity supplies in towns and cities were bringing lighting and the beginnings of a certain comfort (at the time of the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900, electricity was seen as an animating sprite: "la fée électricité"), the automobile was making its appearance, and the telegraph and telephone were about to provide means of very long-distance communication. In the decades preceding the First World War, the development of education and universities in France would be a major aim of the Third Republic, with the aim of both consolidating Republican authority and remedying France's scientific backwardness by comparison with Germany.
This capacity of science and technology to promote human happiness was often a central theme at the Republican banquets so beloved of the Republic's leading personalities. The chemist Marcelin Berthelot, an academic widely recognized for his scientific work and an influential figure who combined the roles of scientist and politician - roles which, a few short years later, Max Weber would show to be guided by contrasting ethical imperatives - was no exception to this tradition. In this address on the subject of the year 2000, which he delivered at the banquet of the French Employers' Federation for the Chemical Industries in 1894, Berthelot engaged in a brief foresight exercise. He speaks of his faith in a future that was being fashioned by the discoveries of science - and, in particular, of chemistry - and by "the alliance between science and industry" (this is a theme that will be heard once again, in virtually the same tones, more than a century later) - an alliance which was largely realized in Germany at the time, as is often forgotten. This speech, as can be seen here, is a genuine programme for the future, couched in highly optimistic terms.
Bruno Hérault s'est intéressé ici au projet international Interfuturs, lancé en 1975 par l'OCDE (Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques) afin d'imaginer ce que seraient l'économie mondiale et les sociétés industrialisées 25 ans plus tard. Le rapport qui en a découlé, Face aux futurs : pour une maîtrise du vraisemblable et une gestion de l'imprévisible, publié en 1979, est toujours considéré comme l'un des plus importants travaux de prospective menés à l'échelle mondiale ...
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Le rapport Réflexions pour 1985, publié en 1964, constitue une étape importante de la prospective publique française. Deux anciens membres du Commissariat général au Plan sont revenus sur l'histoire de ce document, son contenu, ses hypothèses, avant d'en dégager les points forts et les points faibles et les principales leçons pour la prospective d'aujourd'hui. Le Groupe 1985, présidé par Pierre Guillaumat, comptait, entre autres membres, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Jean Fourastié et Eugène Claudius Petit. Le rapport ...
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On the occasion of the recent French republication (Paris: Éditions Max Milo, 2006) of the most famous and, no doubt, most controversial of the works of Max Nordau, Degeneration, Bernard Cazes offers here a brief study in the "future of yesteryear" style.
In 1894, Max Nordau (1849-1923) presented his work in the following terms: "I have undertaken the work of investigating... the tendencies of the fashions in art and literature; of proving that they have their source in the degeneracy of their authors, and that the enthusiasm of their admirers is for manifestations of more or less pronounced moral insanity, imbecility and dementia" (Degeneration, London: Heinemann, 1920, p. viii). As Bernard Cazes shows here, Nordau passed a decidedly severe judgement on the intellectuals and artists of his day, which has, in most respects, proved to be erroneous. Nevertheless, this rather disconcerting book on the decline of the West does contain some quite visionary passages on 20th-century society and ways of life.
Following on from the special issue of Futuribles devoted to "Dialogue or Clashes of Culture" published last July, we reprint here extracts from the third number of the journal Prospective, entitled "Relations between the West and the rest of the world". In it, the authors (Gaston Berger, Jean Darcet and Marcel Demonque) analyse the difficulties raised by the aid offered (sometimes imposed) by the West to so-called "underdeveloped countries" (for example, financial or technical assistance), and the actual or inherent risks to the populations of these countries who, viewing this aid as a sign of criticism of their cultures, began to oppose the West. The authors stress the importance of human values and beliefs in relations between civilizations, and conclude by discussing the distinction between civilizations and cultures: the former defined as relating to universal values, the latter to more personal - and therefore inevitably more varied - values.
To mark the centenary, in 2007, of the birth if the famous economist Jean Fourastié, Futuribles is joining with the Comité Jean Fourastié to publish in this issue some extracts from his writings dating back to 1965 and 1966. Written when he was at the height of his powers, these texts illustrate both the main pillars of his thinking - especially on economic and social topics - and the link that he always tried to maintain between personal ethics, social morals and scientific knowledge. We have chosen them partly because they are a synthesis that Jean Fourastié made of his own work and partly because they clearly reflect his ability to project into the future the trends revealed by human history and changing ideas. An example of this is his statement of what he saw as a major change in the 20th century: the shift away from people's lives being dominated by economic forces (in particular time spent at work) in favour of leisure and individual activities.
