Last November, the Secretary-General and Rio+20 Secretary- General Sha Zukang announced a new campaign to promote the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development this June in Rio de Janeiro.
The campaign is “The Future We Want.” Its purpose is 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 within the Earth’s life support systems.
As the Secretary-General said when he launched the campaign:
We need to imagine a different future. What would our world look like if everyone had access to the food they need, to an education, and to the energy that is required to develop? What would our communities look like if we created a vibrant, job-rich, green economy? This is the future we want.
The result of the campaign will be an exhibit at Rio+20 in which some of the world’s most talented visual artists will depict what sustainable communities around the world might look like 20 years from now. The exhibit will utilize the power of today’s advanced communications technologies to give life to the scientific and policy documents that tell us about our challenges and our opportunities in the years ahead.
But first, we are gathering the aspirations and visions of the world’s people. Their contributions to the campaign will be the basis for the visualizations we exhibit at Rio+20.
The Power of Us
Today in our large and complicated world, it is still possible for a few people – or even one person — to bring about historic change. “Change agents” of all ages are working around the world to improve our lives and to address some of our most pressing global problems. As you are reading this, a neighbourhood group is connecting their community, a company somewhere is creating the next Big Thing – or a young college student may be developing the next world-changing device or idea in his or her dorm room.
At the same time, it has been noted that we already have the solutions, technologies and designs we need to build a far more sustainable world. What often is missing is our understanding of how these solutions can be applied and shared. We have sufficient experience and science to identify the major challenges that stand in the way of a more sustainable world. What often is missing is the political will to turn that knowledge into action. That’s where The Future We Want comes into play.
History has demonstrated the power of visualization. Seventy years ago during the Great Depression, General Motors used that power with great success at the New York Worlds Fair. With the best exhibition techniques of the time, GM showed millions of visitors what life could be like 20 years later in a highly mobile car-centered society. It was an exciting and hopeful vision at a time of seemingly insurmountable problems. It apparently had an impact: Most developing and developed countries have been implementing GM’s vision ever since.
Our Current Development Model is Broken
Today, we are experiencing another difficult moment in which the world’s people hunger for a voice and a vision. It’s evident the environmental costs of our 70-year-old development model can no longer be sustained. We must achieve abundance, security and quality in our lives with greater resource efficiency and ecological footprints that represent our fair share of the Earth’s carrying capacity.
For many of us, “sustainable development” remains an abstraction. We have heard it defined. We have seen the goals set by governments, corporations and civil society. But to truly understand what sustainable development means for each of us, we must see it and feel how it will affect our lives and our communities. In 2012, we have media and tools never dreamed of in 1939 for envisioning and building better communities. With the World Wide Web and social media, we have a capability we’ve never had before to engage the world in brainstorming and crowd-sourced design. And for those people around the world not yet connected to the electronic world, we still have the old-fashioned tools of letters, drawings, and the mail.
Before we can build it, we must see it. That’s what The Future We Want is about.
Why The Future We Want
What is missing in the global conversation about issues such as climate change, high population growth, poverty, rapid urbanization and resource competition? Why do so many people remain disengaged from solving these problems?
One reason is that concepts like “sustainable development” is difficult to visualize. We relate much better to what we can see and experience. A second reason is “apocalypse fatigue” – the tendency of people to disengage or to retreat into denial when a problem seems too big and frightening.
We have seen plenty about what will happen to civilization if we don’t deal with problems such as extreme poverty, resource conflicts and global climate change – and it is important for us to fully appreciate the consequences of inaction. The media are filled with news about these challenges. Popular movies show us a world in which civilization has collapsed. Scientists warn us of irreversible damage to the environmental systems on which our health and welfare depend. But without a parallel discussion of the more sustainable societies we can create, our lopsided discussion about the future produces apocalypse fatigue.
The Future We Want intends to counter apocalypse fatigue by unleashing the power of positive vision, using the same sophisticated communications tools that entertain us or persuade us to buy things. The Future We Want recognizes what we must avoid, but focuses on what we can build if we put our minds and shoulders to the task.
As Buckminster Fuller said, “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”
Who are “we”? “We” is all of us, from the government officials negotiating solutions to the world’s problems, to the corporate leaders supplying us with products and services, to the aging generation that wishes to leave a far better legacy, to young people around the world who are trying to find jobs, start families and climb career ladders in adult-centered institutions, and to the children who suffer from “climate blues” and other psychological impacts because of the images of trouble all around them. “We” are the people of the developed world who are clearly heard in world affairs, and those whose voices are rarely heard because they are occupied with subsistence or are not connected to the World Wide Web.