How to use Foresight to avoid flooding

Most people think that Foresight is prediction, but that is NOT what we mean when we use that term.  Foresight is not fortune-telling.  It is the process of thinking ahead so you can act ahead, the process of preparing so that you can anticipate possible futures and remain viable not just today but also in the future.  If we can’t plan ahead for the world we will live in, we are liable to fail.

The current flooding crisis in the south of England is a case in point.  The flooding is causing a lot of heartache and worry among the 10,000+ home owners directly affected. For some of them, flooding is becoming a regular event.

Members of Parliament, the Prime Minister and cabinet members have been out in force, commiserating with the stricken, and promising “whatever it takes” to solve the problem.  But the crisis is also generating extremely heated discussion, debate, anger and discord among members of several camps as to just “whatever it takes” might mean.

In his scathing Guardian articles over recent weeks, George Monbiot provides a brief A,B,C of the follies surrounding policies, counter-policies, subsidies and blind greed pertaining to land management.  Dredging, for example, has value if carried out at the right time and the right place, but can lead to long-term damage if applied as a political sticking-plaster to pacify irate voters.  Each government blames previous governments of a different hue for the woes we are currently witnessing.  Short-term decisions (endemic in a system where government terms are five years long) can have catastrophic long-term effects. Furthermore, the competitive, adversarial nature of “administration” leads to posturing, one-upmanship and box-ticking.

Many years ago, a phrase was prevalent in government circles. It was “joined-up thinking”.  What is needed now, in all spheres of public life, not just flood-management, is joined-up collaboration.  Throw out short-term imperatives; bring in long-term, sustainable practices.  Throw out single-issue answers; bring in all-round solutions, based on mutual respect and consideration of divergent views.  Throw out, most of all, the belief that any one answer can be right. Witness the squabbling over how to manage flood plains. Perhaps the answer is in the term itself?

We know that the future is a world of many possibilities – no one person or faction can be certain “their” future is correct. We need to become aware of what those multiple futures might look like; to decide which we consider most likely; to prepare for that particular version of the future – AND ALSO, at all times, be vigilant for early signs of deviation so that we can react promptly to make appropriate course-changes.

In the vital arena of long-term land management, “dredge now” is no solution.



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