Ci'Num scenario 3: New enlightenment
Position in the scenario tree
- Will we have the global organizational capacity to address the overshoot? - Yes
- What is the primary constraint of human activities? - Imagination
- What are the main mechanisms for organizing large scale systems? - Rules / Reason
The Age of Enlightenment saw the birth of reason and progress, which influenced societies to organize themselves around reason and rationality. Nearly 400 years later, a new age is born: the New Enlightenment in which societies organize themselves around the principle of sustainability. Citizens and governments achieve a level of global consciousness that allows them to make a deliberate, common effort to prepare for a better future. Rules and regulations are enforced at local and global scales to reduce emissions and energy consumption. Taxes and other incentives try to orient corporate and consumer behaviors towards sustainability. Major projects with global or regional funding produce huge windfarms or solar plants, and test new technologies on a grand scale. Development becomes a priority, with the aim of helping countries leap-frog over developmental phases that are reliant on resource-intensive, heavy industries. "Guilds" emerge as ways of organizing people on a regional, local or community levels. Strong collective pressure is applied to "deviant" behaviors, be they individual, corporate or national. There is open democratic discussion; but decisions are rigorously enforced. Scientific research and technological innovation is subject to strong ethical oversight and funded according to its contribution to common goals, including the goal to broaden the public domain for sharing knowledge and capabilities.
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The true impact of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was not quite what China expected. Understandably, China had expected the world to stand in awe of its accomplishments.But the world chose to question China about the reports that were brought back by tourists and journalists traveling around the country: reports of polluted rivers, of dangerous chemical factories operating in the midst of newly built cities, of massive expropriations and exploitation, and of the suffocating heat and toxic air that threatened the athletes themselves.
None of this should have come as a surprise to keen observers. But to billions of people, it was a shocking revelation. And it got them thinking: Is this what the world is turning into? Which was, of course, what a small group of Chinese intellectuals and entrepreneurs, with connections at the very top of the Communist Party, had in mind.
Media, bloggers and common citizens began connecting facts. Oil had passed $ 150 a barrel, pushing gasoline and other prices and pulling growth down. Seemingly aberrant and localised at first, climate events began to form a pattern; for example, near-tropical rains in Britain while Europe's South-East suffered droughts and scorching heat. The web was abuzz. People started collecting, sharing and cross-analyzing data in innovative ways; papers and analyses, some serious, some not, circulated and made their way into mainstream media. Climate specialists made some of their models available to the public for use, and even modification. One provocative website, SUVtheplanet.org, asked visitors to expose irresponsible environmental behavior; in essence, to name-and-shame anyone - from neighbours to celebrities - forcing many individuals and corporations to issue public statements and commitment to better practices.
A progressive candidate took office in the U.S. presidency, and actively drove the second round of Kyoto discussions to conclusion at the end of 2009. Europe and all other G8 countries committed to halving their CO2 emissions by 2050, and to meeting five years later to consider more ambitious goals. For the first time, most emerging economies and developing countries - with the exception of China, which still insisted on voluntary action - also agreed to CO2 emission reductions. The terms of the agreement called for developed countries to provide financial help, technology transfer and more importantly, open markets--terms that were mostly met. Within one year, 183 countries had signed the Kyoto II protocol.The Doha round of trade negotiations reopened and made swift progress, despite strong protests from the West.
In political circles, "green" became a passport to election. Everyone came up with a new idea: SUVs were banned from several cities and states, private swimming pools were heavily taxed, garbage recycling was made mandatory, air conditioning was subject to restrictions. Public funding for R&D was reoriented towards sustainability, with a focus on quick and visible results: Renewable energy, energy efficiency, resource-efficiecy, nutrient-rich genetically modified plants and animals, ecosystem modeling, next-generation nuclear energy, etc.
Corporations followed suit. All major corporations published environmental commitments and many effectively fulfilled them. Smaller corporations and developing country firms, however, experienced more difficulty, and protested that this was another way of pressuring subcontractors or of closing the door to smaller competitors.
Of course, not everyone welcomed the new environmental bias. Free market advocates warned that the surge in regulatory activity would stifle growth and could produce consequences worse than the problems they were meant to solve. Oil producers, who had been investing heavily in new extraction methods and planned on continued growth in oil demand, began to feel anxious. Their lobbying efforts against ecotaxes were impeded by a general feeling that the companies were at least ethically - and in some cases, politically - responsible for the state of the planet. And indeed, California passed an ecotax in 2012, followed by the EU in 2013.
