A Finer Future is Possible – creating a future where people and society might be better to one another

September 17, 2017

One of GCCM’s organizers sent this link around last week, from an article entitled How to Create a Future Where People Fight Climate Change.  The article concludes:  

“…many people are more motivated to act on concern for the future if they believe it will ultimately improve humanity, and more specifically, how human beings treat one another. (In a separate study, Bain demonstrated that even climate deniers could be persuaded of the need for environmental citizenship if researchers framed the measures, such as reducing carbon emissions, as ways of improving people’s future conscientiousness toward one another.)

Most efforts to educate the public about our choices when it comes to climate change—on the part of scientists, nonprofits, and governments—have focused far too little on entertaining a future that involves people simply being better to one another.

It takes more work—especially if you are pessimistic about the prospects—to conjure images that reflect how people and society might be better if we avoid the worst climate disasters. But the past can offer some examples of how this can work: people helping their elderly neighbors during heat waves (as they did in one Chicago neighborhood during the deadly 1995 heat wave), communities building gardens together, families enjoying protective wetlands as public recreation areas instead of suburban subdivisions, and, of course, people creating and using new technologies to help each other and not just themselves.

 Earlier this year, I visited Fukushima, Japan, on the sixth anniversary of the nuclear reactor explosions, and I caught a glimpse of an imagined future that surprised me. In a high-tech educational center meant to inform the public about the disaster, designers had created an exhibit with a simulated future Fukushima neighborhood powered by clean energy. It featured the usual suspects—solar panels and green rooftops—but also avatars of the exhibit’s visitors inhabiting the future community. It stopped short, however, of showing them interacting with and helping each other.

Humans are wired to seek instant gratification; we’re hard-pressed to value future consequences like climate change in our current decisions. If we want more people to care about the future in the present—enough to act—we may need to start imagining the future as we’d like it to be, and more importantly, as we’d like to see ourselves in it.

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University,New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our weekly newsletter.