Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement this month could be the most harmful decision to the future of our planet, ever.
His intention to resurrect the United State’s old industries of mining and coal has brought widespread condemnation from business leaders and oil giants alike. Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said that the withdrawal was “bad for the environment, bad for the economy and it puts out children’s future at risk”. This was echoed by Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, who condemned the President’s move in his first ever tweet.
Potentially turning the clock back decades on environmental policy, what does Trump’s decision mean for the future?
As part of the research for our upcoming sci-fi films imagining life in 2097, we spoke to university professor David Gibbs about the challenge of reconciling global industry and consumption with the need to live sustainably.
David argues that sustainable economies depend on transformations at every level: from government policy to local networks and ‘green entrepreneurs’ such as the UK farmer who transformed his farm to grow crops for eco-friendly building materials. Ideas such as the ‘steady state’ economy and the ‘circular’ economy – championed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – seek to accelerate this transformation.
David points to these and to the development of renewable energy, like the gigantic Siemens factories in both Hull and Denmark – producing 75 metre long rotor blades for wind farms in the North Sea – as showing promise that sustainable thinking is now going mainstream.
He frames the challenge today as one of imagination and re-invention.
Can we transform industry to meet our appetites for consumption in a way that is sustainable?
“The streets are twenty feet broad; there lie gardens behind all their houses… Their doors have all two leaves, which, as they are easily opened, so they shut of their own accord; and, there being no property among them, every man may freely enter into any house whatsoever.”
Thomas More, Utopia, first published in 1516
Arguably the first science fiction ever written, Thomas More’s Utopia has inspired generations of thinkers and writers to imagine new worlds in the future.
Today is a chilly December morning and our host, Christian Juuls Wendell leads me and a group of young people from Hull and Aarhus through a warren of wood workshops: past a blacksmith and out to the area they use for converting shipping containers into anything from food stalls to homes. This is Institut for X in Aarhus, Denmark, a utopia of sorts that has sprung up on the outskirts of the city centre and that is heralded as an example of how to design and manage the cities of the future.
Once home to the city’s homeless and dispossessed, the former railway yard now houses designers, architects, carpenters and artists – who over the last nine years, have built an improvised village from sheds, shacks and old shipping containers. A form of ‘bottom-up’ development, the area provides small scale solutions which in turn act as the fertile soil for building a creative and inclusive city – which adapts to the needs of its citizens.
Its success may be due, in part, to what Christian calls ‘municipal bowling’ – where getting permission from a city government for grassroots development is just a question of finding the right person to persuade. Find the right person and they themselves will advocate for change and persuade the rest of the city administration to come on side.
From examples such as Torre David in Caracas – a 45 storey high-rise left abandoned after the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and adapted by a community of 750 families – to digital infrastructure and questions over how and smart technology is deployed in our cities, the arguments about who is best placed to lead development of our cities continues.
Watch Christian’s interview to hear his views from the ground in Aarhus.
We’re sitting around the table and someone asks: ‘Do Facebook friends really count as friends?’
For everyone at the table – a group of over 60’s from around Hull – the consensus is that communities depend on something inherent in meeting people in person: on finding ways for people to participate, to contribute and to trust one another. Technology seems fraught with problems when it comes to building trust. While our increasing dependence on the internet raises concerns about privacy and disrupts traditional forms of work.
I’m introduced to Dave Shepherdson by chance one rainy Friday afternoon in a busy cafe on Newland Avenue in Hull. Dave is one of the masterminds behind a new digital currency based on this technology called HullCoin. For a good five minutes, he enthuses about how HullCoin will transform our relationships with each other: encouraging participation and giving value to the social contributions we make to communities.
To find out what he had to say, watch his interview here.
Our taxi-driver, Mr Chang, pointed out the car window: “That city will be finished in about five years time”
Amid vast stretches of reclaimed land rows of cranes punctuate a sea of giant new apartment buildings. This is Songdo – a new ‘smart’ city being built from the ground up in South Korea. Now that more than half the world’s population now live in urban areas, our cities are responsible for generating 80% of CO2 emissions worldwide.
When we met Dr. Mirko Presser at the Alexandra Institute in Aarhus – an expert on the internet of things – he coyly flashed his smart watch and explained that he ‘liked’ technology but didn’t love it. For Mirko, learning to harness data is a key to living sustainably in cities in the coming century. In the complex web of infrastucture that supports our daily lives in modern day cities, the promise of smart systems which gather real world data, and that connect users and services in new ways is to allow us to use limited resources more efficiently.
But, what are the challenges that await if we ‘turn the world into data’?
