Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

Collapse Scenarios, drawn from the Futures special issue on extinction scenarios.


Published on

A prospective client asked for a presentation on societal collapse, with roughly a 400-year time horizon. As I had heard that Prof. Bruce Tonn was editing a special issue of Futures on extinction scenarios, I requested access to the essays ahead of publication. He kindly assented, and I drew on several of the essays to create this slidedeck of "collapse" scenarios (I wasn't asked to take the stories to complete extinction). Some of the stories I wanted to tell were not well-represented in the essays of the special edition, and so I drew on other resources as well. Finally, I chose to interpret "collapse" as "the end of the world as we know it," and thus also included a post-Singularity, nanotech, "mutable world" scenario. Please feel free to contact me ( if you have any questions.

Published in: Technology, Business

Collapse Scenarios, drawn from the Futures special issue on extinction scenarios.

  1. 1. Long-range Collapse Scenarios: “It’s the end a compilation. of the world as we know Dr. Wendy L. Schultz Infinite Futures, Oxford it...(and I feel fine.)” R.E.M., 1987
  2. 2. Fire and Ice Some say the world will end in fire; Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To know that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. Robert Frost, 1923 2
  3. 3. Foresight: 4 Modes & 5 Key Activities 4 Thinking 5 Foresight Activities: Modes: Identify and monitor change; Logical Map and critique impacts; Creative Imagine alternative outcomes; Systemic Envision preferred futures; Intuitive Organise and act to create change. 3
  4. 4. Alternative possible futures...  Reality is a non-linear -- i.e., chaotic -- system, and thus impossible to predict;  Possible futures emerge from the turbulent interplay of emerging change with our complex evolving selves and societies. possibility one possibility two trends innovations …etc. revolutions, etc. possibility three
  5. 5. …alternative possible futures:  Foresight assumes that we face not one predictable future, but many possible futures;  of those possible futures, some are more probable than others -- we can evaluate changing probabilities by monitoring trend growth;  of those possible futures, some are more preferable than others -- we can evaluate preferability by dialogue within our community.
  6. 6. Five Key Activities of Integrated Foresight Identify & Critique Imagine Envision Plan & Monitor Change Change the Possible the Preferred Implement Identify Examine Identify, Identify, Identify patterns of primary, analyze, and analyze, stakeholders, change: secondary, build and resources; trends in tertiary alternative articulate clarify goals; chosen impacts; images of images of design variables, inequities in the future, preferred strategies; changes in impacts; or futures, or organize cycles, and differential ’scenarios.’ ’visions.’ action; create emerging access, etc. change. issues of change. Integrated Foresight
  7. 7. Scenarios: definition and use “Multiple scenarios are pen-pictures of a range of plausible futures…constructed in such a way as to bound the uncertainties… inherent in the future.” Kees van der Heijden, The Sixth Sense: Accelerating Organisational Learning with Scenarios, 2002 Scenario thinking enables planners and decision-makers to test designs, strategies, and policies for robustness across widely varying future contexts. 7
  8. 8. Scenarios in Application • Government organisations, e.g.: • Corporation of London; • DIUS / BERR; • European Union; • NHS; • Scottish Executive • Businesses, e.g.: • Diageo; • Pfizer Pharmaceuticals; • Royal Dutch Shell; • Swiss Re; • Unilever
  9. 9. Scenarios: Key Points • Scenarios are NOT predictions. • Scenarios ARE vivid stories that allow us: • To explore the boundaries of uncertainty; • To develop and test strategies for the future. • Just as the present contains diverse challenges to safety and perceptions of risk, so will the future: • Produce new threats AND new safety innovations; • Produce new risk perceptions and design paradigms. • The scenarios presented are designed to help you explore how: • Long-range futures could challenge current designs; • Long-range safety could require new mental models.
