Brenda Cooper

Testing Last Year’s Predictions

I’m not as much of a predictive futurist as some of my friends and colleagues, and I do like to play in the space once a year – right about now.  I’m going to do this in three steps. Evaluate last year’s predictions, make this year’s predictions, talk about what we need to do this year but that I’m not predicting we will do.  So here is step one, a look at what I predicted last year and how close I came.

What I said about the economy: Don’t look for magic bullets.  There is no one bailout big enough to make us well- at least not in the form of money. We need hope.  Actually, we need a bit of economic magic, a bit of luck, a lot of hope, and to be prepared to grit our teeth. I expect a down year in the first part of 2009 (and so does everybody else), and some up after that. I strongly suspect we’re in for more swings. We’re still getting the hang of a fast, vast, and electronic economy. In 2008, the financial sector fell like a house of cards. We could see it teetering before that, but almost no one saw the speed and depth of the fall. Expect at least one more event like that: American automakers? China?   Airframe makers?  Widespread local government failures? I don’t mean struggles, I mean falls. Expect one, maybe two. Speaking of hope, I hope I’m wrong.

How did I do?  Looks like I was wrong about there being another event out there, but right about the general activity and tone of the year.

My outlook on war and peace: By the end of the year, I think there will be more calm in Iraq, and MAYBE real progress in Afghanistan. We won’t be out of either place, but could have a severely reduced role in Iraq. Expect more conflicts globally, though.  The brighter side? We’ll see better and less unilateral diplomacy.

How did I do?  Well on a calmer Iraq, and less on the progress in Afghanistan. The world does not feel more stable to me now than it did at the end of 2008.  We’re playing whack-a-mole.  We are not closer to peace. Our diplomacy is more inclusive and less bullying, but there has been no breakthrough anywhere, really.

My technology prediction was: It’s another year of building the all-mobile world that knows where it is. We’ll see better and more useful geo-aware applications and a lot of new designs. We’ll start to see chips in people – maybe just in travelers (particularly kids) in unsafe places, or criminals we can’t afford to house, but the technology will become more widespread in 2009.  We’ll see more personal GPS devices and more acceptance of the idea that others will know where we are.

How did I do?  Well on the mobile world. Specific examples are iphone apps like Foursquare, the introduction of Google Goggles and the like. But this was an easy prediction, and getting it wrong would have been more of a surprise than getting it right. On the chip – I missed it (but I think I was just too early).  It looks like it might start in medicine when it does get here.  It’s even FDA-approved. Yes, there are more personal GPS devices.

My predictions about Barak Obama’s First year: He has two wars (or more if you count Gaza), a failing economy, a failed Health Care system, and the list goes on. None of these problems are small.  None of them will be solved in the first hundred days. Most of them won’t be solved by the end of the first year.

The entire world has hung so many expectations on this guy that we will be disappointed. But if we can be patient, this is the best chance we’ve had in eight or more years for real, fundamental change for the better in American politics.

How did I do? I think I hit this right. We have progress on the economy and health care, progress in Iraq (started under Bush) and a stated direction for Afghanistan.   I frankly think he’s done well.  And yes, many people are disappointed (see the vituperative comments after the Copenhagen climate talks apparently failed).  I was hoping for more, too. But the expectations were too high for superman.

My climate change predictions (and I made a lot, so I’m commenting briefly after each one):

  • More wild weather in the form of more extremes for local areas. More drought, more snow, more rain, more cold, more heat – expect surprises.  Climate change is chaotic.  It’s not going to feel gentle.  If I look at the NOAA site, I was correct, although events were milder than I thought they’d be. With the exception of North America, we were again on a warming trend globally, and the year 2009 is expected to be one of the top ten warmest on record.
  • Bellweather losses (species, ice, ground at sea level,) and indicators (methane release, dead zones in the sea) will, once again, happen faster than predicted. We will start changing the models, so by the end of the year, we may have some pretty dire predictions to deal with.  Greenland is losing ice faster than we thought, and so is the Antarctic.  The polar bear is considered highly endangered by many, but they are only the spokes-species.  The sea-level rise in now predicted to be more and faster than we thought.  But it was not a year of runaway events, and the perceived  accuracy of climate models was threatened by climate email-gate.
  • Resource wars will intensify (primarily oil and water and food, but there may be surprise shortages, if not in 2009, then in the next few years after that). That’s worldwide, but we’ll see it here as well, even though the battleground in the US may largely be the courts in ’09.
    I missed this one.  I didn’t see court battles or resources wars (unless you want to consider all of the Mideast a resource war, but that wasn’t what I meant when I made this prediction).  The conflicts in Africa might also qualify, but they are not new and didn’t seem to escalate based primarily on new shortages.
  • We’ll finally begin really acknowledging the cost of our oil dependence. Because the economy will lurch forward and back some for most of the year, we won’t make as much progress as we’d like, but more people will actually start changing behavior in meaningful ways. Examples include reduced one-driver gas car commutes, a tendency to buy and waste less, which will be supported by the economy anyway, and new buying patterns that seek sustainable products.  Much of this happened, but I attribute a lot to the economy.  Meaning we didn’t change to be green, we changed because we felt poorer.  Here in Seattle, we are seeing more smart cars and electric cars and more momentum.
  • Climate change will feel more immediate to a lot more people – because the physical manifestations will keep mounting and so its affect on us and our immediate children will become clearer.  Not so much. At least a few of the statistics I’ve seen suggest we have gone backwards here and that fewer people believe climate change is a real problem, or even real, than when we started the year.
  • In the US and other first-world countries, there will be more social stigma about conspicuous consumption.  We already feel embarrassed for people who drive Hummers, but that will expand to include out-sized housing and other excesses.  I haven’t seen much of this– have you?  I did notice it’s getting harder to buy old-style light bulbs (there’s less shelf-space anyway).

So how do I do overall on climate change?  I’d say I got the trends wrong, but I expected more of everything than we actually got – more wild weather, more catastrophes, and more action.

Overall, I predicted: A rough year, maybe rougher than we expect. But we’ll also see some progress, and some fundamental changes in how we think. We’ll feel more respected and included by our leaders.  Since we’re Americans, we’ll still whine, but we’ll also start to make better choices.

How did I do overall?  Well, it was a rough year.  We have seen some progress.  I feel more included and less disenfranchised with the political process, but I’m not sure how to measure that in the populace at large.  But it’s far less of a change in business-as-usual in Washington than I wanted.  The money is still winning.  For an example of that, see the embarrassing health care debate.

Note that these predictions were originally in three separate posts and I condensed them some.

Watch this space for my 2010 outlook, and have a good new year.