Here is an idea for a project that may already be in existence:
Anyone from around the world can submit a short story or artwork about a day 30, 50, or 100 years into the future. It will be set in a world they would like to live in. The story can lean in a more realistic (nuanced) or utopian (idealized) direction. And it can focus more on social and technological changes, or a more personal view, or both. This may especially be a good project for school kids or students at any level.
Creating and reading stories about possible desired futures helps us mentally explore what type of future we would like to live in, and may support us in creating that future for ourselves.
When we think about the future, it’s easy to take what’s in existence and project it into the future, and perhaps also to polarize and think in terms of best (utopian) or worst (dystopian) scenarios. That’s natural and unavoidable. What’s more likely is that there will be shifts and changes we couldn’t predict (or very few predicted) and that it won’t be as good as we hope or as bad as we fear.
Some also tend to think in terms of technology rather than social changes, while the two go hand in hand, and social changes often bring about a deeper transformation. (Women’s rights, democracy etc.)
Here is a brief framework if I were to write such a story. I’ll write it as if written from the future, around the turn of the next century (2080-2120), sometimes looking back.
Global and regional
We have a combination of regional and local governance for most issues, and global governance on the big picture issues (long term survival of humanity). Nation states are less important and only a few are left, although many current regions correspond to the smaller nation states of the past.
Some individuals, groups, and regions are strongly devoted to thrivability (sustainability) and the bigger picture, and other groups are less big picture oriented. People tend to move to areas of like-minded people, and this helps us test out ideas on a regional scale and we get to see what works and what works less well.
There is a regional and global sustainability baseline. We have organized ourselves individually and collectively according to ecological realities, and this is ongoing and keeps being refined. There has been a reorganization and realignment in all areas of human life (economy, production, transportation, energy, etc.) and also reflected in health care, education, and even our entertainment and religion. Ecological and big picture awareness is, by necessity, reflected in all areas of human life.
For most of us, this is just to the extent required and they do it just because the systems they live within have changed. For some of us, it’s a much deeper and more all-encompassing alignment.
Structural changes leading the way
Structural changes have led the way. We have structures in place so that what’s good for the social and ecological whole is also what’s the easiest, most convenient, and most desirable in terms of individual behavior. For most people, living in a more sustainable way happens effortlessly and almost invisibly. We just do what’s easiest for us to do, within these new ecologically informed structures.
For instance, since inexpensive energy is available from solar, that’s what most of us use. And since most products available are made to last and be repaired, and are modular so we can update components rather than the whole thing, then that’s what people we buy and use. And since we have various forms of collective and individual forms of transportation that are nonpollution (including in terms of noise), and these are readily available, that’s what we use.
All of this has been put in place through structural changes, and largely through incentives. These incentives make it attractive for companies of all types to do what’s ecologically sound and that in turn makes it easy for regular people to do the same.
Realizing the benefits all around
It’s a given that we mostly seek out, create, and use solutions attractive at all levels. Including for the larger social and ecological whole, for future generations, and for our communities, families, and ourselves. I know that in the early history of sustainability, many people saw a dichotomy between these but that’s long in the past.
More inclusive sense of us
Policies and worldviews reflect a more inclusive sense of us. More of us realize that including all of Earth into our sense of us is good all around. It’s good for us since it gives us a sense of belonging to a wider community and to the Earth. It’s good for the Earth as a whole, for ecosystems and nonhuman species, and for future generations. And that, in turn, is also good for us, it creates an environment that allows us to thrive. Many of our stories reflect this more inclusive us, as do much of our philosophy and religion.
Variations of a more integral view are common. These place all areas of human life and experience within an overall framework. (Ken Wilber’s integral model is an early example, one that seems quaint now.) People still specialize, but they tend to do so within these larger integral frameworks. That allows for research and thinking that’s more free of the old artificial boundaries between academic disciplines.
Gratitude for past generations
Our heroes today include many of the sustainability pioneers of the past, both groups and individuals. These went against the mainstream view of their day (which was very narrow and quite misguided in many ways), and made it possible for us to have the world we have now. One that does take ecological realities into consideration and has created a better life for most of us. It’s still now perfect, by any means, but many of us today are working on it.