  10. 10. Causes of Collapse Complex evolving systems: Humans adapt and mal-adapt - both can cause fatal feedback in human- world system Eg, classic systems archetypes: “Tragedy of the Commons” “Success to the Successful” “Growth and Underinvestment” 10
  11. 11. Collapse Scenario Option Matrix Life / Culture / Discovery / Origin Global Warming Global Cooling Demography Society Innovation Fire Fade Away Decreasing stability Accelerating change; Desertification; and security locally nano-bio-info-cogno End of interglacial, Slow decline in Gradual slow sea-level rise; and internationally convergence; ability transition to fertility worldwide Changes aquifer intrusion; as people compete to manipulate glaciation. followed by global agricultural decline. for scarce resources. “nature” / ourselves. population decline. Flood Meltdown Transform New “little ice age,” Famine: starvation; Increased sea melt, generated by, eg, depressed immune Mass civil unrest and Singularity: radical Abrupt partial collapse of increased volcanic systems; resistant border / regional innovation feedback Changes the West Antarctic dust and/or shifts in infectious agents and conflicts; failed blows away human / Ice Shelf: sea level Gulf Stream. zoogenesis. states explode. machine /natural rises 1 metre. boundaries. Ice Plague Blowup Warlord deploys Discovery of Grand Asteroid strike Wild Card / Super-volcano or Global plague: bio-WMD against Unifying Theory / superheats Earth’s Discontinuities Nuclear Winter population collapse. neighbouring “Theory of atmosphere. territory. Everything”
  12. 12. Scenario Fire Ice Options, Refined Natural World Flood Plague Meltdown Blowup Social World Fade Away Transform
  13. 13. The natural world base scenarios may be interconnected and inter- embedded; The social world base scenarios may be interconnected and inter- embedded; The natural world base scenarios may act as either triggers or accelerators of social world base scenarios. Complex Evolving Futures
  14. 14. 1 Scenario Fire Options, 2 3 Combined Plague Flood 4 Meltdown Blowup Ice 5 Fade Away 6 Transform
  15. 15. 1 Fire: the warming world.
  16. 16. excerpts from Christopher Jones, Fire: the long term “Gaia Bites Back: Accelerated Warming,” Futures, Vol. 41, Issue 10, December 2009. [Between the 22nd and 27th centuries,] the world’s borders became increasingly porous and transparent, driven by the increasingly severe ecological catastrophes, from the collapse of the Amazon forest system, to the widespread coastal flooding around the globe. Sea levels rose faster than many projections—four meters, on average... ...the terrestrial situation continued to deteriorate. The dry, warm climate shift wreaked havoc on temperate and now desiccated tropical forests that caught fire. Hundreds of millions of hectares burned every year, decade after decade. Peat bogs dried and then burned in many remaining transitional lands despite the fact that slash-and-burn agriculture had largely disappeared. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose past 500 parts per million (ppm), ocean temperatures also warmed, and although solar shades were put in La Grange orbits between the Earth and the Sun, there was no obvious immediate cooling effect. Then an even more dangerous and destabilizing development occurred after the world oceans warmed to an average of 14O C, warm enough to begin the release of a form of ice deep in the oceans, methane hydrates, which rose to the surface and melted releasing methane into the atmosphere. Methane is not as long-lived a greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, but is 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas. By the end of the century, the average terrestrial temperature rose to 27O C, and many remaining forests burned. Previously lush, humid and tropical areas like the Amazon, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia turned mostly to desert. [continued next slide] 16
  17. 17. excerpts from Christopher Jones, Fire: the long term “Gaia Bites Back: Accelerated Warming,” Futures, Vol. 41, Issue 10, December 2009. ,.. the planetary weather was more energetic and chaotic than at any time in recorded history; the seasons severe and months-long planet-wide super storms emerged. ....wild extremes in weather. Ecosystem collapse unfolded across the planet’s surface. The mid latitudes became a screaming dust belt and the only habitable zones were above the Arctic Circle and in Antarctica. Antarctica became unstable geologically due to the uplifting of the Earth’s crust and volcanism—both caused by the loss of East Antarctic glaciers, so earthquake and storm resistant domes were constructed there. Construction was difficult in both polar areas due to the increased frequency and intensity of cyclonic storms, but Antarctica was a far greater challenge due to the fetch of the “Roaring 40s” and intensified ocean circulation around the great Southern Ocean. The melting of methane ices and loss of vegetation caused a significant, rapid buildup of oxygen in the atmosphere. Rust quickly became a huge problem for metal tools and mechanical systems. Accidental fires became a far more serious problem. Population centers on the poles were either underground or sealed and air conditioned: by mid century, few people visited the surface anymore. 17
  18. 18. 2 Plague: the infected world.