So when a series of deadly bombs went off almost simultaneously in the capital cities of the group of "enlightened" countries (as they called themselves)that were spearheading the sustainability agenda, there were serious doubts about who issued the order and provided the means. The attack in London on the closing eve of the 2012 Olympics killed more than 4,000 people. These games were meant to be the first "carbon-neutral" major sports event. Rome, a leading proponent of the European ecotax, Delhi,whose government had announced plans to lead a second "green revolution" based on agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability and a strong focus on agrofuels, and San Francisco were the other targeted cities.
The attacks unleashed the usual immediate consequences: stock market crashes, sharp reduction in air travel, security measures that soon became permanent, economic ripples that were worrying in their effects. But, a most unexpected thing happened: Governments did not budge. Instead, they renewed their commitments to greener growth.
Travel restrictions were converted into opportunities to "move less, do more", as UN Ambassador Bono suggested. In spite of intense lobbying by airlines and the aerospace industry, air travel was severely taxed and caps were imposed on air traffic towards several major destinations. To provide alternatives, governments and foundations encouraged research on "lifelike" remote and virtual communications, and installed large teleconferencing facilities in the metropolitan areas of developed and developing countries alike, encouraging people to tele-act as much as possible. Results were initially mixed, but with the right financial incentives and penalties in place, and with the development of rich sensory interfaces, telework, telepresence and other forms of distance communications slowly picked up in popularity. Virtual universes from different parts of the world started connecting through a "Metaverse", and become one of the most powerful means of organizing remote interactions and public forums with a real sense of common presence.
The "Oil Severance Project" was launched. It was managed by an extensively reorganized World Bank and funded through a system of special contributions by developed countries. Its goal was to design and co-finance large-scale projects with the potential to make countries or industries less dependent on fossil fuels: such as, very large wind farms or solar panel fields, experimental sea-bottom turbines, ultra-fast train networks. The "New Paradigms in Resource Production and Use" research programme was another major international initiative. It was launched to spur innovative, out-of-the-box ideas for industrial processes and transportation that would use less energy and resources and produce less emissions and permanent waste. One of the requirements of the programme was that results be made public and open-source.
After difficult discussions, and more than a few resignations among their economists, the IMF and the World Bank even adopted the Human Development Index as a key indicator, and started linking all financing activities to total cost calculations, including environmental and social externalities.
A "Climate Solidarity Fund" was also created in 2013, and came to immediate use when cyclones of unprecedented strength hit Bangladesh, killing or displacing millions and ruining most of the country's infrastructure. Coordinated by the UN's Fast Response Corps, created in tandem with the Fund, public and NGO relief actions worked miracles, although some areas will remain inhabitable for decades to come.
Such turnaround in human affairs required substantial organizing.
The UN willingly provided its base, although governments also insisted on creating two separate, but expectantly leaner and meaner international agencies: ClimaPlan, dealing with climate change, NoWaste, dealing with CO2 emissions, pollution and waste, and PowerShift, dealing with renewable energy and energy efficiency. These agencies were given substantive supranational powers to enforce decisions, and fund large-scale projects. "Oil Severance" was succeeded by two programmes: "Factor 4" – that takes account of Kyoto III discussions, which were looking at a 75% reduction in emissions over 2007 levels by 2060; and "Emergency Readiness" – designed to forecast, detect and manage extreme climate-related catastrophes and their aftermath. Perhaps the most innovative (and controversial) decision was to give these agencies some supervisory power over national, local or corporate environmental regulations and programmes.
To counterbalance these powers and ensure accountability, all internal information and email traffic of the agencies were subject to rigorous public disclosure; and each area of activity had its own discussion plaza on the Metaverse in which thousands of lobbyists, interest groups and private citizens participated at least occasionally.
The Doha round of international trade finally produced an agreement in 2022, 21 years after its launch. The agreement included debt forgiveness for most of the Least Advanced Countries, the dismantlement of agricultural subsidies in developed countries (including the EU's Common Agricultural Policy), and the opening of markets in the North to products from the South. Perhaps its most innovative provision was the clear encouragement to "offshoring" of service-related activities. It was seen as a way to help developing countries avoid the need to go through resource-intensive industrial phase in their transition, and possibly, relieve migratory pressures on developed countries. This would allow the latter to more easily set up immigration quotas based on their needs and common training & co-development programmes.
R&D was primarily coordinated on an international basis, according to globally defined priorities: genetically modified organisms that displayed desirable properties (resistance, frugality, CO2 absorption), preventive and proactive medicines, resource efficiency, smart processes and logistics, smart transport systems, rich remote communications, complex system modeling, etc.. Most of the research was entirely available to the public and was made open-source. However, a side effect of globally centralized funding was lack of diversity and of openness to small projects or unconventional (out-of-the-box) thinking. This became worse after the premature deployment of inadequately tested plants which damaged agriculture across an entire Indian state. Ethics and Evaluation Committees were established everywhere and given veto power on research projects as well as on testing and industry transfer.
