It is fairly frequent that predictions of what our world will be like in 30, 40, 50 years are scary, depressing, pessimistic and devastating. We are always hearing how through greed and human neglect of the planet, future generations will suffer. Ecosystems are being destroyed, animals are becoming extinct and climate change is having greater and greater effects on us all.
So I was pleasantly surprised and equally as happy to read Jonathon Porritt's The World We Made. It is an optimistic but realistic example of how our futures could unfold.
It is written from the perspective of Alex McKay, a teacher from 2050. Alex and his class (his research team) look back at global events which led them to their greener and more sustainable world of 2050.
The World We Made explores the possibilities of the next 40 years, good and bad. Obviously elements of the 'future' are fictitous but many of them have been extrapolated from current situations. There are predictions of fantastic technological developments but also of droughts, famines and revolutions.
An important point Alex makes, which I feel sums up the optimisitc theme throughout the book is: "Looking back on the way that people were talking about the prospects for humankind at the turn of the century, anyone suggesting that we'd be where we are now would have been dismissed as totally unrealistic. Almost without exception, commentators at that time assumed that we'd remain at each other's throats, and that nationalism, tribalism and xenophobia would make it impossible for us to work cooperatively as a species - across all the other divides that seperate us."
Jonathon's use of these powerful and life-changing events generates many questions within the reader: Could we prevent the bad events if we take action now? Could we be doing more?
I am fascinated with how real life has been woven with future predictions. One prime example of our society today is: "The kids I teach today describe my generation as 'the pay-back generation': in their eyes, we seem to have spent most of our lives paying off our parents' debts. From the 1970s through to 2008, they did all the partying - and we got the hangover!" This is felt everyday within my generation and for our children.
Another example taken from our lives today is: "In 2012, China pledged to phase out the one billion incandescent light bulbs in use in the country at that time, because their energy efficiency was so poor."
The book's character Alex McKay, explores 50 different subjects he feels were important in his life time, explaining geoengineering, climate change, sustainable fishing, incredible edible cities, malaria, and biomimicry to name just a few.
And these predictions of the future aren't impossible. Jonathon hasn't laid out a perfect world, where there is no longer poverty, disease, war and corruption. Instead he provides a framework for a more peaceful, fair and happier world. It still has capitalism, poorer countries and inequality, but the gap between the rich and poor is ever decreasing, local agriculture is improving and community and local self-sufficiency is key.
I really liked reading the chapter on shipping and freight. 'Alex' discusses how although each country has become self-sufficient, some products are still imported and exported. He writes: "... selfishly, as someone who's got a bit of a thing about coffee, tea and chocolate (and even the odd pineapple or mango!), I'm pretty relieved that this turned out not to be our fate." I think this perfectly reflects how we need to progress. We are never going to stop society wanting these items, so instead a compromise is made, with less being imported and countries being self-sufficient as much as possible.
He closes the final chapter with a quote from his old psychology teacher that sums up one of the main themes throughout the book about making decisions for future generations: "His words about what children need have stayed with me throughout my life as a teacher: 'Limitless love, total security and lots of fun and games - forget the rest! If it's a better world we're after, just make sure that every child reaches the age of six feeling radiantly happy'. We're not there yet, I'm sorry to say, but we're making good progress." We therefore have a positive conclusion to Alex's exploration of 40 years of improvement.
The final gem I feel is a small explanation from Jonathon himself. To sum the book up perfectly he writes, "The bottom line is this: should we so wish, we can still move to address today's converging crisis faster than the speed at which those crises threaten to overwhelm us."
American readers can visit www.phaidon.com/store/general-non-fiction/my-world-your-future-9780714863610/ to buy a copy of The World We Made
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