: Magazine : Back
Issues : Jan/Feb
2000 : Choose Your World
|Q + A
||A Conversation with Allen Hammond
Choose Your World
Allen Hammond is senior scientist and director of strategic analysis
at the World Resource Institute (WRI), a nonpartisan policy research
center based in Washington, DC. Hammond is not only a scientist,
but a science journalist as well, whose experience includes serving
as founder and editor of Science 80-Science 86 magazine for the
American Association for the Advancement of Science, founding editor
of the National Academy of Sciences’ Issues in Science and
Technology and research news editor of Science. In addition, he
was a broadcaster for CBS radio and is the author or editor of
nine books and numerous scientific publications.
In his latest book, Which World? Scenarios for the 21st Century, Hammond essentially
asks one question: Will the world make it? The answer, says Hammond, could be
yes or no depending on the choices we make as we move into the new century.
To illustrate the results of these choices—and that includes both conscious
conscious ones—Hammond developed three
scenarios, which are based on factual data. All three
are plausible, the question is: Which one will come forth as reality?
In a recent conversation, Hammond discussed his book and his view of the future.
First, where did you find the facts and information upon which the scenarios
in your book are based?
Hammond: The information comes from several sources. One was a research project,
called 2050 Project, which was a venture among the World Resources Institute,
the Brookings Institution and the Santa Fe Institute. The 2050 Project looks
at long-term sustainability issues one world region at a time.
Another source was the Global Scenario Group, which is made up of a dozen or
so members who develop quantitative scenarios as a means of global analysis.
I borrowed their framework and language to write the book. Also, in my position
with WRI, I oversee the biyearly publication of a 400-page report that serves
as the United Nation’s environmental database.
Finally, I set up a network of journalists in countries around the world who
could tell stories that would put a human face on the book. These stories are
not abstract, but represent real-life situations. So, while the book is built
on material generated and used by scientists, the storytelling aspect makes the
reading appropriate for a non-specialist audience.
Why did you decide that scenarios would be the
to convey the information
contained in “Which World?”
Hammond: Scenarios are not predictions. They are plausible stories
could happen depending on the choices we make individually and collectively.
They have been used for years by corporate strategists and military planners
to make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty. Now it’s time to use
these tools for wider social purposes, such as public policy decisions.
In the case of Which World? scenarios allow a reader to respond emotionally to
a vision of the future. Graphs and charts do not elicit that kind of response,
so scenarios are more effective and powerful. They allow us to think about the
choices we have and then focus our attention in order to tilt the balance toward
a favorable outcome.
What are the scenarios you write about in your book?
Hammond: There are three scenarios, all of which are viewed
from the year 2050 back to our present time. The first is Market World, which
is based on the power
of markets and private business to generate prosperity and thereby improve human
welfare. To quote from Which World?: ‘The private sector is the engine
of economic growth—so turn it loose. Global economic integration is the
engine of development—so break down the barriers to free trade. Individual
initiative and expanding prosperity are the best ways to improve human welfare—so
provide opportunities and incentives.’ Could Market World become reality?
Yes, but even if it does, it may not bring prosperity to everyone.
And that brings us to the second scenario, Fortress World. If Market World fails,
then undoubtedly there will be large numbers of humanity left or thrown into
poverty. Furthermore, unconstrained markets and worldwide poverty could lead
to devastating environmental effects, such as mass deforestation, soil erosion,
water pollution, the collapse of the world’s major marine fisheries and
severe changes in the earth’s climate. As conditions become more and more
have-nots will rise up against the haves. There will be violent protests, wars
and criminal organizations and terrorist groups will grow increasingly powerful.
Could Fortress World actually happen? Yes, if we’re not careful. We’re
already seeing bits and pieces of it today. Gated communities are becoming increasingly
popular and in the U.S., private security forces outnumber public police officers
three to one. In Russia and South Africa the ratio is 10 to one. So we see that
the wealthy are already beginning to construct fortresses in an attempt to keep
poor and their problems.
Fortunately, there is one more scenario—Transformed World. However, it
will not come about without a leap of faith that requires great social and political
change. To quote from my book again, ‘Imagine a society that seeks not
just wealth but also human welfare, not just security but also fairness. A society
that is a steward, not exploiter, of Earth.’
There are a few indications today that Transformed World could become reality.
All of the 20th-century examples that I mention in the scenario for this future
are real. For instance, in just the last 10 years we have seen smoking go from
being commonplace to being considered a nasty habit that is banned in many public
places, and tobacco companies are having to pay for the enormous cost of health
damage they helped create. On the political front, there have been remarkable
changes in Poland and the Czech Republic, and South Africa went from racist minority
rule to a multiracial democracy. There are major corporations, like McDonald’s
and Procter & Gamble, that are joining forces with environmental groups to
develop new ways to reduce pollution and waste. Finally, new technology, the
Internet and e-mail are forging communication links that are already bringing
information and services to previously isolated communities.
