Someone asked me to reply to the following;
“Many people say we are driving towards extinction and horrible living conditions, basically the future will be really dark. Others say that everything will be fine. I don’t know if I can relax and enjoy the present moment with thinking that the future will be ok or if I need to fight more because the future will apparently be really bad.”
And here is my answer;
In sustainability we deal nearly every day with the worst case scenarios and how to prevent them. In doing so we tend to begin with the end in mind and often that is the worst; “the end of the world as a result of climate change”. This trickles down to the interconnections and reason for that to happen such as inqualities, growing gaps between the rich an poor, corruption, unsustainable production and consumption processes, homophobia, abuse of power, addictions, health disparities, greed, species destinction, terrorism, further illness and alike. A recipe for anxiety.
It is now not only climate change that is a threat to our own survival, but it is also the interconnections that, when we focus in extremes on them, become the reality of how this world is, or more specifically how we perceive it to be. Let me point out; it is not like that, it is not neither nor in extreme, it is in proportion. Yet, (please continue reading, the good part is comming soon), many of these challenges seem extremely difficult to solve though, because of how complex they are so that the proportion might feel overwhelming. Such an example is the current war going on between Russia and the Ukraine. There is no “stop” botton. And there also seems no stop bottom for corporations to pollute and exploit because they get to benefit from the perks of limited liability (see why that happens in the video below). It nearly feels like working towards a vacuum, a sort of helplessness in the messiness we fight in that field.
Now in sustainability we still work with the end in mind (the worst case scenario) and in some methods we imagine the best case scenario, in which we have saved the world and all problems this world is facing (see the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals). Yet even if we use the best case scenario in which we imagine the perfect world, we still break down the vision into things that don’t work out now and then how we need to change them get to the imagined perfect world. We may see again that all is quite wicked. It makes it seemingly perceive that we will likely run into a shitstorm; extinction. More anxiety.
Is there any hope globally?
In all the scenarios that we run through, in all the madness that indeed is real in proportion, there is yet also hope. That is in fact seeing that such things as the Sustainable Development Goals exist or that one or two typos become increasingly accepted (more biases being removed that against how things should be but no longer hold to true i.e. in innovation, being open for change and working with differences). Going back; although the SDGs may not be ideal, they give some sort of direction and thanks to the SDGs we see not only companies moving towards more sustainability in many different ways, but we also see more people being aware of it as a result of creative forms of education, being that funny TikTok movies to reach a broader mass, other forms of Entertainment Education, or simply because people care. We now also see that sustainability becomes a profitable business case, so that capitalism (one of course can critiques it) becomes also an opportunity for change.
There is also much efforts done by individuals as there is done by NGOs and even governments through the implementation of new laws and policy. One can now even see countries nearly competing in terms of which country or region is becoming more green or more sustainable. Why would they do that? Well it attracts investments. The more stable an economy, the more secure investments, or in some cases tourism and further employment opportunities (money is not too bad). In addition, the world is becoming more globalized, our perception is changing rapidly, so that we no longer live in our own thought bubbles, but also in ways in which things can change more rapidly, not our perception only, but opportunities of cooperation and in the fight for lets say climate justice (think about Greta Thunberg); She does a great job in bringing the issue at stake.
Is there more hope?
Many people don’t throw their trash on the floor, there are companies and individuals I know who are not driver for sustainability of the entire organizations, but their hearts are inside; While Twitter might not be known for promoting gender equality and feminism I know at least one employee who drives that type of thinking in her heart there and internal in the organization, so that in all that critqiues about Twitter there is also hope. And knowing her, I am sure she’s moving a lot.
And for the other topics; as much as there is war, there is also the lack of it (think about how many countries are not at war now) and while there is a lack of biodiversity there is also not a lack of it thanks to growing regulations on forest protection and because people like it (also thanks to instagram almost instagram nature tourism and romantic tags in forest/nature scenarios that are worth protecting nature for too.). Seemingly, there are many tech companies that invest into IT Tools for social innovation (I know at least one) and sustainability also becomes this cool thing to do, even in education it becomes increasingly implemented. In ways its nice, because it moves automatically (literally giving us a rest also thanks to different time zones and many people working in this field around the clock and thanks to social media running 24/7 in repetition). It also is becomming more fun and accessible i.e. being more able to shape our cities through tools or different ways in which the public can participate in legal decision making. This is kind of the way to go.
Will the future be okay or bad?
Coming back to the original comment; There is no certainty, because in certainty we know, and sustainabiltiy or the end goal of it seems quiet uncertain. There is direction and when we look at direction there is much hope. At the same time, I would recommend to focus on what is and the variety of joy that is there, that you do. So that in that joy, you are already sustainable and can take that joy continuesly where you thrive. In fact, in the things we thrive in, we can inspire; it creates joy and authenticity and thereby it transmits and transfers to others. Most of all it transmits within; something worth living for, outside of what is bad, whereby not all is as bad as it might sound (too much! negative news!).
Glick, R. A. (2003). Idealization and psychoanalytic learning. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 72(2), 377-401.
Swart, R. J., Raskin, P., & Robinson, J. (2004). The problem of the future: sustainability science and scenario analysis. Global environmental change, 14(2), 137-146.
Trussler, M., & Soroka, S. (2014). Consumer demand for cynical and negative news frames. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 19(3), 360-379.
Cover Picture: Local Artist Studio.