  19. 19. Plague Plague: within Fire Meltdown [Between the 21st and 25th centuries, as temperatures soared, ecologies collapsed, and sea levels rose,]...mass migrations moved from poor country-sides into already overwhelmed and unhealthy cities. In Asia, many of these immigrants took their farm animals with them. Since the avian flu had been in the Western news for many years, the birds that migrated with their owners into the cities had been genetically engineered by the West to resist a broad set of flu viruses to deal with just this eventuality. Unfortunately, the Western paradigm was still based on controlling nature, not co-existing with nature. As a result, what happened with bacteria -- such as streptococcus -- when antibiotics hastened the evolution of anti-biotic resistant bacteria happened again, this time with the evolution of a new super-strain of avian flu virus. No animals or humans had ever been exposed to this virus before. It was no surprise that the infection spread rapidly through the Asian bird population. It was also no surprise when the virus mutated again and spread to the human population. Amplifying the destructiveness of the flu epidemic were traditional diseases, including: tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria. These maladies flowed through populations already weakened by HIV/AIDS, diabetes, asthma, obesity, heart disease, and cancer (e.g., from smoking, air and water pollution, and destruction of the protective stratospheric ozone layer). adapted from Bruce Tonn and Donald MacGregor, “A Singular Chain of Few nations, even the wealthy, had functional public health systems that could cope with the Events,” Futures, Vol. 41, Issue 10, onslaught. Within a year, just over two billion people died from infectious diseases, roughly December 2009. one third of the human population, about the same as the infamous Black Plague. [continued next slide] 19
  20. 20. Plague Plague: within Fire Meltdown Unfortunately, unlike the aftermath of the Black Plague in the Middle Ages, human population continued to slide... Next up was climate change. ...the countries of the world had not stemmed the use of fossil fuels and, therefore, had not reduced the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. No technologies had been put in place to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and sequester the carbon elsewhere. It was as if the planet extracted revenge through withering droughts in Central China, Northern Africa, and North Central North America, deadly heat waves in Western and Central Europe, implacable sea level rise in the Asian Pacific region, and apocalyptic storms worldwide. People were literally washed away down rivers and into oceans. Agricultural systems collapsed outside of the economically wealthy areas, which attempted self-sufficiency and sealed themselves away from the poor of the world. But even in the enclaves of the wealthy the built environment was pummeled. Another round of diseases, mostly mosquito-borne this time, ravaged the world’s population. The developed world offered no safety net for the rest of the world. The largest losses of population were in Asia and Africa, closely followed by Central and South America. Within another thirty years, another billion people perished as even the bulwarks of wealth failed against the scale of the challenges. adapted from Bruce Tonn and Donald By 2400, the world is sparsely populated, with mobility limited not only by collapsed MacGregor, “A Singular Chain of Events,” Futures, Vol. 41, Issue 10, infrastructure but also by deep-rooted paranoia regarding travellers as disease vectors. December 2009. Governance style slid toward the authoritarian, if not totalitarian, as a result of efforts to control public health, public panic, and population movements. 20
  21. 21. 3 Flood: the drowned world.
