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Scenarios: Where do we want to go to?

Scenarios are descriptions of plausible futures. We use our experiences (historical patterns) and our imaginations to construct scenarios of the future. In our reflections upon our experience of the present and the past, we look for large patterns that would seem to perpetuate itself as well as ‘seeds’ that are emerging and may shape the future. But we also imagine ‘big surprises’. The advent of the information revolution (personal computers, laptops, mobile phones, the internet and the convergence of all these technologies into small hand-held appliances) was a ‘big surprise’. IBM, for example, declared in the early ‘70’s that the market for computers was saturated!

Scenarios are useful conceptual tools to help us make decisions. Whilst we are mostly propelled into the future by forces greater than ourselves, at times humankind can change the course of history. We will come back to this later on. Scenarios are roadmaps that indicate to critical points where paths diverge and where we then have to choose. Clem Sunter’s scenarios during the 1980’s in South Africa were important contributions to the debates about Apartheid; it spelled out that the perpetuation of Apartheid will lead to economic and social collapse and that it would be much wiser to create a democracy that would have a better chance in ensuring stability and progress.

Scenarios usually suggest diverging paths; a ‘high road’ and a ‘low road’ for example. The ‘low road’ is, in most cases Business as Usual. In that sense it is a warning; if we carry on like this, then the future is bleak. And this is exactly what humankind is so prone to do; we don’t like change and would hang on to our habits for dear life. Even if these habits are not producing the goods

The Great Transition Scenarios:

‘Conventional Worlds’ are governed by today’s dominat forces of globalisation: economic interdependence deepens, dominant values spread, and developing regions gradually converge toward rich-country patterns of production and consumption.

‘Barbarization’ explores the very real risk that ‘Conventional Worlds’ strategies prove to be inadequate for addressing mounting environmental and social stress, and problems spiral out of control, leading to a general crisis and the erosion of civilised norms.

‘Great Transitions’ examines worlds that transcend reform to embrace new values and institutions in pursuit of a just, fulfilling and sustainable civilisation.



Looking at various scenarios, it interesting to note that the most worrying aspects are:

  • The rapid increase in inequality within countries and on a global scale.
  • The rapid rise of climate warming.
  • All resources are under pressure.
  • The decline of Democracy.
  • The Retracting State. One of the keystones of neoliberal politics is that the state’s role should be limited and curtailed. The ‘market’ is deemed to be a better arbiter of all things social and economic. Not even security escaped the privatisation of the ‘public good’. In South Africa, for example, we have more than 400 000 private security guards and 190 000 policemen. The capacities of the state to intervene for the public good (to regulate the ‘commons’) are becoming increasingly a limiting factor in planning for the long term future. Corporations are driven by short term profit aims and the market is supposed to look after our long term future!?
  • The response to globalisation. We have witnessed the emergence of resistance by the creation of alternative solutions to the way we organise things: the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the recent drama around Greece and its anti-austerity stance, energy cooperatives in Denmark, Germany and now elsewhere in Europe and the USA, and so on, the list is endless. All are small localised initiatives responding to the failures of the market and the state. Some would argue that this shift spells the end of capitalism.
    (see http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun?CMP=share_btn_fb)We have reached a point in humankind’s history where it seems that to carry on as we had before – especially over the last three or four decades – would certainly be the beginning of the end of our species on this planet.

Scenarios for the Overberg

It is becoming clear that we cannot think about energy and its future in isolation from economic and political, environmental and social arrangements. It all comes in a complex package of interrelationships. Climate warming is not just about burning fossil fuels. It is about energy and the technologies to use these fuels. It is about the economics of it and the large corporations that makes profit from it. It is about governments and international institutions that create policies and regulate things and it is about us, people, who consume, have our habits, beliefs and aspirations.

When we consider scenarios for the Overberg, we have to use a comprehensive approach and think about how one thing influences the others; how we are part of a system.

If we take the Great Transitions scenarios and apply them to the Overberg, we find them relevant and revealing. Our region is a good example of the whole world; we have developed and developing elements, the rich and the poor, a diversity of peoples and a rich environment. We have the full spectrum of political views and actions represented in the Overberg; from the most conservative to the most radical, the deniers of climate change to the environmental activists. We also have the supporters of nuclear power as well as anti-nuke organisations. We have a mixed economy from services to agriculture (luckily no mining!) and a great range of potential economic resources.

What we then find are elements of all three scenarios in our own region. The conventional path is still the dominant one (the market forces are still driving our region) but then we also see policy reforms by the Government and local authority regarding building regulations, ‘greening’ the economy measures, support for solar heating and some support for renewable energy (REIPP programs in the region such as wind farms).

The barbarization path is also very much visible. What else is a ‘gated community’ but a fortress? We also see at times breakdown in events such as crime, drug related gang fights in the poorer areas and spontaneous service delivery demonstrations.

But there are also indications of transitions taking place. The town of Greyton embarked on a project (as a transition town) that is very active and moving forward. We have numerous small farmers going ‘off the grid’ as well as communal farms and people going towards the self-sufficiency path.

In conclusion, the Overberg itself is on the point at which it has to decide which path would be the most sensible for us now and the future.

We are planning a scenario building process with all the stakeholders in our region for September/October 2015.

“Cape Hangklip” Painting by Niel Jonker – Visit website

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