Mirko is one of the authors of one of the most widely read publications on smart cities and the internet of things – a comic. Mirko’s eyes twinkled when he talked about his dreams as a child of travelling to other planets, however, he remained cautious about the promise of smart technologies.
Whereas the the architects behind Songdo are working from a blank slate, smart systems in most cities will need to work with the idiosyncrasies of existing cites and their communities. Uber is just one example among many of how connected services are disrupting existing economies, raising questions of who actually benefits from smart cities, while the system outage at Amazon’s datacenter last week – which caused users with smart home lighting systems to be left in the dark – flags some of the potential risks for our growing dependency on smart systems.
At the back of a courtyard, along a narrow street busy with cyclists in Aarhus is a room with high ceilings and a long wooden dinner table.
When I first arrived the room was busy with people. A group of about twenty getting ready to sit down for lunch together. This is Sager Der Samler, self-described as a ‘house for everyday activism’. I had come to interview one of the founders – Kristin Birkeland, about the some of the projects she’s been involved in, and how she sees the importance of belonging and community in shaping the future.
In workshops, people from Aarhus and Hull counted rebuilding community and a sense of inclusiveness as central to their hopes for the city. Both cities have struggled with rehousing communities in the last 60 years. In Hull, I met Stacey Windley on our workshop about the city in 2097. In her video she explains why politics should be taught in schools to increase access for working class people.
According to Kristin in Aarhus, community begins with individuals who find ways to take positive action to change not just their own situation, but also that of those around them. Projects such as Anaobaba TV – in which refugee parents created an online TV channel to teach their children about life in Denmark, highlight the potential for digital tools and storytelling in these actions.
Where to start with predicting 80 years in to the future? Who to ask?
We took a leap and decided to start back in 14th century Italy.
According to Kathleen Robinson of East Yorkshire Tarot, this is where the cards used in present day tarot readings were first established. Originally used for games and entertainment, tarot cards became popular as a form of divination in the 18th century. Last October, on a trip to Hull to visit the famed Hull Fair, we arranged to speak to Kathleen who kindly agreed to give us a free reading to learn about 2097.
So what does the future hold?
We’ll be releasing interviews with people from Aarhus and Hull – from school children to experts on sea-level rise, smart cities and community activism. Each talks about their view of the particular challenges for cities in the future and their hopes for the world at large.
But to start, here’s Kathleen.
We asked what our lives would be like in both Aarhus and in Hull in 2097. And what three challenges the human race will ultimately have to face over the coming 80 years. It was a nerve wracking experience but the implacable Kathleen showed calmness throughout.
Breathing in, you might think that the air is the same but it’s not. The tide covers the eaves of the Old Town. Lights twinkle on the moon.
This city is on the cusp of a new century. Over the past 80 years, its map has been redrawn: the tidal arrays have been grown out to sea, the myriad canals and marine farms now encircle the city centre.
We grew. The city moved. The long grass was cut back and the housing estates from the last century hummed with voices; their windows blinked with industry.
But that was a while ago. It is now 2097. That hum of traffic outside the window is just a recording. Now the streets are quiet and the houses stand empty once more. After nearly a century of growth and industry, the ground has fallen away and you’re floating above the city.
Now it’s up to you to decide on where we go next.
Blog post by artist Nick Tandavanitj
Here we are at the start of 2017, having spent the last three months gathering thoughts, drawings and ideas about the future from people across Hull and Aarhus: from scientists to school children.
Way back at the millennium, all those numbers on the clock ticked over together and we entered an age that was once the realm of science fiction. Today, prime ministers and presidents seem to be at the mercy of events. Tax seems optional for some and it is uncertain who is in control and how we work together for good.
2097: We Made Ourselves Over springs from a desire to explore our capacity for self-determination and resilience in this context. It continues our concern with the social impact and opportunities of rapidly changing technology on our everyday lives. It is a science fiction project that takes the city on a journey into an imagined time at the close of this century and asks questions about the respective roles of technology, utopia and our own imaginations in setting a course for the future.
We want to invite people to think in new ways about the lives we lead and where we want our communities to go. Incorporating contributions and voices from both Aarhus and Hull, we will create a diverse set of eye-level perspectives on the future, set against a common fate in a single imaginary city. We will frame the present within a longer historical cycle of economic decay and renewal; postulating a lifetime of changes that will transform the city in the coming century, reflecting on loss, and our sense of history and purpose in the face of the unknown.
Over the coming year, we hope to raise some difficult questions about the challenges we face and, with your help, uncover some exciting and unexpected answers.
We’d love you to join us on our ride into the future.