Shaping a Sustainable Future: Science, Technology and Society
It has been said that it is difficult to make forecasts, especially about the future; this old jibe recognises that the future cannot be foretold with any certainty. What we can do is look at present trends and see the consequences of those trends continuing - although by doing so, we are likely to alter those trends. That process can occur in either of two ways. A forecast can be made with the intention of reinforcing a trend. If a government leader says that the current positive economic trends look like continuing, the statement is at least partially intended to persuade investors that the outlook is positive, thus stimulating investment and producing a stronger economy. In similar terms, a prediction by an acknowledged expert that the stock market is about to fall is likely to stimulate a wave of selling, causing the overall market decline that was predicted. Thus a prediction can reinforce a trend, or even generate a new trend that fulfils the forecast. On the other hand, a forecast can have the opposite effect. If you saw somebody about to walk in front of a bus, you would probably shout a warning in the hope of forestalling a trend which would end in tragedy. Those of us who are looking at the broad trends of human activity could be seen as shouting a warning to a species which shows every sign of walking in front of an ecological omnibus. By shouting a warning, we are hoping to forestall that event. I will be delighted if the warnings about activities which cannot be sustained lead to changes which assure an agreeable future for all humans.
© 1995 Griffith University