Virginie Raisson thinks in both megatrends and microshifts. She runs Lépac, an independent multidisciplinary think-tank, based in France, that specialises in prospective analysis. Her newest book, 2038: Atlas of the World’s Futures, expands on a previous best-selling work (2033) and looks at the many possible futures ahead of us. Graphically engaging (the book’s key tool is ingenious mapping of data and trends), Atlas investigates the world in 20 years, gauging the impact of our way of life on the future, providing a vision of the challenges of the current global transition, and discussing themes such as consumerism, the middle class, energy, biotech, privacy, the collaborative economy and many more.
“At the rate we are using up our natural resources, we shall soon have to live without water, without meat, without… work. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”
Speaking at the 8th Forum de la Haute Horlogerie in Lausanne, Virginie Raisson defined strategic foresight as “identifying trend indicators and using them to build scenarios.” While the foresight analyst must be constantly alert and certain that no phenomenon, no association of events, has been overlooked, the direction today’s global economy has taken, says Raisson, obliges us to think in terms of scarcity. First water scarcity, which concerns not just the Middle East: problems of access to and distribution of water are found across all five continents. And this is just one part of the equation. Seventy per cent of water resources are used to grow food and for livestock, yet only one-seventh of that water is returned as meat. Meat production remains a critical issue, particularly as meat consumption increases.
“The good news is that we can do something about this right now. If we all ate the same amount of meat as the Japanese, we would have enough for eight billion people, which is more than the world’s population. Wishful thinking? Well, as the number of people living below the poverty line has decreased, from 37% of the global population in 1990 to 11% today, which is clearly a good thing, meat consumption and other forms of consumption have been increasing everywhere. At the end of the trente glorieuses [the thirty years from the end of the second world war to the first oil crisis], the United States and Europe accounted for 90% of middle-class consumer spending. Since then, this has fallen to 50% and is expected to fall again to 20% by 2030.” There are, then, two sides to the coin. Sand poses a similar problem. The second most-consumed resource after air and water, vast amounts of sand are used to produce cement for the construction industry. Few people would object to the idea of building more homes, but at the current rate of urbanisation, it becomes problematic. Each year we build the equivalent of a 27-metre high wall around the planet. If we carry on at this pace, 90% of the world’s beaches will have disappeared by the end of the century, not to mention the ecosystems they support.
Water, sand, but also cocoa, now that the Chinese are celebrating Valentine’s Day, and a great many fish species, the result of intensive fishing. Even certain professions are under threat from 3D printers and algorithms. “We are experiencing these transitions today,” says Virginie Raisson. “What can we be certain of? That our future won’t turn out as expected, and that it will be shaped by the choices we make today. These are critical choices, considering that soon we will have to do without water, without sand, without chocolate, without work… Granted, chocolate isn’t a vital resource even in Switzerland, but what about the rest? We would be deluding ourselves to believe that technology will resolve all our problems. Technology can’t do everything. More to the point, we can’t afford to wait any longer.”
What solutions do we have? For Virginie Raisson, the sharing economy, a means of achieving more with less, is one path to explore. “Currently, the sharing economy plays only a fractional role compared with the traditional economy, but by 2025 the two could well be on equal footing. My view is that we simply don’t have the choice. We must explore new avenues and be confident. You only need look at a film like Tomorrow and see what an unexpected success that was to realise something is afoot. It reminds me of something my children’s grandfather used to say, and which often comes to mind: the only thing that’s sure to fail is the thing you never try. So yes, let’s try!”
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