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E&S Home > Vol. 17, Iss. 2 > Art. 10 > Abstract Open Access Publishing 
Strengthening Environmental Foresight: Potential Contributions of Futures Research

David N Bengston, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station
George H Kubik, Anticipatory Futures Group, LLC; University of Minnesota, Innovation Studies
Peter C Bishop, Associate Professor of Strategic Foresight, Dept. of Futures Studies, The University of Houston


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The need for environmental foresight has increased in recent decades as the pace of change has accelerated and the frequency of surprise has increased. Successfully dealing with the growing impacts of change on social-ecological systems depends on our ability to anticipate change. But traditional scientific tools are blunt instruments for studying a future that does not exist. We propose that futures research, a transdisciplinary field of inquiry that has been developing for more than 50 years, offers an underused but fruitful set of approaches to address this important challenge. A few futures research methods—notably several forms of scenario analysis—have been applied to environmental issues and problems in recent years. But futurists have developed an array of other useful methods for exploring possible, plausible, and preferable futures, important insights into the nature of change, and perspectives for thinking creatively and deeply about the future. We present an overview of futures research and its potential to enrich environmental planning and policy by offering a cross-fertilization of new ideas and approaches, providing a more complete view of emerging environmental problems, and facilitating the development of strategies to increase adaptive capacity and deal more effectively with surprises.

Key words

environmental futures, futures research, scenarios, strategic foresight
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087