This Spaceship Earth
I have often been asked how I became a futurist. A part of the answer is that, starting in my 20s, I read the 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 about “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. The two books of his 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. It is these three greats – Toffler, McLuhan and Fuller- however, that 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. Part of my responsibilities is to guest lecture for a variety of professors. I found that I kept wanting to guest lecture in professor Tim Rumage’s classes. Tim is the head of environmental studies at RCAD and I soon realized was one of, if not the smartest people I have ever met about the interconnectedness of planet Earth.
So we decided, more than two years ago, to write a book about Climate Change. The process took much longer than expected. As a consequence of this passage of time the two of us became ever more alarmed by the feedback the planet was telling humanity about what was actually going on. 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 This presented a problem: how could we finish the book without it being quickly out of date.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 2-3 hours, that covered the big issues about the topic and to have a companion web site that could be constantly updated. “This Spaceship Earth” was published in December 2015.
My thoughts took me back to quotes from Fuller and McLuhan that had 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 are relevant, but the one that has in fact altered what I now do for a living is the last one from Fuller. I have spent a decade suggesting that coming transformative changes might well lead humanity to utopia. After two years of research it became clear to me that Climate Change was the oblivion that Fuller forecast. In fact there may well not be 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! Think about the idea of a spaceship. It gets resupplied. But there is no place in the universe that can resupply Earth, certainly not in the next few decades. So we must all become crew of Spaceship Earth. We must think like crew, as this spaceship is the ONLY place we have.
Humanity is truly at the ‘fork in the road’. In fact, based on what I have now learned through extensive research, we have already started down the path to oblivion albeit unwittingly. In order to act with the urgency necessary as many of us as possible need to act with a crew consciousness and do what we can to slow down our path to oblivion while we make all the incredible changes necessary to lessen the Climate Change catastrophes already rushing towards us.
We don’t need to “save the planet”, we need to save ourselves from ourselves. The planet will be around for another 3 billion years. We might not last the next few centuries unless we act as crew going forward.
If you would like to read the first chapter of “This Spaceship Earth” it is available here.
In the weeks ahead I will write in this space about why crew consciousness