Minorities Most Vulnerable to Wildfires

Recently a study was featured in the New York Times that found that communities who are the most at risk when it comes to wildfires tended to be Native Americans: “over 29 million Americans live with significant potential for extreme wildfires, a majority of whom are white and socioeconomically secure. Within this segment, however, are 12 million socially vulnerable Americans for whom a wildfire event could be devastating.” And these 12 million are much more likely to be non white, and in particular to be Native American.

The study puts this statistic in the context of a worldwide trend of low income populations suffering the most severely from environmental disasters. For example in the last 20 years “more than three times the number of people died per disaster in low-income countries than in high-income countries”

The reasons for this rift can be three fold.

  • Firstly, environmental disasters can negatively affect a country’s economic development, therefore countries prone to disaster are likely to be underdeveloped.
  • Secondly, in a more general sense tropical countries are more likely to be hit with environmental disaster, are more likely to be underdeveloped, have poorer infrastructure, and have higher disease rates simply by virtue of their latitude. [NBER]
  • Thirdly, countries with low economic development will struggle the most when it comes to resources and when recovering from an environmental disaster.  

These reasons form a vicious cycle that can be very difficult to break out of particularly when considering the future of the world under the effects of climate change. The findings of this study are relevant because if we can understand why certain populations are more vulnerable than others “management can expand beyond technical fixes to socioeconomic and political solutions.”

The study noted that: :”We’re not saying that people who are not poor aren’t affected by wildfires….What we’re saying is, if you have the characteristics of a disadvantaged community, you’re much more likely to take longer to recover.”

The Study noted even simple issues like language barriers can lead to major failures in emergency response to wildfires. “in 2014, as a massive fire emerged in eastern Washington, language barriers prevented Hispanic farm-workers from receiving evacuation notification from authorities, and the only Spanish radio station in this region never received the emergency information”

In light of this data, any robust new strategy that hopes to reduce the serious negative consequences of wildfires should also address the social vulnerability factors that exacerbate them. To view the methodology of this study click here. — Collin Sledge

Introducing the Fall 2018 New Foresight Students

Every new semester brings the Strategic Foresight Program new students each with unique backgrounds and interests that help bring the field and more depth and understanding. Our new students this year are Abdullah Al-Buraiki, Hilary Hetzel, Kevin Mulvaney, Brian Otero, Jeff Chamberlin, Nina Frankowski, Brent Heilman, and Iris Stein. The profiles presented here are just a brief glimpse into the backgrounds of our new students.

After getting his Bachelor’s in Air Transport engineering Abdullah worked as a maintenance planner for Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies where he reviewed airworthiness directives, service bulletins, and engineering orders. He later handled maintenance of the Gulf Air fleet for SR technics. Now he works as a development engineer for Oman Royal Flight and manages a precision tune auto care in Saham, Oman. 


Hilary went to Texas A&M for undergraduate in Information Systems and later SMU for an MBA with a concentration in Marketing. Her first job was as a Business Analyst at IBM and over the years she has worked for American Airlines, 7-Eleven, TXU Marketing and product development, and Mary Kay in Strategy.

She was drawn to the Futures program after being intrigued by a professional futurist and becoming curious about the profession. Since her husband was interested too, they are now in the program together. Her personal interests are reading, learning, exploring new places and foods, supporting their kids’ Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu aspirations.

Kevin earned a Bachelor of arts in Political Science at Clemson University and has worked in an array of fields since graduating.  He worked as a director of marketing, and advancement at companies like Advantage media Group, American Institute of Architecture Students. Later he worked as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for companies including the Vinyl institute and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Most recently he’s been the Senior Director of the American Chemistry Council working in responsible care and Value Chain outreach. He’s also currently the creative director and strategist for Hixon Design consultants.

Brian is returning to UH where he originally earned his Bachelor’s in Finance from the C.T. Bauer College of Business. During his education he focused in Risk Management, Business Finance, and Entrepreneurship.  He also became a mentor in the Ted Bauer leadership program and volunteered with the University around the city of Houston. Before his Bachelor’s Brian worked as an instructor for the US Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, and also as a manager at Ross Stores inc. Brian’s also an experienced photographer of about 4 years.

