Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Forecasting vs. Backcasting...Feasibility vs. Necessity

We've been working on the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment for the past year. This has been incredibly exciting to see the awakening, learning, and tremendous vision and leadership by these chancellors and presidents to commit their institutions to pursuing climate neutrality. This is an Apollo Mission-esque commitment that will marshal the brainpower, energy, resources, and focus needed to accelerate our shift to a low-carbon economy. The structure is classic backcasting - envisioning a future state of climate neutrality and then looking back to the present to determine what we needed to do to get to this future state.

Our colleague Julian Dautremont-Smith just wrote a great post on the AASHE blog on this topic addressing one of the major objections that schools that have not yet signed express: "climate neutrality isn't feasible." Check out the response, as it walks nicely through the reasons why backcasting is necessary for success, again the link is here.

As we know a major drawback of forecasting is that it tends to bring the problems of the past and present into the future, as they are inherently part of the planning. It also limits creativity with regard to what's possible. Finally, the beauty of setting goals that might seem audacious is that if you fall short, you're still way ahead of where you would be if you didn't set those goals. In this case a school that commits to 15% reductions below 2005 emissions rates by 2020, might make it, they might even make 16%, they might fall short with 14% - but the school that contextualizes its planning and prioritization around the ultimate goal of climate neutrality will blow through those incremental targets - and yes they might even fall short with cuts of only 85-95%, but would you rather be a "failure" with 95% reductions in emissions or a success with 15% reductions?

Check out this clip of Joe Laur speaking eloquently on the power of being audacious.



Stay going...