While the system seemed to organize itself well enough at global and regional levels, making it work at the individual level became an issue. National governments were too remote or too discredited, or both. In spite of strong opposition by governments, another layer of governance soon emerged. It came to be called "guilds". A "guild" could be a commune, a neighbourhood, a parish, a corporation, an association, an organized ethnic minority or even an extended family. Thus, an individual could belong to several guilds. A guild had a charter, an organization, leadership, rules for membership, mechanisms for making and enforcing decisions, and relationships to other guilds. To be considered a guild, it had to be recognized by a number of other guilds. Depending on a number of criteria, guilds could be given some regulatory powers and tax money. Through them, the virtuous mechanisms agreed upon at the global and national levels were adapted to local realities and enforced.
In many countries, individuals and corporations (at least the mid- to large-size ones) were also given "Carbon Footprint Accounts" that tracked their energy consumption, their direct and indirect carbon emissions, their recycling activities, etc., and were attached to financial incentives or penalties. While individual accounts were confidential, the accounts of corporations and of public bodies were publicly accessible. A consumer could even scan a product with her mobile while shopping in order to check the status of the producer's carbon footprint. Guilds were often in charge of distributing and controlling the accounts, consolidating the data and enforcing the financial mechanisms. The budget they received was itself indexed on their collective performance.
The system achieved spectacular results even though it sometimes took things a little too far. Overall, CO2 emissions in 2025 were already 20% below 2007 levels in Europe, and 15% in the U.S. The economy kept growing – although slower than before 2008 – but energy sources were moving away from fossil fuels slightly faster than expected.
At the same time, Mexico city – formerly one of the world's most polluted capitals – finalized a 10-year internationally financed pilot project and became the world's first carbon-neutral metropolis. It encompassed a new high-density centre connected by fast public transport to smaller, dense suburban nodes consisting of energy-positive buildings and surrounded by protected green space. In the rest of the country, 75% of the land became nature parks. While the American Teleworkers in Mexico Guild hailed the move, peasants resisted by violent means with near public backing from the FreeLife Guild.
Most armies were now federated into multinational forces of different specialties. Their main concern was the small number of "rogue states", usually oil producing autocracies, which became havens for mafias and terrorist groups. The 2027 invasion of Azerbaijan by UN forces shed light on these unholy alliances. However, terrorist attacks had by then become a fact of life. Due to reasonably effective controls on technologies for weapons of mass destruction, the damage they inflicted was insufficient to destabilize the world. A much smaller multinational force was also called upon to contain the Mexican peasant revolt. The intervention created a certain uneasiness among international public opinion.
In fact, the most destabilizing factor become the world's almost excessive stability.
As an example, the emphasis on healthy living, responsible behavior and preventive care focused a lot of researchers on mind enhancements, on increasing life expectancies and on detecting all possible anomalies in embryos. In 2030, reaching 120 was no longer considered exceptional, nor bad luck. In fact, it was harder to be young. The financial burden of paying for retirement became lighter after elderly people became commonly active. But the world was designed by old people for old people (who even designed members of their own offspring with embryo selection and gene manipulations); and these individuals, being rightly proud of their achievements, were unready to hand the reins to possibly less reasonable generations.
Youth unrest expressed itself in more and more visible ways. One of the most symbolic moments occurred during the 20th ECOncert at the Stade de France in August 2030, when the videofeed of Bob Geldof's concert was hacked with images of cigarettes and whisky glasses (both substances having been classified as drugs in most places), of couch potato avatars watching avatars watching an elderly Geldof and other "I'm bored!" messages.
With that in mind, Toronto, Seoul and Curitiba (Brazil), soon followed by other cities, reorganized in order to reconcile common rules with differentiated lifestyles. Cities would manage a common infrastructure grid and planning agency and devolve neighbourhood matters – under closely supervised rules and indicators – to local guilds. Young people (or those who consider themselves as such) would have their own space, ageless "transhumans" or New Buddhists could live by their own standards, etc. The cities made sure that some common rules were set and followed, provided interfaces and common spaces as well as 3D virtual forums, while guilds ensured individual compliance to common and specific rules.
Africa also felt the need to make itself heard. The continent had benefited from the changes, but hardly as much as other countries. The world powers' priority was clearly on reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions; and Africa, at its current state of development, was no big player – hence no big problem and no big priority – in that regard. By the end of the 2020s, African countries started to threaten to leave the UN and extract themselves from common rules, if they were not to benefit from them as much as Asia or South America had done. The issue of economic development remained partially unsolved.
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