Rough Road Ahead? A Review of Chris Luebkeman's "Drivers of Change"

Consider this: 95% of the urban growth over the next 20 years will be in the less-developed world, where migrants from rural areas are already busy building precarious homes in "informal" slum settlements, often without any legal rights to the land they occupy. Today, a full third of the world's population lives in places defined by the UN as slums; in Africa the figure is 70%.

This is the (somewhat grim) forecast that emerges from just two of the almost two hundred cards contained in Drivers of Change. Arranged like a set of flashcards, and neatly packaged in a case made from recycled contact lens packaging, Drivers of Change is nothing less than an attempt to systematically classify the factors, large and small, that are expected to change the way we live over the next several decades. Change is as certain as death and taxes, says the book's author, Chris Luebkeman. Sporting the intriguing job title of Director for Global Foresight and Innovation at Arup, Luebkeman does not like to use the word "predict." Instead, as he told me in an interview last year, he is engaged in "helping people think constructively about the future."

Arup is a global engineering, planning and consulting firm, and is behind several of the more innovative plans for ecological cities, including Dongtan, China and Treasure Island in San Francisco.

Compiled from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including UN studies, press clippings and corporate documents, Drivers of Change is divided into six sections: water, waste, energy, urbanization, demographics and climate change (the newest edition, published after the onset of the global economic crisis, adds a section on poverty).

What kind of future does Luebkeman forsee? Here's the outlook for the problematic energy sector:

Global energy use, according to facts quoted from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, could double or triple by 2050, as populations grow and become more affluent. Much of this energy will have to come from super-polluting coal, especially as oil and natural gas deposits are exhausted (another card suggests carbon sequestration as a way to potentially offset the cataclysmic effects of this trend).

The book is skeptical about the hydrogen economy ("despite near universal optimism for the hydrogen economy, careful analysis suggests that hydrogen is unlikely to become a major energy carrier within the next decades") but is more optimistic regarding solar technologies, demand management, micro-generation (defined as small-scale, on-site energy production from a low-carbon source — by 2050 it could provide 30-40% of the UK's energy needs) and a tax regime that taxes carbon emissions instead of income.

And nuclear? Luebkeman points out that, for nuclear energy to be viable in the long-term, the countries must develop an "integrated program of both geological disposal and robust interim storage." In other words, nuclear waste from the hundreds of nuclear plants around the world is an issue that remains unsolved.

Although the trends explored in Drivers of Change are, for the most part, pretty scary, there is also good news (although not in the "Climate Change" section, which is not recommended for the faint of heart). For example, accelerated urbanization might actually produce new solutions to some of the problems mentioned in the book, as cities, especially very diverse cities, are functioning more and more as platforms for exchanging ideas - churning out prosperity and culture like never before. The book links the growth of urban diversity and multiculturalism to city dwellers' prospects for innovation and even happiness.

More an across-the-spectrum survey than an in-depth analysis, Drivers for Change is certainly an invaluable resource for anyone who seeks a better understanding of the forces that will shape our reality in the near future. And, as Luebkeman himself will tell you, Drivers of Change is part of a continuous and ongoing discussion, which you can follow at driversofchange.com, and on the "foresight" blog.

More on Arup:
Dew-Catching Inverted Pyramid Wins Arup Water Challenge
The TH Interview: Chris Luebkeman, Director for Global Foresight and Innovation, Arup
Dongtan, China's Flagship Eco-city Project, R.I.P.

Tags: Book Reviews | Developing Nations | Energy

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