Jeff lives in the Reno/Tahoe area and received his MBA from University of Nevada, Reno. Jeff has worked in hotel management for the past 25 years for companies like Hyatt, Destination Resorts, and Wyndham Resorts. His favorite position was at the famous “Riot Hyatt” in Hollywood where he had the opportunity to take care of many top music and movie industry legends. He is currently the Vice President of a small Tahoe-based hospitality and property management company. Jeff got his undergrad in Journalism at Ohio State University, where he also competed on the Cross Country and Track Teams. When not working, studying, or spending time with his family, Jeff is an amateur actor with more than 50 shows under his belt.

Nina is a strategist by title, but really just a curious soul with a passion for psychology, technology and culture. She has an endless thirst for understanding human behavior, trends and the impacts on our changing society. Her objective is to help people and organizations envision and create better futures using scientific research (data), original thinking and a dash of imagination. She went to Webber International University to study Business Management and got a Dual MBA in International Business, and eCommerce.

She has well rounded strategic experience in the advertising industry, working in an array of roles for companies including Bank of America, Charles Schwab, Toyota, Mercedes, Johnson & Johnson, AAA, Nestle, Gerber, Kraft, Universal Music Group, Kia, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and others.

After serving in the US Army Brent went to Warner University to study organizational management. More recently he got a certificate in Project Management from Boston University, and now he’s working on an MBA in Finance from Florida Institute of technology as well as the certificate from the UH Foresight program. Over the years Brent has been an IT worker for Sumter Electric Cooperative, a site administrator for a Florida hospital, a support engineer for Veritas Technologies, programs manager for Symantec, director of product and programs at frontier communications and finally as a support account manager at ServiceNow, one of the fastest growing cloud based software companies.  

With over 15 years in the trenches, Iris combines her experience in competitive intelligence and strategy formation in her determination to help forward-thinking organizations achieve the agility and flexibility needed to succeed in today’s business world. Over the past 4 years Iris has been focused on helping companies using artificial intelligence technologies gain a better understanding of their industries and build strategic business plans.

After attending a strategic foresight workshop, Iris decided that she would like to pursue further studies in Strategic Foresight and signed up to study at the University of Houston with the goal of being able to assist organizations establish future oriented goals. Iris has an M.Sc. in Communications from Clark University. Her personal interests include reading and hula hooping – but not simultaneously!

We look forward to seeing how our new students will contribute and shape the Strategic Foresight field throughout their careers.


Knowledge Base of Futures Studies 2020

I am excited to announce that I accepted Richard Slaughter’s offer to be the Associate Editor of the next update of the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (KBFS).  First some background and then our request for your help.

Australian futurist Richard Slaughter observed back in the 1990s that there was not a high-quality, readable ‘one-stop-shop’ to introduce and represent our field. Where should newcomers to the field begin? Where would they find not one but a series of accounts about the main characteristics of the field: origins, foundations, methods, organizations and so on? At the time there were only scattered fragments that took considerable time and effort to sift through and evaluate. That began a journey to the inaugural KBFS, a three-volume set of books that was launched at a World Future Society conference in Washington D.C. in 1996.

Before long, however, it became clear that a weighty set of books that could qualify as a door stop might not be the best medium. Thus the books were translated into html documents and the first KBFS CD-ROM was born. A further update incorporating some 80 new items was completed by 2005 and named the ‘professional’ edition. It had the honor of being recognized by being awarded one the APF’s Most Important Futures Works awards of that year.

Since then the KBFS has made its way around the world and been used by many people, not least within futures-related education and professional development contexts. Conversations with a number of colleagues confirmed that a further up-date is certainly desirable. The last 15+ years have produced a huge range of new material, some of which is worthy of more than the fleeting attention allowed by the brief prominence afforded by journal publication that is all-too-often followed by a rapid descent into obscurity.

Slaughter discussed the idea of an update with with APF Chair Jay Gary among others. Earlier this year, Richard approached me, and the update idea took more serious shape.

Help wanted

As with previous up-dates, the success of this one depends on there being people who are willing to invest a little time searching out some of the best work produced since 2005. So we are asking professional futurists to get in touch with Richard or myself (ahines@uh.edu) with three types of suggestions:

  • Key new concepts, methods, organizations that have emerged since 2005
  • Specific articles that you would recommend including in the next edition
  • Pointing us to the work of “emerging practitioners” so that we can capture the voice of the next generation of futurists

More details will become available as the project develops but right now we’d appreciate your responses to the suggestions above, or any other advice on how we can improve the next edition of the KBFS. – Andy Hines

Guest Lecture: Joe Tankersley on Storytelling

Thanks to APF colleague Joe Tankersley, for his visit to our Futures Research class and for giving us a first-hand account of his experiences in the Foresight field.  