  22. 22. adapted from Peter Seidel, “Is it Inevitable that Evolution Self Destruct?,” Futures, Vol. 41, Issue Flood: within Fire 10, December 2009. From the end of the 21st Century to the end of the 22nd, global conditions worsened: energy and food costs rose as scarcities increased; environmental quality deteriorated; and cutthroat global competition caused wage and worker safety standards to erode. Serious environmental incidents multiplied, and resource wars sprang up, generating major acts of terrorism. Most of the world’s powerful and wealthy isolated themselves from, or accommodated themselves to, these continually deteriorating conditions. New Orleans was abandoned after a more serious flooding than that caused by Katrina in 2005. Property values plummeted in low-lying coastal areas around the world as ocean levels rose, salt water seeped into aquifers, and storms became more numerous and severe. The Netherlands anxiously raised dike levels at great expense. Many people from the coasts and the south moved inland and north as it grew warmer and land was lost to rising sea levels. Resentment against them generated increased civil unrest. ...freshwater became more expensive and its sources undependable with increasing saltwater intrusion into aquifers. The poor in the impoverished parts of the world bore the brunt of these disasters, although they had no influence over the lifestyles of those who were primarily causing the changes. Low-lying areas of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India became uninhabitable and some small Pacific island nations were simply abandoned. Cities such as Calcutta, Mumbai, and Lagos became increasingly uninhabitable as businesses fled and public health crises increased. Flood Businesses, governments, and the well-to-do moved to higher ground. Wealthier cities such as London, Sidney, NY, Tokyo, and Miami could afford to build their own dikes, and did. [continued next slide] Blowup 22
  23. 23. adapted from Peter Seidel, “Is it Inevitable that Evolution Self Destruct?,” Futures, Vol. 41, Issue Flood: within Fire 10, December 2009. Ironically, the growing icemelt diluted the Great Oceanic Conveyor: with the increasingly erratic Gulf Stream no longer warming the British isles, temperatures dropped locally, growing seasons shortened, and people began moving south -- where they competed, often violently, with refugees moving north from the increasingly unlivable regions hardest hit by floods and warming. The last straw was the sudden calving of over half of the West Antarctic ice sheet, creating an additional rapid rise in sea level of over a metre. ...the world food problem was far more serious by now than most people in ... other wealthy nations realized. Reporting on it had been minimized. While new cropland was opened up in Canada and Siberia, across the globe, much more had been lost by coastal flooding, salination, desertification, lack of water, excessive heat, and urbanization. Much of the topsoil that remained had deteriorated significantly. Malnutrition, starvation, pandemics, sinking standards of living, and lost hope became endemic in large areas of Africa, in the large cities of countries like Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico, and even in the economic dynamos of China and India. Throughout the world, order was replaced by conflicts and chaos, and governments by warlords and martial law. Border conflicts were rife, as was inner city rioting. Populations that had Flood once grown too rapidly shrank, due to starvation, disease, and escalating violence. Blowup 23
  24. 24. 4 Ice: the frozen world.
  25. 25. Ice: the long term Between the 21st and 24th Centuries, global climate warmed as so many had predicted -- and then surprisingly cooled in what 25th Century historians are calling the “Second Little Ice Age” (comparable to the “Little Ice Age” of the 16th through 18th Centuries). Commentators hearken back to the "Lesser Dryas" cooling event of 8-12 thousand years ago, which also happened in a fairly abrupt fashion. While not the “whiplash ice age” total global glaciation catastrophe some doomsayers gleefully forecast, this local (Northern Atlantic) temperature downturn was significant. It originated in the strong chaotic variation of climate properties that often manifests as rapid, decade-long transitions between cold and warm climates followed by long interludes in one of the two states. What actually drove the downward temperature shift? Increased volcanism culminated in a cluster volcanic outbreak around the Pacific Rim that threw massive quantities of dust into the air. Combined with slowing of the Great Oceanic Conveyor due to decreased salinity engendered by increased glacial run-off, calving, and ice-melt, temperatures in the North Atlantic cooled severely in the late decades of the 24th Century and first half of the 25th Century. Models had previously suggested that a disruption of the northern limb of the overturning ocean current circulation would affect the heat balance of the northern hemisphere; their drawn from the US National Research forecasts of potential cooling of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius in the ocean and atmosphere (a third Council, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises, 2002; Joyce and Keigwin, “Are We to a half the temperature change experienced during major ice ages) proved uncannily on the Brink of a ‘New Little Ice Age’?; Jamais accurate. These changes are about twice as large as those experienced in the worst winters Cascio, Worldchanging, “Not-So-Abrupt of the 20th century, and are forecast to persist well into the 26th Century. Climate Change,” 2004: Toverud and Holmlund, “Ice age influence on a nuclear waste repository in Sweden”; and European Science Foundation, “Big freeze plunged 25 Europe into ice age in months,” 6q9OcP
