Sino-Global Energy Futures: collaboration or conflict

In April 2011 I applied to become one of Berkshire Publishing Group’s “{Bao} China Futures Fellows”. I’m happy to announce that I’ve been selected, and would like to express my gratitude to Karen Christensen and the Berkshire Publishing Group for this honor and opportunity. Here is an overview of the {Bao} China Futures Fellowship that I quote from Karen Christensen:

“Berkshire Publishing is developing the {Bao} China Futures Network as a platform and gathering place for those involved in China futures research, a field in its early stages and with great potential for growth. China Futures will provide opportunities for scholars and specialists who have begun to do rigorous futures thinking, and will encourage other researchers to apply their work to the challenges of the future. Anyone is free to sign up at the site, too, which will give you access to the evolving work of the Fellows and to a considerable body of China-related content: (We’ll be very glad to stay in touch about other Berkshire China projects, too – including the China Business Center.)

Fellows will promote the study of China’s history and culture, crucial to anyone who intends to build scenarios for the future. The site will contain extensive resources on Chinese history and culture from Berkshire’s renowned China publications. By creating a China futures “community center,” we will demonstrate new approaches, new tools, and new methodologies that can help policymakers and businesses. Any visitor will come away with a more nuanced understanding of China’s role in the twenty-first century. Our efforts will enrich dialogue in Chinese studies and encourage practitioners and scholars to think ahead in new ways.

{Bao} China Futures Network is hosted by Berkshire’s partner, Shaping Tomorrow (ST), the leading, open global portal for strategic foresight, where members can explore emerging trends, patterns, opportunities (and the risks they entail) in wide-ranging fields, applications, and locations. By collaborating with trends researchers on six continents, ST and {Bao} China Futures offers online access to a community of over 12,000 people, 6,000 organizations, and a Foresight Network of more than 2,800 experts, through which early predictions and warnings of change allow for better-considered, timely decisions, directives, and innovations.

Berkshire Publishing has worked with futurists and future studies organizations for over five years in the development of its award-winning titles focus on international relations, cross-cultural communication, business and economics, and environmental sustainability. The ST / Berkshire partner site – – will to help non-Chinese organizations better understand the future of the country, and will promote strategic foresight to Chinese companies. {Bao} China Futures will be recruiting up to 100 Chinese and foreign experts as China Futures Fellows, who will help to provide comprehensive information about and analysis of political, economic, social, and technological trends.”

My project

The title of the project I have proposed is ‘Sino-Global Energy Futures: collaboration or conflict?’.

The main theme of the project revolves around energy as a source of conflict, or alternatively as a source for collaboration and hence peace.

We know that the world is facing a number of energy challenges, depleting oil, gas, and coal supplies. And we know that unchecked climate change poses a great risk to (and is already impacting) humanity. In other words, the industrial world and the industrialising world need to transform the way that energy is produced, consumed and indeed even perceived.

Energy resources have been a source of conflict throughout the 20th century, however the threat of energy resource conflicts and wars becomes even greater if we as a species cannot develop the means for alterna-tive energy sources in the coming decades.

If, however, we can increase our capacity to collaborate across nationalities, ethnicities, and other affiliations, to address and solve energy (wicked) problems, we not only stand a good chance of averting catastrophic climate change, and we not only stand a good chance of building post-fossil fuel economies, but we can also lay the foundations for inter-cultural understanding and solidarity that will help foster peace between diverse peoples. In other words, collaboration is a ‘synergetic’ good, in that it helps people solve problems while weaving new communities and solidarities.

Sino-global futures focus

This project will focus on emerging examples of Sino-global collaboration. Part of this focus will be on Sino-global climate mitigation collaborations. We know that UN based negotiations have stalled, in part based on substantial differences in how the problem is conceived across civilizational lines. Yet that does not preclude a myriad of other collaborations between nations, NGOs, companies, to dramatically reduce carbon emis-sions. Nor does this preclude inter-civilizational dialogue that can create shared understanding and commit-ment between peoples.

The other aspect to this focus will be on exploring Sino-global collaborations on developing and accelerating post-fossil fuel energy solutions. Indeed, China is a major ‘pivot’ in global energy futures. As an industrialising country with almost a quarter of the world population, the future of the planet rests on leveraging China’s dynamic capabilities, learning from China, as well as assisting its people in the tasks at hand. Already China is the leading manufacturer of renewable energy technology, and has recently surpassed the US in renewable energy investments. It has wisely used much of its post global financial crisis stimulus to drive investment in renewables. This has further propelled the rapidly growing industry globally. The future energy transformations we seek will by necessity see China as a key driver and collaborator for change.

