Though scientists and environmentalists often feel obligated to hawk the apocalyptic view of the world-to-come, there is a neglected version of the future well worth considering: the one where we win.
British environmentalist Jonathon Porritt is in the optimism business. He's one of the founding directors of the Forum for the Future, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the gospel of a sustainable future. “I hear good news every day,” he says, which makes us wonder what newspapers he’s reading. But he seems to mean it.
“The backdrop of doom-and-gloom isn’t the whole picture at all,” Porritt affirms. “There’s just so much happening.”
In fact, there’s a lot of room to hope -- a point Porritt has set out to prove in his latest book. An imaginary memoir written in the year 2050 by Alex McKay, a teacher in the U.K., The World We Made looks back on the current century from its midway point and explains how we got from the (admittedly dysfunctional) here to the hypothetical there. Key features of this world, fingers crossed, include: an economy almost completely powered by renewable energy; a global population stabilized around 9 billion people; food systems based on community use and closed-loop systems; inefficiency in water management all but eliminated thanks largely to drip irrigation and rainwater capture; comprehensive preventative healthcare with a side of nanotechnology; worldwide sharing economies; and personal jetpacks. (Biofueled and carbon neutral, we assume, but more on those later.)
And, OK, no future’s perfect. Since it’s too late to reverse climate change completely, the sea level will still be rising by the year 2050, weather patterns will continue to flummox and distress, and global inequality won't be totally quashed. But focusing on the negatives is like tossing the baby and the bathwater out without even reusing the gray water.
All told, Porritt believes we can still manage to build a livable, sustainable, desirable world, one in which economic, environmental, and social advancements dovetail for our collective benefit. Grist sat down for a transatlantic chat with this green futurist (alas, not on a wall-size video screen like the one in McKay's dreamy kitchen) to see what we might have in store if we play nice.