Scenario Planning and Forecasts

The Editor Notes March-April 2018

In a time of confused voices, it is important to expose what is merely denial, however comforting, and to state what is well-supported, however discomforting.

When I read the article on scenario planning by Joel Kopischke for this issue, the notion resonated strongly: the future is something I think about a great deal. What scenario are you anticipating for your cooperative and your community?

The planners for the Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) conference in June did well to put forth a theme of “Courageous Evolution.” We do not often want to be reminded how difficult is our evolutionary path. But courage is indeed required if we are to defend and extend cooperative values and practices. 

For business survival we must reach more of the public, seek retail differentiation with values-driven practices, and sustain cooperatives amidst a disrupted and competitive grocery market in which operating margins are narrow. 

We can anticipate a surrounding society with extreme income and wealth disparities—over half of U.S. adults do not have the ability to cover a $500 emergency (source: Forbes). And while wealth concentrates with globalization, wage growth is flat, and labor force participation is the lowest in decades. These inequalities also contribute to strain between diverse racial and ethnic communities. 

Equally easy to forecast, and alarming, is a collective failure to limit our global civilization’s ever-growing heating of the air, oceans, and land (see my review of Drawdown and Global Co-operation in CG192 and CG193). This ongoing failure will feed more climate volatility and weather disasters—2017 recorded the greatest total damages of any year. 

Organics is growing, and in cleaner food production a few new farmers are being given a little support. But our small-farm population is aging and dwindling. (Find current and extensive detail at the USDA website, searching for the “Diverse Family Farms: 2017” report .) Shockingly, total farmer population is nearly equaled by the racially-distorted prison population. Does that sound viable? 

If allowed by circumstances, I expect to use much of the coming year to discuss social breakdown and cooperative renewal—call it scenario planning. Mainstream messages continually reinforce the human tendency to discount the future, even to ignore it altogether. Here also, cooperatives can be superior, an ownership structure with greater potential, especially in hard times, for service-driven and values-based enterprise operating with collective forethought. 

Players in an increasingly financialized economy are busy discounting an inevitable future, relentlessly reaching for more growth and consumption, disguising real physical costs and limits through ever more debt. Much of trillions of dollars of debt—private and corporate—can never be made good. Yet, without a social transformation, it is smaller players who will be deemed failures and suffer the most. 

Whether debts of the federal government can be made good is a related but different question. It would require putting public needs firmly before those of financiers—truly a revolutionary realignment. Instead, our rulers’ stance of permanent war and global domination is an ever-growing disaster; its foundation stone, the dollar’s reserve currency status, is under threat. What will not work, what cannot last on a finite planet, is an economy requiring exponential growth.

Cooperatives are about social justice, and there can never be adequate justice alongside the extreme inequality in the world and in our own country. Americans often deny that the enormous wealth and waste in our society are based on U.S. global economic and military domination. The monumental scenario planning before us is to step back from the relentless pursuit of wealth and growth that is laying waste to the earth. How cooperation will fare is to a significant degree up to its advocates and activists.

Having said all that, I’ll be glad to get past this winter, with its diminished sunlight hours and reminders of the death of friends. In January we lost another dedicated cooperator and public citizen, Annie Young. She did much to spread and strengthen the co-ops of the Upper Midwest during the 1970s and forward. She contributed over three decades of social justice activism, along with service as an elected member on the board of our largest urban park system. Annie helped start Wirth Co-op and remained a strong co-op advocate to the end. •

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