better world? V I S I ON S O F A
As concerns mount over climate change, energy security and economic uncertainty,
governments and corporations alike are desperate to understand what our world will be like in years to come. So they are using scenario planning to envisage plausible futures and help them to shape their long-term strategies.
Mark Rowe reports
What kind of world do you think we’ll inhabit in 2050? A planet where we’ve ironed out most of the problems related to climate change, energy and access to food and water? Or perhaps you subscribe to a darker vision, where society will rapidly be unravelling towards a landscape ruled by some sort of Mad Max figure.
The business of trying to gauge how energy, social and geopolitical developments will unfold over the coming decades is known as future scenarios planning, and it’s fair to say that it obsesses – even haunts – governments, international agencies, multinationals, the secret services, the military and energy companies. The scenarios being produced by these groups are substantially more than informed crystalball gazing; they provide plausible interpretations of the future that are vital for guiding long-term planning and investment. And while they steer clear of conjuring up a science-fiction world drawn from 1950s comic strips, you wouldn’t describe their conclusions as low-key, and they can make for unsettling reading.
CONTRASTING V I S I ONS Many such scenarios exist, but among the most influential are those published by Shell, which may come as a surprise to those who hold to the popular perception that oil companies
30 www.geographical.co.uk FEBRUARY 2011