Greyhawk over at the Mudville Gazette is fisking the daylights out of one of my favorite organizations, the Global Business Network. His point, which is true as far as it goes, is that the scenarios developed by GBN shouldn't be taken as accurate predictions of the future. The truth is that GBN has never presented its scenarios as predictions.
To operate in an uncertain world, people need to be able to reperceiveto question their assumptions about the way the world works, so they could see the world more clearly. The purpose of scenarios is to help yourself change your view of realityto match it up more closely with reality as it is, and reality as it is going to be.
The end result, however, is not an accurate picture of tomorrow, but better decisions about the future.
(From The Art of the Long View. Emphasis in original.)
The scenarios are thinking execrcises. In order to "question assumptions" and get a better grip on "reality as it is," GBN usually develops a set of highly divergent scenarios. That means that the global warming doomsday scenario that the Observer article referenced was part of a set. If GBN was true to form, they did anywhere from two to four additional scenarios (not referenced), at least one of which would probably have described a future in which little or no climatological change occurs.
The author of the original article may or may not have known about the existence of additional scenarios. But had he done his homework, he would have learned enough about GBN to know that they aren't in the business of peddling doomsday predictions. Greyhawk, for all of his "the truth is out there" advice, might have done the same. Unfortunately, he took The Oberver/Guardian's word for it that these were predictions, so he researched the GBN site to collect a few nuggets that he could use to discredit Schwartz and company.
The scenario-planning technique that GBN uses is far from perfect, although it has had some remarkable successes in the past. I've been lucky enough to meet Peter Schwartz and attend one of his talks. His political opinions may be a little too "Berkeley" for my tastes, too although actually, his group's headquarters are in Emeryville, an industrial enclave to the south of the People's Republic, which is home to hippy outfits like Siebel Systems but by and large, politics is beside the point. GBN doesn't have a political axe to grind, at least not in the traditional sense. They would like to bring about a change in the way political discourse occurs, particularly where the future is concerned. In this instance, I think Schwartz and company would prefer that the author of the Observer piece, rather than zeroing in on one set of easily sensationalized possibilities that fall perfectly in line with his own biases, find out about the other scenarios, opening himself and his readers to multiple possible futures. Likewise, they would probably consider it helpful for Greyhawk, rather than jumping to the conclusion that GBN is an "enemy" who needs to be made to look ridiculous, consider some of the other work that they've done (not just the Oprah and War Games and Mother Earth News stuff.) Who knows? He might find that his own certainty about the future is as poorly justified as that of his opponents, and that he still might have a few things to learn...even from a group heaquartered near Berkeley.
This is very much in the spirit of thinking the unthinkable. The report that we put together for the Pentagon is an extreme scenario, in the sense that most climatologists would say that this is low probability, in the sense of it happening soon, and as pervasively. But it is the Pentagon's job to think about many cases, [including?] the worst-case scenario.
Posted by Phil at February 23, 2004 09:05 AM | TrackBack