We think of problems or challenges as issues that are presently impacting on us or on our organisations.  In our opinion something is not as it should be, we cannot achieve something that we wish or we need to do something to prepare or prevent a likely future event.  If we think we know what to do about the problem then we call that a solution. When we don’t have a solution or the solutions we have all tried don’t work then we are stuck. Foresight can help here – we have a process called Actionable Foresight that can lead to breakthroughs in thinking by individuals and organisations facing problems when they are stuck.  Here I want to elaborate on one of the elements in that process – Present Need.

Actionable Foresight employs the idea of the future in useful ways that discovers opportunities and new options. Present Need is our starting point for employing foresight and it is pretty important because where you start will significantly shape where you finish up. Sometimes our perception of the problem or challenge we face is faulty. If we start with the wrong idea of what our Present Need is then, not surprisingly, even foresight is not going to help much. The true or fundamental Present Need is always there, we may just not be aware of it. Sadly it is common for well intended groups to employ time, effort and resources in trying to address the Present Need they are aware of while the true Present Need is like the elephant in the room. That is why it is heartening to see one of those well intention groups actually point out the elephant that is our fundamental Present Need. The 27th Edition of the Worldwatch State of the World 2010 is one of the best examples of elephant pointing I have seen for a long while.

The title of the 27th edition is “Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability”. The Foreword to this edition is by Muhammad Yunis (Founder of the Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Prize winner) and in it he makes the observation that “culturally rooted fallacies are difficult to slay”. I would go a bit further and say that we cannot slay what we cannot see.  The invisible elephant in the room is these fallacies and the act of pointing them out is the necessary first step in dealing with them. These fallacies are actually our fundamental Present Need, if only we knew it.  Yunis goes on to say:

I am excited about State of the World 2010. It calls for one of the greatest cultural shifts imaginable: from culture of consumerism to culture of sustainability. The book goes well beyond standard prescriptions of clean technologies and enlightened policies. It advocates rethinking the foundations of modern consumerism – the practices and values regarded as “natural” which paradoxically undermine nature and jeopardise human prosperity.

Yunis goes straight to the point about this book, it points out where the elephants are in the room and it says loudly and clearly “that is the Present Need you have to deal with”. And what an impressive collection of elephants the State of the World 2010 points out to us.

The first elephant it starts with are the world’s religions. Despite the ‘greening of religion’ of the past two decades the report says that “the world’s religious traditions seem to hold a paradoxical position on consumerism…religious warnings about excess and about excessive attachment to the material world are legion and date back millennia…[and yet] religious intervention on this topic is sporadic and rhetorical”. It calls the message that the purpose of humans is to consume a “false god” and demands that the world’s religions tackle this heresy. A good start.

Next it points out the population elephant in the room and calls for Environmentally Sustainable Childbearing. The report sets out the mess that is reproductive rights, the social standing of women, the use women’s bodies for sex and advertising, political manipulation of societal attitudes to fertility and the importance of the child as consumer and points out the necessity of discussion and not avoidance of this particular elephant.

Hopefully you now have a sense of why I rate this report highly as an elephant spotting text.  Later elephants address the need to reduce working hours (to reduce consumption and promote equity), for governments to implement choice ‘editing ‘ policies to ultimately eliminate unsustainable consumer choices  (most tourism,  packaging etc), to redesign urban areas that don’t promote motor vehicles, to reform health care from disease consumerism for the few to equitable health for all and so on.

So get a copy and try and see the pachyderms all around us.