Expanding your Mind: Dealing with the Uncertainty of the Future

Carpenter’s seminar Imagination for Transformation provided another outlook on the future environmental problems of the world.  There was the address that what we are seeing now has not occurred before.  The human population is growing faster than we can provide resources for ourselves.  And while our use of environmental services are increasing, the conditions of the environment we are using are deteriorating.  But if these rates of deterioration and natural disasters can no longer be predicted, how do we prevent a catastrophe.  I believe this is where the role of imagination comes into play.  We cannot blindly propose a solution without some knowledge of the situation.  Thus we can create models of what we’ve already seen and attempt to apply them to the future.  Based on our current knowledge we make educated guesses based on what will happen in the future, and whether these future visions pose a problem or not.  It is however, difficult to foretell future events with a large degree of uncertainty.  It may then be necessary to stretch our minds eye and envision several possibilities, not just one.

One of the messages that struck me in Carpenter’s lecture was that our goal was not necessarily to stop these possible disasters from occurring but from increasing the resilience of our environment to these disasters.  This is relevant because you might consider that we don’t have the power to stop all the disasters that might plague the earth.  We might not be able to prevent a fleet of meteors from entering our atmosphere, but perhaps we can find ways to decrease the damage these meteors may cause.  A more relevant example is that we cannot stop the effects of climate change because they are already occurring, but we can reduce the impacts of climate change by controlling our emissions now.

I would suggest it is more important to reduce damages done than to prevent events from occurring on earth.  An event may have negative consequences at the beginning but turn out to have subsequent positive consequences.  Forest fires can be a damaging force, but they can also change the environment for new beings to grow and survive.  Who knows if there may be any benefits to climate change.

Carpenter also attempts to stress that positive change is not as hard as it looks.  Using the example of population, he showed that a difference of one child per woman can create a huge difference in population demographics.  Thus the “Imagination for Transformation” seminar wasn’t your usual doom and gloom “the world’s careening off a cliff and we have to change our ways now so its not a complete disaster”.  With a positive outlook, people will be more likely to seek change then giving into despair.

Finally the proposition is given for three tools that could assist us in the future.  These are education, innovation and imagination.  We would need to educate our children, who carry on a large legacy, especially with the trend of fewer children to inherit the world.  As mentioned previously, with education we may be able to estimate the events of the future.  Education itself is the greatest tool we have to our survival.  With regard to innovation we have the opportunity to change our environment and build it right the second time.  We can come up with technology that reduces our footprint on this earth.  Innovation would tie in with education.  By learning from our mistakes we can create a better future.  Finally concerning imagination, we can assess the possible scenarios, foresee a positive future and take heed of the warnings that we are faced with along the way.  In this way we can talk about what we should do without the panic of a need to act immediately.

4 Responses to “Expanding your Mind: Dealing with the Uncertainty of the Future”

  1. guesswho says:

    I also thought that this seminar was really refreshing. Just the fact that Carpenter suggests imagination as being a good manner to avoid an environmental collapse seemed really interesting. It did contrast with the traditional pessimist feeling that usually emerge from the “we are facing an enormous problem, there is not a lot that can be possibly done” tone. I really felt that Carpenter wanted to give us the strength and the tools to face those problems and perhaps that is why we preferred this seminar over the others we did attempt to this semester.

  2. patagonia says:

    I think you make a very good point about the importance of managing for damages in the face of environmental deterioration. However, I am not sure that I agree on your stance about; yes it is important to build resiliancy of the environment but not to prevent damages from occuring. I think these two points are one in the same. Humans can not build resiliancy or the ecological functions and services of the environment. The best we can do is prevent an extent of environmental damage that would halt these services. Prevention would entail conserving water resources, changing to efficient green energy, reduction in the world population and a many other factors which all amount to preventing damages to the environment. For me, there is sufficient evidence that increased climate change will have a net negative impact on the environment and on all living things on earth; so while I believe that planning for damage control is crucial to lessen the consequences of climate change and environmental deterioration (i.e. building storm walls to prevent flooding in cases like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans), it is not enough. The entire world must start acting to prevent and reverse environmental damages, because at a certain point, damage control will not be enough.

  3. guesswho says:

    Sorry that my comment is not related to your post, but to the article you sent us. I was wondering if Dr. Carpenter explained how resilience capacity of an ecosystem can be measured or valued. And what about ecosystem productivity ? Is it possible to compare the productivity in the desert with the productivity in a marine ecosystem ?

  4. supernova says:

    I don’t know if Dr Carpenter has a valuing method for the ecosystem, but i understand that we usually use Costenza values for ecosystems. Ecosystem like marshes have the highess value per square foot du to the tremondous amont of services they provide (Carbone sink, erosion prevention, biodiversity issues and water quality). Other have moderate values like forest, savannahs. Desert and Oceans have low value. Ocean make up that low value with their rather impressive superficy. Those cost are afterward use in cost-benefit analysis where the changed ecosystem’S value is compared with the natural one. If you are interested in those issues, i would recommend those articles :

    «Economic Reasons for Conserving Wild Nature» by
    Andrew Balmford, Aaron Bruner, Philip Cooper, Robert Costanza, Stephen Farber, Rhys E. Green, Martin Jenkins, Paul Jefferiss, Valma Jessamy, Joah Madden, Kat Munro, Norman Myers, Shahid Naeem, Jouni Paavola,
    Matthew Rayment, Sergio Rosendo, Joan Roughgarden, Kate Trumper and R. Kerry Turner


    «The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital» by
    Robert Costanza, Ralph d’Arge, Rudolf the Groot, Stephen Farber, Monica Grasso, Bruce Hannon, Karin Limburg, Shahid Naeem, Robert V. O’Neill, Jose Paruelo, Robert G. Raskin, Paul Sutton and Marjan ven den Belt