Creating Positive Futures
Updated: Aug 20
Some conservative, religious people may harken back to an imagined better past like the 1950s, or imagined utopian place like the Garden of Eden. Alternatively, the New Jerusalem/Holy City described in the Book of Revelation may be an aspirational utopia for fundamentalist Christian believers, but less compelling to others as a metaphorical, dystopian story of the end of the world as we know it,
Jill Lepore wrote in the New Yorker about the rise of dystopian fiction portrayed in books and movies. She says "dystopias follow utopias the way thunder follows lightning.. Utopians believe in progress; dystopians don’t. They fight this argument out in competing visions of the future, Utopians offering promises, dystopians issuing warnings."
For the pragmatic, utopia means "nowhere" and dystopia a horror. Jem Blendel, the Deep Adaptation movement and Michael Dowd paint a picture of a dystopian future.
But can we imagine a new story with a climate positive future - one that is neither utopian nor dystopian? ... one that is realistically possible and mixes hope with urgent optimism?
Stuart Candy, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon School of Design is a foresight/futures specialist. The above YouTube video features Candy when he spoke at the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) Centres Community Workshop in July 2021. He asked attendees to actively consider four main considerations for the future: difference, diversity, depth, and design. Candy quotes Ashis Nandy who says "futures studies are basically a game of dissenting visions." The future is not an amplified vision of the present. Instead of thinking linearly about the most likely trajectory, the idea is to make a habit of thinking pluralistically about alternative futures. Check out Situation Lab’s The Thing From the Future. game.
Futurists such as the Institute For The Future (IFTF) offer alternative senarios. Futurists don't predict the future, but rather use foresight to give us insight so we can take informed actions now. and have agency in bringing about the best possible future. Foresight practitioners use the plural "futures" rather than a singular prediction.
IFTF's Quinault Childs says there are Three Basic Steps to Creating Climate Positive Futures and start making sense out of future complexity:
Include a climate lens in every futures project
Actively seek out major mindset shifts about how the future might be different
Mix hope with pragmatic optimism.
"Futures research and forecasting should be directed toward developing and understanding 'alternative futures.' These alternative futures are a way to categorize our individual and collective "images of the future." Understanding our images and beliefs about the future is part of the process to help us make wiser decisions today, and to install a sense of empowerment and responsibility towards future generations."
Continuation (usually continued economic growth)
Collapse (from [usually] one of a variety of different reasons such as environmental overload and/or resource exhaustion, economic instability, moral degeneration, external or internal military attack, meteor impact, etc.)
Constraint - a disciplined society (in which society in the future is seen as organized around some set of overarching values or another--usually considered to be ancient, traditional, natural, ideologically-correct, or God-given.)
Transformation - a society (usually either of a "high tech" or a "high spirit" variety), which sees the end of current forms, and the emergence of new (rather than the return to older traditional) forms of beliefs, behavior, organization and--perhaps--intelligent lifeforms.)
In the words of IFTF researcher Ilana Lipsett, “climate positive futures will require shifting the narrative of where climate leadership is coming from - young people, indigenous communities, black and brown communities, poor people, and other marginalized people who will experience the worst effects of climate change. This message was echoed by David Korten in his June 2022 message to the Unitarian Universalist meeting in Portland OR.
Another approach to creating a positive climate future is from ASU's Climate Imagination Fellowship."The Climate Imagination Fellowship brings together top science fiction authors with community members, thinkers, researchers, and changemakers from around the world to create visions of positive climate futures shaped by concerted action in the face of crisis, and grounded in real science."
"These visions will honor local particularities and insist upon equity and justice, while imagining efforts that could be scaled up for global change. Too often, our only climate stories are ones of warning and alarm. To help us build pathways forward to a vibrant, thriving decarbonized future, we also need inspiring stories that can catalyze action in the present."
“People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.” ~ Rebecca Solnit