The Importance of Moving Beyond Negative Visions of the Future

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When I walked into pavilion 1 at the Riocentro on my first day at Rio+20, I passed a large white exhibitions space which was labelled ” The Future We Want.” I glanced at the  big blue word clouds and five large TV screens  — “What future do we actually want?,” I asked myself.

Hallway entrance area Riocentro; Source: Student Reporter.

The cynic in me felt there was no need to answer that question because even if we could agree that the future must be a more sustainable, prosperous one for all,  politicians from all over the world, partially with completely different backgrounds, capabilities and ideals, representing conflicting needs and interests, won’t be able to agree upon a shared, long-term vision for the future anyway. My optimistic side countered that in the last 100 years alone humanity has overcome two world wars, ended apartheid in South Africa, escaped total nuclear destruction and developed the internet, among other things.  Anything’s possible, if you work hard on it, I thought.

Little did I know that just hours later I would be revisiting some of these questions about the “The Future We Want” in a conversation with the exhibition’s co-creators, Jonathan Arnold and Bill Becker. At a panel on “Sustainable Lifestyles 2050,” Bill was a panelist and spoke about the importance of a strong intergenerational relationship to help the young members of society implement their ideas for a sustainable future. I liked his optimistic statements, which were also well-balanced in the type of realism that comes from lifelong experience.

While the video merely features a selection of highlights from our conversation, it actually lasted for over 1 hour and 15 minutes. In that longer conveersation, the story behind “The Future We Want”campaign was told, which is the official Rio+20 UN tagline. Bill explained that the tagline originated in November 2011 when the Secretary-General and Rio+20 Secretary-General Sha Zukang announced a new campaign to engage people around the world in an exercise to envision how societies in all parts of the world can build a future that promotes prosperity, equity and improves people’s quality of life sustainanly. One of the results of the campaign was the exhibit at Rio+20 featuring talented visual artists depicting what sustainable communities around the world might look like 20 years from now. Jonathan Arnold also added that the future of “The Future We Want” campaign, post Rio+20, lies in rolling out a comprehensive process for realizing sustainable development on five stages of engagement; community engagement, synthesis of ideas, visualization of solutions, implementation and measurement.

Looking at the white and blue exhibition space after my conversation with the two gentlemen, I recognize that there’s still a long way to go from word clouds, visualization videos and an interactive website to garnering mainstream support and extinguishing apocalypse fatigue to global implementation of sustainable solutions. But, and this is perhaps the most important “but” which emanated from our conversation, we must remember that “the only way of definitely failing at anything is by not trying in the first place.”

A side note on the video: Thanks to the invaluable help of Marina Hutton from WeCanada, who I met for the first time 30 minutes before the interview and spontaneously offered to join me, I was able to record the conversation on camera. Although the sound quality is suboptimal due to music coming from the exhibition installation, I have tried to edit it such that it is as understandable as possible.

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  1. Pingback: The Admit of Defeat in Sustainable Development | Studentreporter

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