Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Can We Predict a World Future? How do We Make It Come out OK?

If you have not heard of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita you need to--he is a futurologist--with a 90% track record of predicting international events. He consults with the CIA and world governments. We need to pay attention to his scientific analysis of issues.
He predicts for example that the climate change conference occuring soon in Copenhagen will come to naught. We will not do anything to cut back on our emissions because the politicians are afraid of taking the painful decisions to profoundly change our comfortable lifestyles. He is on the other hand optimistic about Iran at least as far as their decision to go fully nuclear and prepare weapons grade uranium. The science he relies on is game theory--a branch of math that first assumes that all players are rational and that they make self interested choices.

His analysis of the power structure in Iran makes him believe that there is consensus only on one item--the need to demonstrate their nationalism in some large symbolic way but not go to the lengths of isolating themselves from the International community and risking further domestic political instability.

Can any of this type of analysis be used in schools? One interesting exercise that comes to mind is asking students to really role play the countries that will need to be party to the new Climate treaty. In the last Kyoto treaty--many countries were able to look good before world public opinion ---and signed the treaty--knowing full well that there were no ways to hold them accountable if they did not deliver on their desire to cut carbon emissions--and so the treaty ended up being a large symbolic failure. Scientists have made the failure clear that Kyoto has done nothing so far to stem carbon emissions. The question is can the world media pay attention long enough to make sure that the countries that sign various goal statements are forced to make good on their pledges? Do we have the attention span to read the details and participate as "global citizens"? Can teachers explain to their students what the stakes are in Copenhagen this year and why it matters? In other words can we, first as a US community and second as a world community put enough pressure on our leaders to forego naked self interest issues and deliver something for the people who will be alive in the future? The great weakness of democracies is their inability to plan for long term results--can we be rational enough to know that now we have to place a higher value on our long term futures?

Check out his TED talk below:

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