Collaboration and dialogue

Collaboration happens in many different ways. Work across many different types or organizations, from government agencies, to corporations, to NGOs, community organizations and universities and research centres is a complex affair. Collaboration can be used for knowledge sharing, networking, innovation processes, and community building. It also requires the capacity to build relatedness and trust. When a complex and wicked problem meets the need for dynamic and diverse collaboration, the challenges in creating common ground, shared meaning and shared commitment are greater.

I will document three stages of collaboration. Existing collaborations will demonstrate best practice exam-ples of collaborations within and between Chinese and trans-national actors. This will help give people an idea of what is already being done successfully. Emerging collaborations will be those that are being devel-oped and which hold promise. I will also explore needed collaborations, what needs to be developed to take Sino-global collaboration to the next level. Finally, I will also look at the area of cross sector collaborations, where emerging synergies of structural power across cultural, political and economic domains are leading to dramatic transformations.

Futures research component

In researching and envisioning alternative China futures, I intend to develop scenarios from the research data that will offer clarity in assisting Sino-global energy collaboration. As developing such scenarios is an emer-gent process, it is difficult to say with any certainty what type of scenarios or methodology would be used. As a baseline, however, it would be useful to articulate scenarios that envisage collaboration pathways (alter-native futures for Sino-global energy collaboration) as well as ‘the future as warning’ (as the famous Indian social theorists Ashis Nandy put it) which makes stark what a future without Sino-global energy collaboration might look like. Normative (preferred) futures can inspire and motivate action, while dystopian futures can act as a warning, and by extension make less likely and help to avert such futures.

Emerging worldviews of Sino-global collaboration

Fostering Sino-global collaboration will by necessity require new ways of thinking and knowing, and indeed require ‘worldviews’ of collaboration. We live in the age of great states (which many would call empires) in an increasingly multi-polar world. And… addressing the global problems we face will force us to transcend (yet include) the nationalisms born of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. While not denying the legitimacy and role of statehood and the nation as an entity and shared-imagined community, we also need to articulate trans-national solidarities, trans-local collaborations, global (cosmopolitan) governance, and a planetary vision of the human family.

Yet such terms should not be superimposed on the research, as this would simply re-inscribe a western-centric framing. Thus, among the myriad collaborations we may find examples that allow us to observe and appreciate how such worldviews are emerging. The use of analytic tools such as Causal Layered Analysis will give rigor to the inquiry into emerging worldviews of Sino-global energy collaboration. Articulating these emerging ways of knowing will facilitate appreciation for the mindsets, mental ‘software’, and culturally em-bedded discourses that facilitate Sino-global energy collaboration.

Innovation in the 21st century

The late sociologist Eric Trist argued that the turbulence and complexity posed by our emerging challenges cannot be addressed by single organizations alone, and as he put it: ‘The issues involved are too extensive and too many-sided to be coped with by any single organization, however large. The response capability required to clear up a mess is inter- and multi-organizational’. He argued that meta-networks emerge to ad-dress meta-problems that single organizations cannot address alone.

This project hopes that, with enough learning, inspiration and determination, we can create the meta-networks necessary to foster diverse, dynamic and effective collaboration in addressing our complex energy challenges. I have a vision for a ‘Pax Pacifica Network’ that can help super-charge global energy futures collaboration, a critical pillar of this being Sino-global collaboration.

Use of workshop based futures tools and methods

I have extensive experience using workshop facilitation methods to understand, map and vision alternative futures. When given the opportunity, I fully intend to use my repertoire of knowledge in this area to help develop this project, to assist other China futures researchers, and to promote the development of China Futures Research generally.

Initial foray into the project

I’ve begun documenting examples of sino-global energy futures collaboration using Diigo bookmarking. You can find it using the tage ‘Meta-communities‘. I’m very open to collaborating with other business people, writers, artists and scholars on developing this research, so feel free to contact me.


About jramos

José Ramos is a researcher, writer and advocate for commons-based social change. He focuses on such areas as future political economy, planetary stewardship, innovations in democracy and governance, the conjunction of foresight and action research, and transformative social innovation.
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