From Star Wars to Battling Debris

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Volume 5,
Number 5
May 12, 2019

Hot Topic: Space Scrap

In Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military (W.W. Norton, 2018), astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson relates the history of the relationship between scientists who seek to expand our knowledge of the universe and the military strategists who seek to expand their dominance of it.

Throughout the book, Tyson draws a broad trend line leading to increased militarization of space. This militarization has been kept in check historically by cooperation among those pursuing and holding advanced technologies, which is no longer limited to the two superpowers of the Cold War and the Space Age. As the number of rivals grows, so do their threats to each other.

The book does not address the recent proposal to create a new U.S. Space Force. The proposal the Department of Defense submitted to Congress in March 2019 calls for the Space Force initially to be a part of the Air Force, much like the Marines are a part of the Navy, before becoming established as a sixth military branch. Tyson has gone on record supporting the concept as long as this Space Force would also address other existential threats posed by impactors, such as asteroids and space debris.

Recycling space debris has come up (perhaps a little too whimsically) as a possible job of the future. As The Futurist (January-February 2011) suggested, “Space junk watchers now track bits of debris, but the future may offer opportunities for space sweepers, space junk recyclers, haulers, and resource reclaimers.”

In fact, real recyclers have considered the possibilities of collecting valuable end-of-life materials from space. In 2007, Scrap magazine, published by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, pondered the “Orbiting Opportunity” represented by an estimated 2,000 tons of nonferrous scrap soaring a thousand miles over our heads. The recyclers looked at issues such as the condition of the scrap upon reentry (aluminum would just burn up) and whether prolonged exposure to radiation in space would render the material too dangerous for processing and remanufacturing.

Given the U.S. military’s long-standing relationship with futurists and foresight, strategic forecasts, and scenarios (also recounted in Tyson’s book), it seems likely the future Space Force will consider carefully the consequences of actions in space that would ultimately backfire—such as blowing up the enemy’s assets and creating an even bigger and more lethal debris field. The opportunities to lessen all such threats are well worth exploring.

Further reading: “Seeking Higher Ground in Space: Review of Accessory to War,” Foresight Signals Blog (April 28, 2019).

New Publications and Foresight Resources

  • The Association of Professional Futurists has launched a new platform integrating its public website with members-only community resources, including news, discussion forums, social networking, events calendar, and career center. “As we look toward 2020 to further our mission to advance professional foresight, our new platform represents an entire new chapter,” says APF Chair Jay Gary. “I want to thank the APF Board, who called for this move to a new online home going back to 2017. Also, I want to give a shout out to the launch team, who worked tirelessly since January: Jon Dagle, Kimberly Daniels, Alireza Hejazi, and Richard Yonck.
  • A Transformation Journey to Creative and Alternative Planetary Futures by Victor Vahidi Motti (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019). Motti, director of the World Futures Studies Federation, shows how a planet-wide futures mindset can help overcome the polarized and polarizing worldviews of the present—nationalism, racism, sexism, religious extremism—and lead to an integrative wisdom. Excerpt:
    The realization of wisdom has no end point in sight. It is an open-ended vision, always evolving towards higher levels of complexity and creativity. Moreover, building a united anticipatory capacity for humanity while transcending its valuable but divisive diversity requires us to prepare ourselves for a transformative journey, one that must traverse vastly different valleys.
  • The latest issue of the World Futures Studies Federation’s free digital journal Human Futures is now available. Features include a “Futurometer” tracking positive and negative trends or “pressure changes” on the future, recaps of recent conferences, book reviews, interviews, and articles by Thomas Lombardo, Erik F. Øverland and Jay Gary, Amy L. Fletcher, John A. Sweeney, and Magnus Jörgel, Hank Kune, and Frank van Erkel.
  • The Millennium Project has created a video playlist for its futures assessment framework of 15 Global Challenges. Each brief (2 to 3 minutes) video serves as an overview of one of the 15 global challenges: sustainable development and climate change, clean water, population and resources, democratization, global foresight and decisionmaking, global convergence of IT, the rich-poor gap, health issues, education and learning, peace and conflict, the status of women, transnational organized crime, energy, science and technology, and global ethics. Jerome C. Glenn, co-founder and CEO of The Millennium Project, credits Mara Di Berardo, communications consultant and node co-chair for Italy, and Fan Zhiwei, TMP intern, for their work on the videos and playlist. [Learn more]
  • The World Future Society has begun digitizing its archive of publications, recordings, and correspondence, including back issues of The Futurist magazine. “The World Future Society maintains a massive treasure trove of material from the greatest futurist thinkers from the past five and a half decades,” says Julie Friedman Steele, board chair and CEO. “Our history of leading edge thinking has been stored safely and securely with guidance from both Encyclopedia Britannica and the Harvard Archives. We are making certain this intelligence can be mined and leveraged for all that is to come.” The digitized archive will be available to WFS members. [Learn more]

Upcoming Events

  • July 29-August 1, Athens, Greece: The Athens Institute for Education and Research will hold an international symposium on foresight as part of its annual international conference on social sciences. The symposium aims to bring together scholars, researchers, and students from all areas of futures studies and related disciplines, including scenario building, horizon scanning, forecasting, roadmapping, backcasting, technology assessment, Delphi surveys, and social platforms. The deadline for submitting an abstract is June 17. [Learn more]
  • September 10-13, Mexico City: The World Futures Studies Federation will hold its annual conference at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, hosted by the Faculty of Political and Social Science. [Learn more]
  • October 23-24, San Francisco Bay area: The Institute for the Future will hold its annual Ten-Year Forecast Summit on the theme of The Age of Distributed Superpowers: 2019-2029. [Learn more]

Moves in the Field

From Foresight Signals editor Cindy Wagner: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all who have helped me throughout my career as a magazine editor, first with The Futurist (1981-2014) and most recently with Scrap (2015-2019). As I officially retire from my day job at Scrap at the end of this month, I look back with gratitude to the mentorship of WFS founder and Futurist Editor Edward Cornish and to the continued support of former WFS President Timothy C. Mack, managing principal of AAI Foresight Inc. and publisher of Foresight Signals. Tim and I will continue to produce this newsletter as long as you, our esteemed readers, continue to find value in it.

Please don’t ask me about my plans for the future! I have always believed that preparing for the future is more important than planning it, at least at the personal level. So I am also grateful to those who have helped me prepare for this transition, including futurist and Certified Financial Planner James Lee of Strategic Foresight Investments (StratFi) and Jay Gary, chair of the Association of Professional Futurists. Many thanks!

Please do continue sending your news, ideas, and signals about the future to me at