by Piet Coetzer

Global development

The state of the future in 2012

The Millennium Project.jpg

The world is improving better than most pessimists know, but future dangers are worse than most optimists indicate. It is clear that there is more agreement about how to build a better future than is evident in the media. But when you consider the many wrong decisions and good decisions not taken — day after day and year after year around the world — it is amazing that we are still making as much progress as we are.

This is the overriding conclusion of the 10 000 page 2012 annual report of The Millennium Project after 16 years of research on the global future.
This year’s report verifies that the world is getting richer, healthier, better educated, more peaceful and better connected and that people are living longer. Yet, half the world is potentially unstable, according to the report’s executive summary.
Protesters around the world show a growing unwillingness to tolerate unethical decision making by power elites. An increasingly educated and Internet-connected generation is rising up against the abuse of power.
*On the negative side, the report concludes that
* Food prices are rising;
*Water tables are falling;
*Corruption and organised crime are increasing;
*Environmental viability for our life support is diminishing;
*Debt and economic insecurity are increasing;
*Climate change continues; 
*The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen dangerously.
On the positive side however, the report found that:
*Extreme poverty has fallen from 52% in 1981 to about 20% in 2010;
*It is increasingly clear that the world has the resources to address its challenges
despite the fact that it is also increasingly clear that the current decision-making structures are not making good decisions fast enough and on the scale necessary to address the global challenges;
*The Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development energised many of the leaders from NGOs, corporations, universities and municipalities to synergise their efforts without waiting for national government action;
*New forms of collaborative action are beginning to emerge from the self-organising Arab Spring/Awakenings to websites like and, which share open-source 3D printer programs for individuals to be local manufacturers, and other websites for political people-power like;
*Public-private partnerships and coalitions of the willing have formed to fight disease and poverty and to create a smarter planet;
*Information and communication systems from simple mobile phones to supercomputers are augmenting human decision-making around the world. 
It is reasonable to assume that the accelerating rates of these changes will eventually connect humanity and technology into new kinds of decision making with global real-time feedback.
“But history has taught us that good ideas and technologies can have unintended and negative consequences,” the report warns.
These capabilities will eventually make it possible for a single individual acting alone to make and deploy a bioweapon of mass destruction and for organised crime to become far more powerful than today.
These and other dangerous future possibilities discussed in Chapter 1 are not inevitable; there are many excellent solutions being pursued and making great progress, unbeknownst to the general public.
Every year, The Millennium Project updates data about the global situation and prospects for the future, with most of the data updates going slowly but surely in a positive direction.
Nevertheless, the world is in a race between implementing ever-increasing ways to improve the human condition and the seemingly increasing complexity and scale of global problems.
The world needs hardheaded idealists who can look into the worst and best of humanity to create and implement strategies of success. We hope our work will help you to do so, the report states.
(The full 2012 State of the Future  is available in electronic version on CD or USB flash drive and also accessible as a download from as part of the upcoming Global Futures Collective Intelligence System.)
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Issue 375


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