Many challenges of the past are less current today, but we do have our own. Overall, we are much more allowing of minorities – in terms of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background and more. More and more of our regions have good social safety nets so people won’t have to fear for their basic survival. (We realize this makes for much better societies overall, and better lives for all of us.) The problems of the past with large multi-national corporations is mostly in the past with our current system supporting smaller and more regional worker owned companies. (It made a big difference when we got rid of the old stock market system.)
Our main challenges are regions where they don’t have social safety nets and where society is in general disarray. We also have groups not devoted to an ecologically informed way of life. And we do, of course, have natural and man-made disasters in different regions. I doubt that will change very soon if ever.
Health and spirituality
We see health in a larger picture than you did. The old divisions between society and individual health, and mind and body, are largely gone. When we look at individual health, we also look at the social and ecological system the individual functions within, and we also look at both mind and body. These are all parts of the same system. As mentioned above, people specialize but they do so within different integral frameworks taking the larger picture into account.
More people today use spirituality in a more pragmatic way, free of the old religions and traditions. At the same time, we do also have people nourishing and continuing the traditions since they realize there is value there. And we do also have some fundamentalists within the different old religions, trying to hold onto what was.
Science and technology
We keep exploring space and have bases on some of the closer planets and moons. Although our main focus is on the long-term survival of humanity and the Earth, most of us recognize that we need to become a multi-planet species for our long-term survival. (As many did in the past as well.)
Technology is more seamlessly a part of everyday life. We have found a sort of balance between technology and our natural human life. As before, some are more into technology and some prefer a more un-assisted and natural life.
The rights of nonhumans, ecosystems, and future generations
At some point, more of us realized that nonhuman beings, ecosystems, and future generations needed to have a voice in our political and legal systems. So we gave them a voice. We did this for their sake since they are living beings and gradually were seen more as us. And we did it for our sake since their well-being is intertwined with ours. Giving them a political and legal voice informs us about the bigger picture in a different way. We now have university training and degrees for people who wish to make this a career. In some regions, companies are required to have these roles filled, and many do anyway since it benefits their decision-making process and position in the market.
This is still a slightly, sensitive issue, although it doesn’t really need to be. There has been a great deal of research on adult development, especially in terms of social and ecological orientation. We know that it’s common to deepen in appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life as we mature, and also that this orientation is stronger tendency some people – even early in life – and less so for others. All of that is fine. And we also want to nurture this orientation and deepening in people in general, and we do that through education, entertainment and more.
As always, there have been surprises. We have had surprising developments in science and technology, things none or few predicted. And in our social changes, things have happened – both good and bad – that were similarly surprising and not expected by many. I won’t give many details here since I don’t want to give it away to you from the past 😉
In the regions that take care of people and life more intentionally, people live until about 100 and tend to stay healthy much longer than in the past.
The intelligence and emotional life of animals are more fully acknowledged than in the past. There is much more sense of kinship of all life. (The idea that humans are in a special category compared with other life is seen as belonging to the past and a bit misguided.) This means that even animals in captivity are treated much better than in the past, and given a more natural life.
Some regions have set aside relatively large areas for nonhuman life. Human interventions in these areas are quite restricted.
The idea or realization that all life has intrinsic value (or value to itself) is much more common today than it was for previous generations. It informs policies and human activities to a greater extent.
Fewer people belong to traditional religions. Especially in some regions, it’s very common to use insights and tools from a wide range of spiritual traditions in a pragmatic and practical way. Research into these approaches has been going on for a long time now, and we know much more about how and why and for whom these work.
In general, our view of the world is a bit more open and inclusive compared to the early modern and scientific era. It’s more accepted to do research into topics that previously were shunned.
Since most regions have a decent social safety net for its people, fewer people are radicalized and disgruntled compared to the past. This is not universal since some fall through the cracks, some regions have less of a safety net, and there are occasional social or ecological disruptions that bring out the best and worst in people.
