BRC 26: Jamais Cascio: RSS and the Sustainable Future

Jamais Cascio is co-founder and the Senior Contributing Editor of WorldChanging, pulling together the models, tools and ideas for building the bright green future.

“Show me everything.” — Ozymandius, The Watchmen

Sustainability and long-term thinking go hand-in-hand. Changes to the environment are slow but resolute, and we are learning in sometimes painful ways to recognize the deeper results of current behavior. Sustainability doesn’t just mean having a light footprint now; it means having a light footprint throughout the life of the product, structure or process.

But long-term thinking is hard work. Humans aren’t all that good at it, at least without practice. Moreover, the future is inherently unpredictable, so any plans based on a single outcome are almost always doomed to irrelevance. In the world of strategic planning, this unpredictability of the future is countered by the use of multiple diverse scenarios — stories about the future that portray a range of plausible outcomes. They aren’t meant as predictions per se, but by thinking about possible responses and unintended consequences across a range of outcomes, one will be able to make better choices now.

So how do you keep track of what the future might hold? As someone who has spent the last decade crafting scenarios professionally, by far my favorite tool is the humble RSS aggregator. I use NetNewsWire for the Mac, but really, nearly any will do. By subscribing to (at last count) around 400 feeds (and adding more nearly every day), I can keep my finger on the pulse of what’s coming. I don’t read every article that gets linked, but even headlines and 30-word excerpts help build an evolving image of what’s happening. I make sure to grab feeds from the worlds of science and technology, politics and religion, culture and media, economics and the environment, and more — the goal is to have a broad-stroke picture of emerging developments.

It might be a bit odd to think about RSS as a sustainability tool, but it is among the most useful. It’s impossible to build human civilization without damaging the planet if we’re only using short-term, reactive thinking. Sustainability requires thinking about the long view — and the only way to do that is to scan the world as widely and as thoroughly as possible.

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