Tankersley spent many years as a storyteller working for Disney. He brought this skillset to  the foresight world at the World Futures Society Conference in 1979. In turn he brought a more futures-oriented perspective back to Disney as well, eventually leading to the creation of the Disney foresight department which has since become a prime destination for UH foresight students.

Since leaving Disney he’s done futures work in many domains from the pharmaceutical industry to tourist destinations, but his favorite work is done for groups and communities who are trying to create change, not just be aware of it or learn how to avoid it.

The book he shared with us, “Reimagining Our Tomorrows: Making Sure Your Future Doesn’t SUCK” offers a refreshing look at the future.  Frequently when it comes to the future, especially in narrative fiction the future is depicted as bleak if not downright disturbing. On the occasions that future scenarios are optimistic, they are generally more analysis than storytelling, and are thus inherently less compelling.  Reimagining Our Tomorrows offers a much-needed break from these trends with his more optimistic “Speculative non-fiction” narratives. Thank you Joe!


New blogroll and more changes ahead

We’re going to be polishing up our web presence. Alum April Koury is working on an updated web design for the Houston Futures site. The test site is looking great

In the meantime, our Fall GA Collin Sledge recently update the blogroll (excerpt to the right). It was up a few weeks ago, but you may not have noticed it because you have to scroll down quite a ways below the Archives menu on the right column. April fixed that for us! You’ll find a delightful mix of several dozen (60 at last count) blogs from current students and alumni. There is an amazing range of topics covered. I would also like to acknowledge student Stephen Layman for doing the footwork and gathering all the blogs together. Shout out to April, Collin, and Stephen for their service to the Houston Foresight community! — Andy Hines

Forest Futures: Where’s the Beef? Meat without Livestock Production

Meat consumption is increasing rapidly across the globe. By 2050, the demand for meat is estimated to rise by 73% and the human population is projected to reach more than 9 billion (Heffernan 2017). Meat consumption has risen most dramatically in middle-income countries like China and elsewhere in East Asia. As countries become more affluent, the demand for a diet with a heavy focus on meat and dairy increases and starch-based diets become less desirable (Godfray et al. 2018).

A whopping 30% of Earth’s land surface is dedicated to livestock production (Heffernan 2017). In 2017, the world lost one football pitch of forest every second according to satellite data compiled by Global Forest Watch. In the end, the area lost in 2017 adds up to the size of Italy (Carrington et al. 2018). In the US and elsewhere around the world a significant amount of grazing takes place on public lands. Unfortunately, if not managed well, intense grazing can destroy vegetation and disrupt natural ecosystem processes. If livestock production continues to increase, it will only put more pressure on precious public lands. Along with this, livestock production contributes greatly to climate change; it already contributes 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (Caughill 2017).

As food technology develops, there are a growing number of innovations that have the potential to make consumption more sustainable. The ‘clean meat’ industry involves animal cells being harvested in a non-intrusive manner and then multiplied carefully in what is known as a ‘culture’. The environmental implications of in vitro meat technology are enormous. Studies estimate that it could reduce the meat sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by 78-96%, water consumption by 82-96% and land use by 99% (Kreitman 2017). However, this technology is still young and at the small-scale level of single containers in laboratories. But many ‘clean meat’ startups believe the technology will advance quickly and that it will soon be affordable for mass consumption (Caughill 2017).

This controversial technology is facing pushback. There is a lot of back and forth surrounding whether or not lab-grown meat should be labeled and considered authentic meat. A lot of this opposition stems from the cattle industry, who sees this technological development as a market threat. They want to limit the terms ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ exclusively to products that have been born, raised, and slaughtered in a traditional manner (Haridy 2018). The state of Missouri has already made the clear distinction that anything labeled ‘meat’ must have died from slaughter. Not surprisingly, the lab-grown sector is fighting back and has formed a lobby group called the Cellular Agriculture Society that promotes a ‘post-animal bio economy’ (Haridy 2018).

