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Why have the futurists gone upbeat?

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The future has arrived. It touched down in Toronto the last week of July. There more than 5,000 people assembled for the First Global Conference on the Future, a vast intellectual and moral smorgasbord organized by the Canadian Futures Society and the Washington-based World Futures Society.

The most striking thing about this gathering of forecasters, professors, politicians, bureaucrats, clergypeople, journalists, healers, bankers, demographers, consultants, evangelists, venture capitalists, and other professional dreamers was that most of them seemed to be looking forwardm to the future.

Seven or eight years ago, such a conclave would have been a frightening experience. The conferees would have been told that we were running out of food , water, and energy; that the spread and use of nuclear weapons was inevitable; that environmental degradation was irreversible; that growth could not be sustained; that the curve of world population was exponential; that despite all the development aid more of the world's people each year were illiterate, malnourished, and poor; that women were still a neglected resource; and that the "me generation" didn't care.

The few dozen futurists who might have bothered to come to such a meeting would not have felt they could do anything much but cry havoc, predict disaster, and sell books.

But in 1980, the people willing without a deprecating smile to call themselves futurists are numbered in the tens of thousands. And their mood is upbeat, affirmative, can-do. Maurice Strong, the creative Canadian entrepreneur who was the honorary chairman of the Toronto affair, summed it up: "The bad news ," he said, "is that the world is coming to an end. The good news is: not yet, and not necessarily."

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