Futurists Talk About How to Live in 2009
By Kim Se-jeong
New Year has arrived and it's time for resolutions that, for many, will last a few weeks at best.
The year is beginning dismally on account of the previous year's events. Ripple effects of bailouts for U.S. mortgage companies have begun to shake the global finance world. Terrorists couldn't be more active, and regional conflicts aren't about to cease.
The Korea Times asked three futurists for their forecasts for the New Year and to advise readers on how to live and what to expect in 2009.
Jerome C. Glenn is a futurist with over 35 years of experience. Currently, he presides over the Millennium Projects, a global future research think tank functioning under the World Federation of United Nations Associations, an independent NGO.
The project, started in 1996, has produced the annual State of the Future report for the past 12 years along with the Futures Research Methodology series. It has a Korean partner that invites Glenn to travel to Korea periodically.
Hazel Henderson is an independent futurist. In one of her recent papers given at the United Nations Environment Program's launch of the Green Economy Initiative, she called for re-designing finance systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the green economy.
Jose Cordeiro is with the Venezuelan Millennium Project of the World Federation of United Nations Associations and is currently working on a research project in Japan. He forecast that South and North Korea will be unified by 2020.
The successful management of wages and assets can't take a backseat to other plans in times of economic crisis. This year in particular, as experts project that the economy will actually mark zero or minus growth and a decrease in wages, many will no doubt keep a close look on filling their wallets and bank accounts.
The three futurists agreed that the economic slowdown will continue into the New Year. The global financial downturn will impact the life of everyone on Earth. Each futurist had his or her own money management strategy and shared it with us.
Glenn left the stock market soon after the global financial market's first stroke last year and began to purchase gold. In an interview with a Korean radio station, he said the stock market has lost its legitimacy. ``I moved into gold last year since there were so many negative economic indicators, I could not see how the stock market could improve during 2008,'' he said.
In the New Year, he said he would restart to invest in the stock market with prudent judgments on what to buy.
He began by recommending companies that are very low in value now due to the overall economic situation, but good businesses that are necessary even during difficult times, such as those related to food and health.
Secondly, he recommended economic stimulus-type infrastructure companies, such as large construction firms that build roads, bridges, tunnels and railways.
He said he would still continue to invest in gold as it would at least hold its value and make a good long-term investment.
Cordeiro said he would keep his money in the stock market in the New Year.
``Even during the current global financial crisis, there are some countries and industries that will continue to grow. Personally, I am very optimistic about large Asian countries like China and India,'' he said.
He also recommends investing in the biotechnology and alternative energy industries. ``I myself invest in some funds with Asian companies and some funds with biotech and energy companies, and this helps me to diversify my risk and leverage assets.''
Henderson, a strong advocate for the environment and green economy, recommended ``green'' sectors for potential growth, and told The Korea Times that she herself is a big investor in the sector.
Where to Travel/ Not to Travel
Beset by attacks of various types and magnitude, the Middle East in 2008 has kept its stigma as one of the most dangerous parts of the world. For Koreans, the region is remembered for a kidnapping incident in 2007 that cost two lives. Africa was also marred by mega-size tribal conflicts and human rights failures last year.
Are they still be the most insecure parts of the world and should travelers think twice before traveling to the regions? The futurists were cautious on the issue given its sensitive nature, refusing to give definite answers.
But Cordeiro said, ``The Middle East and Africa are not very safe, and political and religious conditions are relatively difficult in those parts of the world.'' Interestingly, however, he said the United States will be much safer for travel than the United Kingdom, ``where there have been many more terrorist attacks for a longer time since the days of the Irish Revolutionary Army."
Trips to the United States would actually be much safer and more fun, the futurists project, dismissing rising speculation that President-elect Barack Obama would make American more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Cordeiro said Obama would rather have a positive impact on the tourist industry in America. Glenn actually suggested attending the presidential inaugural ceremony later this month for a memorable vacation.
China and India are the two fastest emerging powers, according to the futurists.
``There's no doubt that China and India will be major regional and global powers,'' Cordeiro predicted.
However, the withering global financial situation will certainly interfere with their economic development. Furthermore, they have their own problems to solve, Glenn said, giving water, energy and the gap between the rich and poor as examples.
``Especially for China, its water situation is terrible and likely to get worse ― water tables are falling, rivers run dry for parts of each year, and water pollution is very bad in many parts of China. It is limiting not only economic production but is increasing health problems,'' Glenn pointed out.
Besides China and India, the European Union, Brazil and Russia were projected to play bigger roles in regional and global affairs.
Outlook for Korea
Overall, the New Year will be a more challenging one for Korea as it has come under the effects of the global financial crisis and its relationship with North Korea lacks improvement, the futurists said.
While praising Korea's commitment to education and economic flexibility, Glenn called for it to focus on developing individuals' creativity and self-confidence in 2009.
``Korea should make increasing intelligence as an educational goal to get ready for the knowledge economy and re-unification with the North. Why? Because many in the North lack and continue to lack sufficient iron and protein in their diets which reduce development of the brain; hence, the South should develop ways to improve brain functioning and intelligence after such large scale malnourishment in the North,'' he said.
Cordeiro laid out some hopes. ``Hopefully, President Lee Myung-bak will manage to swim in the turbulent waters.'' Looking a little further, he added, ``The Korean Peninsula will be unified by 2020.''
Henderson lauded Korea for its understanding of sustainable energy and shifting from fossil fuel to solar energy.
Top Words in 2009
``Green'' vocabulary will prevail in the New Year as was the case in previous years, the futurists projected, reflecting on the magnitude and urgency of the environmental challenge the Earth now faces.
Renewable forms of energy such as solar, clean technology, the green economy and biofuel were mentioned.
A few other notable predictions included developments in cloning, space travel, artificial intelligence, bartering, ecological assets, waste treatment, natural capital and wisdom.
Hope and Self-Improvement
No matter how depressing the world looks now, it's worth keeping your hopes up, as it's full of opportunities, the futurists said.
It's important to remain optimistic and open-minded so as to make the best of every opportunity. ``There are also incredible problems and threats, no doubt about that, but we need to face those challenges and keep advancing toward a better future,'' Cordeiro said.
On top of optimism, investment on self-improvement would be perfect, Glenn said. ``What would improve your own economic value? A special training course? Create or improve a web site that advertises your capabilities, products or services,'' he said.
He even suggested hiring a public relations agent. He also said physically fitness was a good investment, as is learning that yields rewards years in the future.