In addition to meat, companies producing plant-based alternatives are attempting to bring a meaty flavor to their products, including one that was recently recognized by the FDA as safe. The critical ingredient that gives it the meaty taste and texture is the heme molecule which carries oxygen through our bloodstreams. Conveniently for food scientists, the identical heme molecule can be found in the root nodules of soy plants. The production of plant-based meat alternatives involves 75% less water, 87% less greenhouse gases, and 95% less land than traditional beef burgers according to one of the manufacturers. However, there are still unanswered questions and controversy about the genetic engineering and the risk of allergens with the plant-based meat alternatives.

Technology, as always, is imbued with social and ethical controversies. There is a lot at stake moving forward with ‘clean meat’ and plant-based alternatives; it matters who dominates its development and how it’s marketed to the mainstream. Broadly, technology is evolving rapidly and there are many benefits. But there is also always the possibility of unforeseen consequences. Furthermore, there’s a possibility the increase in lab produced food could result in society further disassociating from nature and losing sight of the connection between the environment and food production. Regardless, lab-grown meat and plant-based alternatives have the capability to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions as well as the strain on public lands. — Mary Lovelace, USFS Intern


Carrington, D., N. Kommenda, P. Gutierrez and C. Levett. 2018. One football pitch of forest lost every second in 2017, data revels. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2018/jun/27/one-football-pitch-of-forest-lost-every-second-in-2017-data-reveals.

Caughill, P. 2017. Meat is transforming our future. Futurism. https://futurism.com/the-future-of-protein-heres-how-lab-grown-meat-is-transforming-our-future/

Godfray, H.C., P. Aveyard, T. Garnett, J.W. Hall, T.J. Key, J. Lorimer, R.T. Pierrehumbert, P. Scarborough, M. Springmann and S.A. Jebb. 2018. Meat consumption, health, and the environment. Science. 361: 1-8. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/361/6399/eaam5324.full.pdf

Haridy, R. 2018. Lab-grown meat not meat according to state of Missouri. New Atlas. https://newatlas.com/lab-grown-meat-classification-bill-missouri/54687/

Heffernan, O. 2017. Sustainability: a meaty issue. Nature: International Journal of Science. 544: 18-20. https://www.nature.com/articles/544S18a#ref3

Kreitman, N. 2017. Meat without slaughter: what are the steps to scale. Futures Centre. https://thefuturescentre.org/articles/17039/meat-without-slaughter-what-are-steps-scale

Announcing the Houston Foresight Spring Gathering 2019

It’s time to lock in the dates for next year’s Spring Gathering, so block your calendar for Friday April 12 and Saturday April 13th. The theme will be “Introducing the Future,” which will explore the various approaches, tools, and experiences for introducing the future to people and organizations not familiar with our field.

We will do our usual dinner and social on Friday, have meeting on Saturday, and a party on Saturday night. We have just started working on the agenda, so we’d love to hear your idea for a session. if you have a topic in mind that fits with this year’s theme. Program your apps to find cheap flights and be ready to pounce if you’re coming in from out of town. The Hilton on campus is very convenient (link) and some folks have used AirBnB (link). We think about, practice,  and experiment with how to excite people about engaging with the future. But most of that attention is piecemeal – a little here and there. So we thought it would be useful and fun to focus on how we do it and how we might do it better. All of us have some experience in explaining what we do, perhaps persuading others to try it, or maybe have interesting case studies to share. We are looking for ideas for specific topics we might cover, as well as presenters. So, if you have a topic you’d like to see covered, or even better, if you’d like to present, please let us know (email Andy at ahines@uh.edu).    — Andy Hines

Hines new Editor-in-Chief at On the Horizon

Foresight Program Coordinator Andy Hines needs your help in exploring the future of learning and education! Hines says: “I firmly believe that the future needs a home in the academic space, thus I am pleased to join On the Horizon (OTH) as Editor-in-Chief and commit to a sharp focus on the future of post-secondary learning and education.”

“Our goal is to establish On the Horizon as the academic home for the future learning and education.”

There are so many exciting possibilities for the future of learning and education — from student-centered learning to MOOCs to Edtech to funding to policy and beyond. Yet there are also many obstacles on the pathway to better futures. We want to focus both on the emerging changes, the challenges, and the visions of the future and how it might be different.

Hines recently organized a special issue for OTH on the future of student needs. He added, “my first move is to bring aboard futurist colleagues with experience in this space, thus bringing on:

So, what you can do?  You can get involve as a:

Writer: submit a piece on some aspect of the future of learning and education

Reviewer: review submissions to make sure they align with our future focus and provide real value to readers (looks good in the resume!)