Artificial intelligence in different forms is used in many areas of life, often quite seamlessly and as a support that feels quite natural. The fears that some people had about AI in the past is seen as belonging to an early period of AI where people feared what they didn’t understand.
Biomimicry is a natural part of just about any design process, whether it’s buildings, transportation, or even production. The aim is to enhance and enrich ecosystems through human activity, including travel, housing, and production.
We are much more cautious with toxic chemicals than in the past. We see the early modern period as quite misguided in this area, and going overboard in using toxic chemicals in everyday products.
Oil is used sparingly and only as needed today. Most of our energy is from the sun, wind, ocean, fusion, and a couple of sources not known to earlier generations. Most regions use a mix of these, and also a mix of centrally produced energy and energy produced very locally.
We are not living in a utopia, although certain aspects of our lives would certainly seem that way to past generations. We have solved some of the core problems of a hundred years ago, mainly in terms of living a life – at all levels – more aligned with ecological realities. Many problems remain, and our solutions have created their own problems. And really, we wouldn’t want it differently since challenges are part of what makes us grow and thrive.
We intentionally nurture a sense of connection to the larger social and ecological whole, to future and past generations, and to the universe as a whole. We know how important this is for a sense of meaning and well-being, and also in informing our actions and choices as a society and individuals. (Past generations called this the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, Big History, Practices to Reconnect, and similar things.)
Since more have a more pragmatic approach to spirituality, using tools and insights from a range of traditions, science and spirituality are seen as going hand in hand. We use science to explore these tools and the states and experiences traditionally seen as belonging to spirituality, and the insights from this research inform our application of these tools. Science and spirituality are just two ways to explore reality, and they often converge.
I guess I should say something about climate change since I know you from the past are interested in it. Yes, there has been climate change, and yes, we know it was largely human created (just as you knew). We have had to adapt to rising sea levels and regional shifts in climate. And, of course, we have aligned our life with ecological realities to a much greater extent than you did. We would have needed to do that anyway, climate change or not.
In terms of healthcare, there is a stronger emphasis on prevention informed by the mind-body-larger-whole connections. As mentioned earlier – there is more of an integral and systems view on health, and we know that prevention is the most effective use of our focus and resources.
One of the major problems in the past was the inequality of income and access to essential resources. That’s still a problem today, especially between regions and within some regions. There is a much better undertanding today that our lives are interconnected in very real and noticeable ways. (Especially global ecosystem health, migrations, and spread of diseases.) Some regions have a strong emphasis on this work, and most acknowledge its importance. It has helped greatly to curb the power of multinational corporations, and have them follow basic international social justice and sustainability regulations.
Another major problem was overpopulation, and that was one past generations were reluctant to address. In less developed countries, overpopulation was a problem in terms of access to basic resources. In more developed countries, it was a problem because of over-use of natural resources. The former was very obvious and directly impacted the people living there, the latter was no less of a problem but more hidden – at least for a while. Today, addressing overpopulation is taken for granted because we know and have seen how important it is. And as we have known for a long time, education and good social safety nets are the most effective ways to reduce or prevent overpopulation.
In the past, taxes were used in a somewhat misguided way. Now, most regions are much more intentional about taxing what we want less of (use of virgin natural resources, pollution), and not taxing or subsidicing what we want to encourage (including work). Also, many regions focus on a deeper form of democracy than in the past, with citizen councils, instant runoff voting, more thorough and instant fact checking of politicians, and mandatory voting.
- imagining the future
- stories about a day in the future, the type of world we would like to live in
- can be more realistic/nuanced, or more utopian
- can be inspiring, give direction, explore through thought experiments – see which future we want
- will tend to
- think linearly, take something now and expand into the future
- perhaps also polarize, worst/best case scenarios
- while reality is (a) qualitative shifts, unexpected changes, (b) not as good or bad as we imagine
- my story
- regional differences
- one movement: deeper into sustainability, universe story, biomimicry, deep ecology etc.
- another: as today, less big picture oriented
- structure ourselves more according to ecological realities, out of necessity, everyone has to, recognize that
- regional governance + global governance (less about nation states)
- stories about a day in the future, the type of world we would like to live in