You say that these three scenarios must be considered within the context of current
trends and regional differences. Can you please explain what you mean and give
us some examples?
Hammond: There are what we call critical long-term trends that
will affect the
future. For example, we know India’s population is not going to shrink
in the future. In fact, trend analysis indicates that India’s population
is likely to double in the next half century. Obviously such a population boom
will have a tremendous affect on every aspect of India’s future.
The other trends I cover in the book, besides population which comes under the
heading of demographics, are economic and technological trends, environmental,
security and social and political trends. It is important to note that trends
are not destiny. People do have the ability to change the future. But trends
can place constraints on the future. Going back to the issue of population growth,
that’s a problem that will likely take a couple of generations to slow,
depending on economic and social conditions. Pollution is more than likely going
to rise, especially as rapidly industrializing economies increase production.
So, by analyzing these trends, we can suggest the most likely course of a country’s
future. It’s a technique called critical trend analysis.
Now, as far as regional differences, different regions of the world face different
problems, and how they choose to address those problems will dramatically affect
not only that region or particular country, but the entire world.
For example, everyone thinks Southeast Asia’s economy has collapsed, but
the fact is the Asian tigers—South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong—have
improved the lives of their populations and in the next 30 years, Southeast Asia
has the best chance of economic success. China has also improved the lives of
its population, but it faces enormous unappreciated constraints. While it is
home to 20 percent of the world’s people, it has only four percent of the
world’s arable land and it faces an acute water crisis. Moreover, in only
the next 12 years, 300 million people are expected to migrate from rural areas
to China’s cities. Will there be enough jobs for all these people? If not,
it could cause serious political instability and this really scares the Chinese.
Now, Latin America has more natural resources per capita than any other developing
region of the world, it has a larger industrial base than China, plus it has
proximity to China. But equity is the stumbling block here. Unlike Southeast
Asia, there has been no land reform in Latin American countries. For instance,
in Brazil, 50 percent of the farmland is owned by one percent of the population.
There is a marked contrast between Latin America’s extremely wealthy and
hopelessly poor. Is it any wonder then that corruption and violence have a home
here? People who are outside the loop of progress and prosperity are the most
likely to revolt.
Africa’s problem is a lack of governance. Rulers get rich while everyone
else starves. If they can fix this problem, they might make it.
North America has an interesting problem. Our past success has been because we
are an open society. We’ve welcomed immigration, free trade, innovation,
technology. But now our youth-oriented population is aging and the debate rages
whether we should turn inward and deal with our problems at home or continue
with high levels of foreign aid. It’s not clear which way the debate will
go, but one thing is clear. If we turn inward, our economy will stagnate. But
if we turn outward and lead, help other regions to succeed, then we can stay
The problems are so diverse and regions of the world are so far apart. Is our
success really linked to the success or failure of these other regions?
Hammond: Absolutely. Look at what recently happened
to the New York Stock Exchange
when Thailand’s markets failed. Consider terrorism. These disaffected young
kids who have no hope are given a gun and a uniform and then they’re told
that the bad guys are Americans. So we are connected to terrorism via the world’s
Disease links us, too. The World Health Organization recorded 30 new diseases
in the last 20 years. We expect that rate to continue or even accelerate. AIDS
is not the last. The next disease is only a plane ride away. So what happens
in Africa affects our health, our economy and our security. We definitely have
a stake in whether or not Africa makes it.
We can’t control our destiny without participating in the destiny of countries
overseas. And that means making important choices. There was something in the
news not too long about what it would cost to vaccinate all of the world’s
children. The cost was a fraction of what the U.S. spends each year on defense.
There’s a problem we could solve by simply making the choice to solve it.
But we seem to lack the will or sense of urgency. We need motivation to solve
So, all things considered, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future
of the world?
Hammond: I am optimistic that people will find the will and
the creativity to face the challenges and overcome the constraints in order to
set a course for
a future that more closely resembles a Transformed World than a Fortress World.
But it won’t be easy, and it’s certainly not inevitable. People must
envision the future they want and then begin to make it happen. We must engage
in some strategic thinking and that is where scenarios come into play.
If I may quote from Which World?: ‘Humanity is no longer just another passenger
on planet Earth. The sheer numbers of people and the scale of the human enterprise
are now such as to have a lasting, perhaps irreversible, environmental impact;
our capacity for destruction and the potential size of the human disasters now
possible are equally large. The constraints of a finite planet and of human poverty
and ignorance are real. Just as parents struggle to teach their children to think
ahead, to choose a future and not just drift through life, it is high time that
human society as a whole learns to do the same.’
Hammond can be contacted at the World Resource Institute, 10 G st. N.W., Ste.
800, Washington, DC 20002; 202-729-7600;