Guest editor: we do special issues in which you organize a team of contributors to do a deep dive on a particular topic

Tipster: let us know where the future is emerging, the hot conferences, blogs, websites, and most importantly the topics we should be covering

Email Andy  Hines (ahines@uh.edu) on any of these topics!

Building capacity for Transformation

Building Capacity for Transformation, this summer’s Foresight elective (still in progress) is being taught by futurist Cecily Sommers. It fits perfectly with my intent to nudge us more towards transformative work. And to integrate foresight more tightly with leadership. I think we are super-strong in client work and prepping students how to do that) which can of course be transformative). When Cecily mentioned the transformative leadership work she’d been doing at Google, I jumped at the chance – might you share some of that with our students? While it took a little persuading to get her through the bureaucratic hurdles, developing this topic for foresight students was irresistible to her.

Cecily is a well-regarded entrepreneur and futurist. She founded and ran the foresight-based Push Institute that included an annual conference rated as “one of the three best executive conferences” by Fast Company in 2007.  Among the highlights of her futures work is the professional recognized “Think Like a Futurist” book that is regularly drawn from by the Foresight program. She is also a member of our program’s Advisory Board, and provided some invaluable coaching for me when I took over from Peter.

The approach to the course is very personalized. It is designed both to build the students’ own leadership capacity, as well as develop their ability to advise other leaders to build theirs. So, whether you want to be the leader or the advisor whispering in the leader’s ear, she has covered. As usually happens with  these summer electives, we end up adopting pieces and squeezing them into the regular curriculum. Free electives are a very precious commodity in today’s “all required courses” graduate school world. We are fortunate to have them. And even more fortunate to have futurists such as Cecily willing to share their knowledge and experience with our students in the hot Houston summer (even if she is teaching remotely from Minnesota) – Andy Hines

Forest Futures: Take the Nature Chill Pill

My biggest take-away from American History, Prehistory to 1877, was that Ben Franklin liked to get naked in his upstairs window and take “air baths” for his constitution. For some reason that is an image that sticks with you.

It turns out that dear, weird Ben was onto something. The Japanese call it shinrin yoku, or forest bathing. Immersing yourself in nature doesn’t have to be done naked, but Ben was an overachiever. It may sound new-agey and like the kind of thing you do in Portland on a date, but doctors are increasingly proscribing the outdoors for mental and physical health, and neighborhoods, schools, and other institutional bodies are responding.

The World Health Organization has said that there are 7 million early deaths annually due to polluted air. Air quality worldwide is worse than we had previously imagined, and in some areas it is so dire that one of the big jokes from the movie “Spaceballs” is coming true: people are selling canned air.

People are looking for solutions, and national and city governments are beginning to realize the benefits of nature as public health infrastructure. Not only is it good for your mental health, trees clean the air and water, help reduce flooding, and maintain lower temperatures, all of which help balance life in our concrete jungles. (I’m from Houston. Trust me, less flooding is good for your emotional and physical well-being.) As an example, to combat its well-documented air issues, China has deployed 60,000 troops to plant almost 34,000 square miles of trees for their amazing carbon-capture abilities, and there is good reason why. Overall, natural areas have proven to be less expensive and more effective than other engineered solutions for city air and water issues.

  • Imagine being at work on a beautiful day and your boss moves the meeting to the park outside to take advantage of the weather, or being urged to work remotely from a nearby urban forest. HR demands it.
  • Imagine a drug-free, anxiety-free life. Many of us take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. While a hike can’t treat hardcore chemical depression, surrounding yourself with nature has shown significant benefits. One day, when you visit your doctor, she may default to ecotherapy treatments such as a nature walk twice a week before bringing out the SRIs.
  • Imagine that instead of a recess dominated by structured forts with slides and monkey bars, your kids will play on hiking trails or explore marshland for frogs. Classes will move outdoors to discuss animal and plant diversity and help foster a love of nature that must be introduced at a young age for it to flourish.
  • Imagine a world where cities and forests are no longer mutually exclusive, but integrated with each other to create a richer, healthier life for urban dwellers.
  • And imagine a naked Ben Franklin, symbol of this new natural order, pioneering this merging of city and robust rural health. It is, apparently, the American way.     — Rachel Young