  26. 26. Ice: the long term The resulting “Second Little Ice Age” in Northern Europe and the UK killed plant species that had ‘migrated’ north during the long decades of global warming from the 21st-early 24th Centuries, and devastated the UK vineyards established in the hey-day of agricultural restructuring after the initial climate shifts. Agricultural output plummeted, and the notion of locally sustainable food supply became unsupportable. The cooling also greatly strained infrastructure designed to withstand heat,humidity, and flooding rather than record cold and the weight of snow and ice, not to mention the friabiity engendered by constant re-freezing. Demands for power skyrocketed as people struggled to stay warm -- some failed, and incidents of older, poorer residents dying of hypothermia were common. On a brighter note, some succeeded, resulting in what demographers have called the “Ice Age Bump” baby boom of 2410-2420. Ironically, some groups are now advocated “radical warming” policies and the drawn from the US National Research promotion of greenhouse gases to accelerate the end of this deep chill. Council, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises, 2002; Joyce and Keigwin, “Are We on the Brink of a ‘New Little Ice Age’?; Jamais Cascio, Worldchanging, “Not-So-Abrupt Climate Change,” 2004: Toverud and Holmlund, “Ice age influence on a nuclear waste repository in Sweden”; and European Science Foundation, “Big freeze plunged 26 Europe into ice age in months,” 6q9OcP
  27. 27. 5 Fade Away: the aged world.
  28. 28. Ice Fade Away: within Ice Fade Away In the early 20th Century, the rapid increase in population raised concern that population growth in many developing countries would outstrip countries' ability to feed their populations. By the mid-21st century that concern evaporated in the face of a surprising shift: developing countries experienced their transition from high to low fertility rates much faster than occurred in Western nations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As total fertility rates declined in most parts of the world, people at the end of the 21st century worried more about imminent population decline. What caused this transition from explosion to implosion? First, the continued aging of the global population: longevity increased worldwide and birth rates declined, skewing the age distribution of global population. Europe and Japan led the greying of global society. The global distribution of population shifted south and east during the late 21st and early 22nd centuries: where most countries' total fertility rates fell during this period, more than half of the positive population growth occurred in three countries: Yemen, Uganda, and Niger. At the same time, India overtook China to become the most populous country. Together, India and China accounted for 48 percent of positive population growth. But by the end of the 21st century, global population was falling. drawn from Environmental Literacy By 2300, 40 percent of the world's population was over 60 years of age. With a continued Council, “World Population in decrease in fertility rates over the centuries, total world population had declined to just over 2300,” ( 2 billion. [continued on next slide] article.php/1446.html); O’Neill, Brian, Balk, Deborah, “World Population Futures,” Population Bu!etin, 2001. 28
  29. 29. Ice Fade Away: within Ice Fade Away The shift of population centres to Asia was also driven by in-migration: from the mid 21st Century onward, the best and the brightest in the West increasingly headed East toward the economic dynamos of the Pacific. The decreasing temperatures of the Second Little Ice Age in the early 25th Century further encouraged out-migration that practically depopulated parts of Northern Europe. With few people left to mind the increasingly shabby store, governments struggled to maintain basic infrastructure and services. Even major initiatives to shore up a viable work force -- working age extended to 85, incentives for foreign labour -- could not address business’s need for labour. The long economic depression that resulted further hampered government’s ability to respond or maintain infrastructure as the tax base fell, creating a vicious circle of fading resources and economic loss that drove even more people to seek better opportunities elsewhere, leaving a society composed of the old and the talentless. drawn from Environmental Literacy Council, “World Population in 2300,” ( article.php/1446.html); O’Neill, Brian, Balk, Deborah, “World Population Futures,” Population Bu!etin, 2001. 29
  30. 30. 6 Transform: mutable worlds.
