hen you think about the future, do you think about a sustainable world full of prosperity and hope, or do you envision one that is barren, dried up, and struggles to sustain any form of life? If you’re like most people, you are neither a total optimist nor a complete pessimist; but what can thinking about extreme futures teach us about attitudes, lifestyles, and actions in the present?
What is a Utopian Vision?
Throughout the centuries, great thinkers and artists have depicted utopian visions of the future. The Greek philosopher Socrates is arguably one of the progenitors of utopian visions when he discusses the idea of a society in The Republic. Thomas Moore’s book “Utopia” is also pivotal.
Since individuals and communities are often dissatisfied in some way, it’s only natural to imagine a perfect world. The trouble is that a perfect world is unrealistic outside of fictional boundaries. Utopian visions can be inspiring and exciting, but they can also create issues.
What is a Dystopian Vision?
On the other side of the coin, we have dystopias. Human beings tend to think in extremes, so it is easy to take a negative idea and inflate it in the same way a positive idea can be embellished.
Dystopian visions imagine a world of the future when society has disintegrated for some reason.
As Margaret Atwood points out in an essay in her collection In Other worlds, neither a utopia nor a dystopia exists because one always contains the other. She coins the term Ustopia to describe a positive situation with disturbing elements or a negative situation that has goodness.
Living in the Future
Utopian visions offer us an ideal version of the future; it is something for us to aspire to and use as inspiration to change things in the present - but how effective is this approach? In relation to climate change, our ideal solution is Net Zero by mid-century, followed by the road to recovery.
In some ways, ‘living in the future’ is the best way to find a path towards positive outcomes. In order to live in the future, we need to understand the goals and targets for 2050 and put them into place quickly. Creating a present that adheres to a future vision can bring us closer to it.
Living in the Present
Living in the present is arguably less effective. Most people live in the present - and are often encouraged to do so thanks to the proliferation of meditation and mindfulness. But unless we have an awareness of the deep past and the deep future, we don’t create conditions for change.
Businesses need to open up a sense of deep time and avoid living in the present too much. Business-as-usual might generate profits for shareholders and maintain steady operations, but it’s not a path that will lead to resilience or future prosperity. They need a Net Zero strategy.
Effective Future Planning
Is a utopian vision or a dystopian vision better for future planning and global awareness? A utopian vision offers inspiration, while a dystopian vision gives us motivation. Perhaps we should take a leaf from Atwood’s (many) books and try to walk the middle way to sustainability.
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.