Future Skills: The "Collapse" scenario

What if the known society is gone in the year 2050? What should we be capable of?
16 July, 2020 by
Future Skills: Das Kollaps-Szenario
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute

The future currently seems more uncertain than ever before. Parents and the education system, which aim to make children and young people "fit for the future", are facing particular challenges. While for decades we expected more prosperity, progress and freedom, the era of linear development seems to finally be over.

But how do we face a constantly changing environment?

The GDI study "Future skills" outlines four scenarios for the year 2050 and identifies the skills needed for these futures. One of them is the “Collapse” scenario:

Collapse describes a decline of the existing social order, institutions and infrastructure. This scenario is not only characterised by scarcity, but also by a restriction of degrees of freedom existing today, because many activities simply are no longer possible.

A large number of historical examples for the fall of civilisations can be found worldwide: the civilisations of the Bronze Age, the Maya, the Khmer Empire, the Mali Empire, the Inca, etc. All collapses have in common a significant population decrease and a reduction in social complexity. Reduced complexity means less differentiated social, economic and political structures and institutions, i.e. less differentiated cultural artefacts and objects, less differentiated social roles and less differentiated forms of organisation. Reduced specialisation and division of tasks result in loss of knowledge and manual skills.

In the “Collapse” scenario, people in the future are largely cut off from the outside world. There is little international trade. Travelling beyond a small radius is very expensive. Migration likewise only still takes place within relatively small spaces, e.g. from the coast to inland areas. Since the collapse, Europe would have also become much less attractive as a destination of migration. Some digital connection remains, such as via computers in public places and local wireless networks. These networks are primarily for local use, however. While transregional connections are possible, they are slow and unreliable, because the fibre-optic infrastructure had soon ceased to work and was replaced with copper cables and wireless connections. The loss of transregional networks and transport infrastructure in the form of information and goods also resulted in a dissolution of the political integration into a national and international system. There are no more authorities with transregional political decision-making powers.

What skills are we going to need in a future like this?

The first priority is survival, which means that survival skills are needed, such as making fire, obtaining clean water or recognising edible berries and mushrooms. Knowledge of botany is not only important when foraging for food in nature, but also for agriculture. This also requires gardening skills. 

Mechanical skills are important for the production, repair and recycling of furniture, houses, clothing, etc. Technical tinkering skills are needed to replace a smartphone battery, remove a chip from a circuit board or repair a photovoltaic panel. Practical knowledge of chemistry, physics and electronics is helpful here. When tinkering with removed chips or programmable microcontrollers, programming skills are also useful. These skills could for instance be applied to construct an automatic irrigation system for a vegetable patch.

Cooperation in a group is essential for survival. The members of any community must be able to make decisions as the group and coordinate within it  in order to implement decisions. First and foremost, however, it is important to show commitment to the community and to also trust people you do not know yet. These people may be members of the community you do not know yet, but also out-of-towners with whom you could trade and share knowledge.

So we need all kinds of different skills in the future. But are these all of them? What other possibilities can the other scenarios show? Download "Future Skills" now!

Future Skills Study

Study, 2020 (free download)

Languages: German, English, French
Format: PDF
Commissioned by: Jacobs Foundation

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