  31. 31. Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will Transform be ended. Vernor Vinge, On the Singularity presented at the VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, 30-31 March 1993 ( In the late 21st C, the convergence of innovations in information technology, bio- engineering, nanotechnology, and the cognitive sciences created a self-reinforcing acceleration of transformative change. These innovations were underpinned by the paradigm shifts emerging from complexity and chaos theory, and in turn catalysed a state of accelerating and near-continuous transformations in worldview. The results? a completely and continuously mutable reality -- people can bioengineer themselves and “nature”; the human - machine interface is completely porous, with biochips and DNA processors extending “pervasive computing” into the human body; smart machines co-design and re-design themselves and, in concert with their post- human partners, co-design and re-design the worlds around them. Assembly and re- assembly at the atomic level are almost literally child’s play. The 24th century is also post-consumerist, post-literate, and post-Earth: by the end of the 21st century the boundaries between producers and consumers had been all but erased with pervasive home fabrication capability; literacy had evolved into mediacy, and the new global pidgin owed as much to drawn from Ray Kurzweil, The Mandarin and movies, and Hindi and high-impact role-playing games, as to Singularity is Near, 2005; Jim Dator, English and the Latin languages. “Ubiquitous, Dream, Transformational, the best and brightest have evolved as ‘homo stellae’, leaving the cradle of Earth, and Other Futures,” 2006. or ‘homo oceanus’, adapted to life on and under the seas. [continued next slide] “ will be the metaphorical opposable thumb that enables our next step in evolution.” (Kurzweil) 31
  32. 32. Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will Transform be ended. Vernor Vinge, On the Singularity presented at the VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, 30-31 March 1993 ( By 2400, humans, and their technologies, and the environments of both, have all three merged into the same thing. Humans, as humans, lost their monopoly on intelligence, while new forms of artificial life and artificial intelligence emerged, eventually perhaps to supercede humanity, while the once "natural" environments of Earth became exercises in managed evolution that were (and are still) continuously envisioned, designed, created and transformed first by humans and then in conjunction with our post-human successors (paraphrased from Dator). From homo sapiens sapiens to homo sapiens silica and homo sapiens stellae and oceanus, and bio-silica sapiens. Lives are long, experience a currency, education continuous, production and governance open-source and blurred between the local and global, and children few. The population has declined and scattered, and old installations attract the idle curiosity of nanotech-enabled amateur archaeologists of all ages. The ‘ancient world’ artifacts of pre-singularity humanity are seen as interesting curios of species childhood. drawn from Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, 2005; Jim Dator, “Ubiquitous, Dream, Transformational, and Other Futures,” 2006. “ will be the metaphorical opposable thumb that enables our next step in evolution.” (Kurzweil) 32
  33. 33. Incasting: asking “what if ?”
  34. 34. Scenario Incasting: Instructions You have each been assigned to one future (look on your nametag): Rule one: suspension of disbelief -- you had no choice as to the era in which you were born, and the same applies here. Rule two: logical consistency -- extrapolate by filling in logically consistent details, based on common sense and experience. Rule three: creativity -- challenge your assumptions, think laterally, laugh. The goal: a provocative and useful conversation focussed on these three questions: What does this scenario imply for long-terms risks in public infrastructure? What does this scenario imply for infrastructure design? What does this scenario imply for public utilities and public infrastructure managers -- what should they be doing to prepare for this future? Each group has an assigned tour guide / facilitator / rapporteur to capture your discussion and summary points for the afternoon plenary.
  35. 35. 4 Thinking Modes: Logical Creative Systemic Intuitive Use your whole brain.
  36. 36. The future will be framed by how we answer five fundamental questions: DEFINE: What new concepts, ideas, and paradigms will emerge to help us make sense of the world? RELATE: How will we live together on planet Earth? CONNECT: What arts and technologies will we use to connect people, places, and things? CREATE: As human beings what will we be inspired to create? CONSUME: How will we use the earth’s resources? 400 years = 16 generations.
  37. 37. Dr. Wendy L. Schultz Infinite Futures: foresight research and training Oxford, England http:// Thank you.