As oil production is at risk of reaching its peak while world demand continues to grow, a shortage appears to be inevitable. In order to avoid a crisis, it is becoming essential to develop alternative energy sources.
Yet it is not the first time that there have been fears that supplies of an essential commodity will run out. Already at the end of the 19th century a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Sir William Crookes, warned of an impending shortage of an irreplaceable resource: wheat. Foreseeing a rapid increase in the world demand for grain and the exhaustion of stocks of nitrogen fixer (indispensable for growing wheat), he predicted famine on an unprecedented scale.
His concern had a lasting consequence, Bernard Cazes tells us, because before his prediction could come true, a system for manufacturing nitrogenous fertilizers was invented.
The enormous contribution of Marcelin Berthelot to organic chemistry has somewhat overshadowed his important work in thermochemistry which inspired this article. When he obtained the first synthesis of organic molecules, he demolished for ever the idea of a mysterious "life force" that was thought to be inherent in all living organisms and indispensable to the formation of organic molecules. He thus established the overlap between biology and chemistry, a continuity which we observe very clearly today. Berthelot rarely philosophized about this major scientific work which raised chemistry from its position as a descriptive science and started to link it closely with biology and physics.
The extract reproduced here is taken from Science et philosophie, a collection of articles originally published in journals and newspapers. His attitude to the effects of the discovery of explosives on the course of history is naturally imbued with the prejudices of his time with regard to race and civilizations, most noticeable in the choice of vocabulary.
If, however, one is prepared to overlook Berthelot's politically incorrect phraseology (for example when he talks about "the supremacy of the knowledgeable and civilized races over the barbarians"), this text offers some fascinating parallels with today, in both geopolitics and science.
One just has to replace chemical explosives - though they are still relevant - with nuclear materials to recognize all the elements present in the current situation: use of technology to explore the laws of nature, the part played by scientists in making nations powerful, asymmetrical conflicts, political terrorism and even, in a historical perspective, Islamic fanaticism.
The American women's magazine The Ladies' Home Journal took an interest in the future as early as 1900, when it printed an article by the journalist John Watkins Jr, which was translated into French and published in Futuribles in 1999 no. 239-240 under the title "The next 100 years (1900-2000)". Fifteen years later the same magazine published an article by the Chief Consulting Engineer of General Electric, Charles Steinmetz, who set out 18 ways that daily life is likely to be affected as a result of widespread access to electricity, which would be encouraged by a lasting reduction in its relative cost. Two years after that, Steinmetz had the opportunity to check with his fellow-countrymen whether it was true that being comfortable does not make soldiers less hardy when fighting.
The version of Steinmetz's text that we are using is the one reprinted by The Futurist in October 1974. It is followed by a translation of the comments by Joseph Martino that accompanied the reprint.
In 2004 Wesleyan University Press published, in its series Early Classics of Science Fiction, a translation into English of Émile Souvestre's novel Le Monde tel qu'il sera, one of the forerunners of science fiction in France, originally published in 1846 (The World as It Shall Be. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2004, 249 pp.). Bernard Cazes wrote about Albert Robida's Twentieth Century when an English translation was produced by the same publisher in 2004, and shares with us here some extracts from this book, which is now very hard to find in French.
Intellectuals in the 1920s were much concerned to find new forms of economic, social and political organization capable of meeting the challenges of modern times and of giving practical expression to the pacifist attitudes which were widespread after the First World War. In this context, the idea of a union of the countries of Europe began to emerge: for those in favour, it had the double advantage of preventing any fresh conflict and of strengthening the nations of the Old World vis-à-vis the rising power of the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus the idea of a united Europe was fashionable in the 1920s, and the Revue des Vivants reflected this in 1929 by organizing a competition on the theme of "the United States of Europe", then publishing the best contributions.
Claude du Granrut offers us here a summary that reveals, as well as the visionary character of the writings chosen, how the issues dominating European unification have remained much the same down to the present day. This article is useful in both showing how much progress has been made but also highlighting the questions that still need to be resolved after more than 70 years.