All images courtesy of Phaidon Press
People really like to speculate about humanity's inevitable dystopian future, especially considering it's increasingly our dystopian present, thanks largely to climate change. The ongoing and anticipated disastrous effects of our warming planet are so implanted in the public consciousness it's given birth to a new literary genre: climate fiction, or "cli-fi."
The thing is, gratifying as imagining our impending doom may be, it isn't at all productive. At least that's what Jonathon Porritt figured when he set out to write a new book he describes as "the story of how we didn't destroy our planet."
The book, The World We Made: Alex McKay's Story from 2050, is told through the perspective of Alex, the non gender-specific protagonist living in the year 2050, reflecting on how the world came back from the brink of destruction. It's due to come out next month.
New Petronas Tower, completed in 2042, Kuala Lumpur
"Some people have always been more drawn to dystopian visions of the future," Porritt told me over email. "The reality is that there are good reasons to be quite gloomy about our future prospects—climate change is quite simply the biggest threat that mankind has ever faced. But rubbing people’s noses in the apocalypse isn’t likely to get them more involved—it just leaves them feeling crushed and disempowered."
The World We Made is meant to do just the opposite—to empower people to make change. It's part fiction, part educational road map to solving some of the world's most daunting problems.
To better visualize the marvelous sustainable world of 2050, the author teamed up with designers and illustrators to create images and infographics depicting the future.
Religious leaders at the signing of the Lhasa Declaration, 2022
The images and text throughout the book tackle issues around energy, agriculture, food and water, biodiversity, energy, health, education, security, cities, manufacturing, transportation, technology—and yes, even world peace.
China’s "Great Green Wall." Photo: Science Photo Library/Carl Purcell
In one chapter, Alex describes how billions of dollars were spent on sea defenses along China's Eastern seaboard. And tree-planting programs were increased so much the Great Wall of China became the "Great Green Wall," covering 300 trillion square miles.
Detroit is named the "Green City of the Decade" in the 2020s
The solutions are all research-based, and totally plausible, Porritt said. "I certainly wasn’t into doing anything bordering on science fiction. Nearly all the technologies we need to fashion a sustainable world exist today, but they have to be dramatically improved and refined by 2050."
Reimagining shipping: A conventional bulk carrier with sky sail, solar panels, and Air Cavity System. Photo: SolarSailor, Australia
Solar power is one example. Porritt, who founded the sustainability nonprofit Forum for the Future and served as Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, said the solar revolution is already underway, and as the technology is getting cheaper and more efficient, it promises to transform society.
Gothenberg, Sweden in the post-oil age, in 2036. Photo: Kjellgren Kaminsky Architecture
In the utopian future described in the book, 90 percent of energy comes from renewable sources, with 30 percent of electricity from solar power. On top of that, people can take control of their own health and live longer through advances in genomics, nanotechnology and 3D printing have transformed manufacturing, and humans and robots get along swimmingly.
Kudos to Mr. Porritt for resisting the temptation to envision a bleak, post-apocalyptic tomorrow, and instead offer up a view of the other side of the coin. Now let's hope he got it right.