Our Common Future

Who Am I, And Why Should You Care?

November 21, 2016Foresight

I guess I have always been interested in the future.  Not in a selfish way, or in the sense of that tedious and pointless job interview question; “where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time”, but rather a fascination for where we are collectively headed as a human race.

I reached university-age shortly after the publication of what was then known as the Brundtland Report (for its author Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian prime minister).  It was the outcome of the first meeting of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, the forerunner to the subsequent Earth Summits that we have become so accustomed to.  The report was entitled Our Common Future, and, for the first time, it gave rise to the term ‘sustainable development’.

The notion of sustainable development is that actions taken by humanity to meet the needs of the present should not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

I recall reading the summary of the report, huddled in the engineering library at the University of Nottingham one dark winter’s evening and thinking that this was remarkable – a blueprint for how the world I would come to inhabit as an adult would operate.  How deluded I was!

I studied diligently for a degree in Environmental Engineering and Resource Management, full of idealism for building a better world.  However, in the early 1990s the resulting qualification about as much practical use as a chocolate teapot!  Employers simply did not know what to do with an Environmental Engineer; it was ahead of its time, with industry yet to fully wake up to its social and environment responsibilities.

In my final year of study, I was seduced by presentation made by a former student who had gone on to enjoy a career as a drilling engineer in the oil industry.  It all looked so exciting and glamorous, with promises of salaries way beyond what I could expect designing landfill sites or reclaiming contaminated land.  So, as a debt-ridden student starved of opportunity, I invested a year in a post-graduate degree in petroleum engineering and entered the oil industry.  And, just like that, I abandoned my sustainability values because of crippling student debt and a desire not to have to flat-share any longer than strictly necessary!  Practical aspiration trumped the ideal.

Over 15 years working as an engineer, market analyst and subsequently a management consultant, I have travelled the world working with big oil companies, governments and banks to find ways to exploit the world’s natural resources.  I’m not ashamed to say it was fascinating and intellectually stimulating work, but however much I selfishly enjoyed it, I could never quite shake the sustainability monkey off on my back.  I had become cog in the resource-consuming machine and it was beginning to grate on my conscience.

In 2010, I grabbed an opportunity to take a step back from the rat race and moved to the countryside where I now live with my family on a (very) smallholding.  To pay the bills I work as a freelance consultant and some-time futurist.  I am finally able to reconcile my passion for sustainable development with paying the bills, at least some of the time.  I am no doe-eyed eco-warrior, rather a pragmatist who has experienced both sides of the divide with a passion for problem solving.

Why should you be interested, not least care?  Well, this blog is an attempt to stimulate new thinking, and in a small way to see if we can’t change the fate of the human race.

Sustainable development strongly implies we cannot and should not turn back the clock, even if we wanted to.  Progress is hardwired into our DNA.

I am a staunch optimist.  I believe that the human intellect, ingenuity and natural curiosity allied to our sense of collective responsibility will allow us to overcome these self-imposed challenges and ultimately create a world that Brundtland would recognise.  Let’s see what we can do…