I am great at picturing our climate-induced, dystopian future. I can imagine food and commodity shortages, mass migration, trigger-happy racist militias — basically the Dust Bowl meets Fascism 2.0, sprinkled with The Handsmaid’s Tale.
Humans are storytellers and we are good at telling stories about the breakdown of civilization. It’s a Hollywood genre. Too many of us can say what we don’t want but come up short when asked what we do want.
Have we lost our ability to imagine progress? Why don’t you ever hear the word utopia anymore? Sadly, we are conditioned to low expectations. That sentiment is reflected in a quote, variously attributed to philosophers Fredric Jameson or Slavoj Žižek: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”
But imagine we must. The future will be a battle of ideas; if we don’t want disaster capitalism to write our story, it’s time for us to put pen to paper.
I decided to ask community members what they wanted the world to look like in 2050 but realized I had never attempted the question myself. So this month, I will do my best to imagine a better future, and next month, I will share thoughts from others. Here goes:
I’m 67, sitting on my porch. The air smells clean and fresh, no traces of diesel exhaust or gas fumes. I can hear the trees rustling in the breeze and birds chirping and I have long forgotten what leaf blowers and mowers sound like. The manicured green lawns that used to cover 40 million acres of the U.S. are now meadows, native grasslands, tended vegetable gardens or returned to forests. A civilian corps tends the vegetable gardens planted for anyone who needs assistance. Local food security is a priority. No one is hungry.
Car traffic is prohibited on main streets across the country. It’s all one walkway with places to sit, eat, shop and interact. I feel safe riding my electric bike because priority is given to pedestrians and bikers when planning roads and streets.
The population is healthier because of the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the diminishing time we sit at desks, which is great news because it costs less for our universal health care.
All living things, including trees, oceans, animals and mountains, have rights just as humans have rights. Once this passed, lots of progress was made to reverse mass species extinction. We put an immediate ban on harmful fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and factory farming. A wildlife corridor was built from Mexico to Alaska. Traditional lands have been returned to Indigenous tribes.
When I go and visit my grown children, who live several states away, it’s not a big deal because high-speed trains can take you most anywhere. Public transportation is so reliable you only need to use the communal car on occasion.
The promises of technology are shared with all. The workweek is four days for five hours a day, leaving plenty of time for people to volunteer and take care of their children or aging parents. Everyone receives a basic income, allowing people to raise their children, start businesses, farm, create art or find meaningful employment or just dream for a moment.
Democracy is much more participatory and diverse. Citizens’ assemblies are used for the big problems — a cross section of the public is recruited to study selected issues — overcoming the hurdles that arise between elected representatives and the electorate, and their lack of deliberation on the tough issues most politicians wouldn’t touch for fear of losing their seats.
Local governments run their own clean electric utilities and use some of the proceeds to pay residents to sequester carbon.
The economy is decoupled from growth. We don’t track gross domestic product but measure success by the health of nature, happiness, education, food sovereignty and what our carbon balance worksheet looks like.
We celebrate the first day it snows every year. When the first white flakes arrive everyone takes the day off to enjoy its wonder. We aren’t in a hurry to go anywhere and no longer consider snow a nuisance but a reminder of what we almost lost if we hadn’t acted when we did decades ago.
As I sip my coffee, my 67-year-old self is holding my grandchild and I am overcome by gratitude that the species took all its intelligence and ingenuity and put it to good use, so we could continue on — that we found a better way to be in this world.
Have your own vision of 2050? Email four to five sentences to: [email protected].
I do so hope your vision becomes reality although since I am currently nearly 30 years older than you are, I fear I will not see it.
I think, too, we will need universal understanding and agreement to open borders and to reduce or eliminate armed forces. And one more thing: It would probably be best if men were not allowed to compete in elections for political office, at least not until many decades have passed and everyone realizes that a wonderful world is possible.
As someone concerned about the warming climate, I appreciated Ford’s optimistic take on a possible future where the world finally wakes up and tackles the crisis head on, leading to enviably idyllic conditions.
However, as a professional, full-time illustrator, I’m glad her vision includes some form of UBI (universal basic income) as her column featured an image that was clearly produced by some version of image-generating artificial intelligence. Seeing that, next to the headline “What’s Your Future?” made the question very personal.
I’m reading a book by Rob Hopkins called From What Is to What If in which he opens by describing his own utopic future, and goes on to posit that being able to imagine a better future is a prerequisite to making it happen, but that our social / cultural / economic environment has failed to nurture our imaginative capabilities. I’ve often faced this lack of imagination in my own efforts to build forward-looking resources and capabilities here in Beacon (see: https://beaconny.net).
Given the potential impacts of climate change, artificial intelligence, natural resource depletion, political and economic instability, etc. it’s very difficult to imagine what things are going to be like on a global scale in 2050, but I do believe it’s possible for us, in our own Hudson Valley communities, with sufficient foresight and action, to ensure that our small part of the world remains a place in which we can thrive.
My own vision for the future is one in which we all have enough of what we need, with communal well-being and mutual care of the utmost importance, and with each having ample free time to explore the vast richness of our shared human experience. I imagine a future in which we use the tools of technology to locally produce many of the goods that we need, to repair, recycle, and repurpose the resources that we have, and to provide opportunities for learning, invention, creation and play.
For example, we could all grow our own food using locally-made automated planters that do the watering and weeding for us, providing opportunities for community members to learn the fundamentals of computer-aided design, digital fabrication, and mechanical / electrical / software engineering in the process. Though technology alone can not solve all of our problems, I believe that we need to leverage all of the tools at our disposal in order to manifest the better future that we all deserve.
P.S.: Thank you for putting Slavoj Žižek’s name here in print! I’m a big fan of his and highly recommend his film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology for anyone interested in cinema and philosophy.