Sunday, August 8, 2010

Futuring – A Challenge for your Students

A few months ago I read an article “Roadmap to the Electric Car Economy” (by Michael Horn) in March-April 2010 issue of The Futurist.  Essentially the writer advocates for shifting to an electric vehicle (EV) economy away from one powered by gas (and oil).  He lays out a roadmap and suggests how it might be accomplished.  If you believe the writing about peak oil (2020-2030) and think about how much money is invested in obtaining oil, processing it, protecting it (wars), dealing with the environmental fallout, it runs in the trillions of dollars.  Our education system had better be ready to prepare millions of young people to tackle problems like this – our future success as a society depends on it. 

In the July-August 2010 issue of The Futurist, I read an article “Sustaining Urban Mobility in 2010” (by Ryan Chin, PhD student in Smart Cities group at MIT Media Lab) that talks about how cities and cars should be redesigned to minimize the impact of transportation.  Cars in cities should be smaller, lighter, have shared ownership, electric, autonomously driven, etc.  Imagine a tiered system of rapid mass transit between cities and small efficient cars in cities.  For example, someone living in Maple Ridge and working in Vancouver could hop on a high-speed train from Maple Ridge to Vancouver, get off, grab a small electric car as part of their City Car subscription, and drive to their office.  They park the car in a nearby City Car spot, the car immediately begins recharging.  Anyone who subscribes can take any City Car to in-city destinations.  Only clean electric fuel would be used.  Interesting.

I just reviewed a presentation by Lester R. Brown that summarizes his book imagePlan B 4.0 Mobilizing to Save Civilization”.  He writes about Hunger on the Rise (1.2B people by 2015), Soaring Food Prices, Food Scarcity Geopolitics, Food Supply (diminishing cropland, falling water tables, over-allocated rivers, erosion, deforestation), Climate / Energy stresses.  A gloomy picture… but he then proposes “Plan B”.  He proposes universal primary education and elimination of adult illiteracy as two key actions to take.  I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to pursue through his presentation and/or book.  But, I’d like to highlight that education is key to developing sustainable solutions.  We need more people educated and people with more education if we are to create the innovations needed to address our globally complex problems.

I propose a challenge.  For the educators reading this, perhaps you could weave into lesson plans for this next year an assignment for your students that involves “futuring”.  Create an assignment where they research / read some background information about key global issues and trends and then in small groups develop their own future scenarios and their own solutions.  If you are a student, challenge your teachers to take up this challenge.  I think students need to be engaged in future studies and techniques ‘cause we need more people working on our problems if we are to solve them well.

If you do take up this challenge, please post information about it here as comments or blog about it and post the url for it here. I’d be really interested to learn about what your students come up with.