Clem Sunter

May 2016: The Flagwatching Bulletin

2016-05-13 11:06

Clem Sunter

When I published the book Flagwatching: How a fox decodes the future in November last year, I was urging my readers to watch ten interconnected flags that could be changing the global game as we speak. I divided the ten flags into cloudy ones where the possible outcomes are highly uncertain; and clockwork ones where the future is more precise as we are dealing with megatrends ticking away in the background.

The whole point of the methodology is to tease out the causal chains inherent in each flag and illustrate how they may transform the game in a way that is beyond the control of the individual players.

Consequently, the players have to be as flexible and as agile as foxes. They must be capable of using their imagination to adapt their strategy and do it fast. Only then will they thrive in the new game and not be blown away by radical changes that come out of the blue.

In this article, I will deal with the first five global flags listed in the book.

The religious flag

I said the following in the book: “Sadly, this flag is at the top of the flagpole and unfurled to its full length in the wind. It is a very cloudy flag. Countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen are disasters and Afghanistan is close behind.” The battle rages on and no attempt has been made to coordinate a long-term plan to improve the quality of life for those ordinary citizens trying to bring up families in the region. Indeed, hundreds of thousands are still desperate to leave as refugees. The risks to Western countries of lone-wolf attacks in their cities remain and will potentially be intensified by improvements in technologies and tactics of the perpetrators. Apart from costing a huge amount of money in defence and intelligence, this flag has destroyed tourism to the countries most affected and is creating enormous social tensions in Europe and America.

The red flag

In the book, I referred to this flag as “being an existential threat to the West. It is about Russia or, more specifically, Vladimir Putin and it went up with the annexation of Crimea.  America is leading the charge against Russia because it has nothing to lose in economic terms.” Russians and Americans have never understood each other and never will. Again it is a cloudy flag but it has the potential to ignite a nuclear war. Recently Russian jets flew dangerously close to an American warship in the Baltic Sea, while each side supports different factions in the Syrian war. In the best case scenario, the principle of mutually assured destruction will curtail their individual ambitions to score victories over each other; and in the worst case scenario a random event or plain emotion will extinguish common sense.

The grey flag

As I mentioned in the book: “This is a clockwork flag with consequences that can be anticipated. It is the ageing of the world’s population.” Japan and Europe have relatively flat economies because they have the oldest populations; America is in a slightly better space because of immigration; China’s economy is slowing down as a result of its former one child policy; and countries with younger populations in the rest of the world are only doing better if they are decently governed. More than any other flag, this one is determining the economic space we are in.

The anti-establishment flag

The comment I made in the book about this flag was: “Washington, Whitehall and Canberra are at their lowest level in popular ranking for years. Thus, we have the rise of new figures in the political domain who epitomise the expression: ‘I am what I am. Take me or leave me.’ This is greeted with total mystification and amazement by the media who are accustomed to the double meanings and ambivalence of the existing generation of politicians.” On Donald Trump I specifically said: “Despite being a brash billionaire who makes the most outrageous and insensitive comments on a variety of issues, he has gained popularity precisely because he is not seen as part of the Washington political or donor establishment.”  Against all previous insider expectations, he now looks likely to be the Republican nominee. Such is the strength and cloudy nature of the flag.

The green flag

Here is how I described the flag in the book: “This is the quintessential slow-rising flag that has been ignored for so long because we as the human race are not genetically tuned to responding to trends that creep up on us. Or we are in a state of self-denial. It is the flag of climate change as well as the flag of general destruction which we are wreaking on our environment because of our success in reproducing ourselves.” January, February and March in 2016 have been by far the hottest in the world since detailed records began. Apart from the two popular scenarios that climate change is a ‘conspiracy’ devised by greenies on the one hand versus a ‘slow-roast’ to extinction on the other, there is now a third scenario coming into contention: we are on our way to ‘oblivion’ in our children’s lifetime because we have already set in motion the forces which could destroy our civilisation. The massive wildfire in Alberta, Canada, the exceptional rainfall in other parts of the world and the drought which is putting a major strain on water resources in South Africa are signs that indicate increasingly extreme and eccentric weather patterns.

Ultimately, this could be the flag that ticks quietly away but trumps all others in changing our lives. Imagine if economic growth became a hazard rather than an ideal.

I will cover the other five global flags in my next column.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


SHARE: publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.