Postcards from 2040

Visions of a world where we’ve reversed the effects of human-induced climate change

February 14, 2022
6 min read

A little context

Here’s the vision I see in 2040. I challenged myself to dream big and lead with my emotions, before letting my rational brain kick in. It’s a picture of what I want, not what I think we can get. Some of these ideas might be easy to imagine, others may seem impossible, but so did ending the apartheid in South Africa, passing the Civil Rights Act, or legalising same-sex marriage. They all started with a dream.

As with any vision, I don’t know exactly how we’ll get there at the beginning but as we articulate it more and share it with others, it gets more polished and the path starts to reveal itself.

This is version 1. So I ask you:

  • What do you find most exciting and should expand on?
  • What would you add to make this a better vision?

Now let’s step into the future

The year is 2040

I live in a home that’s in harmony with nature. The flow of air passes through keeping it cool in the summer, while its architecture stores heat for the winter with energy from the sun and geothermal material. There is a sense of peace and activity in this place - birds chirp, water flows in a nearby stream, and the sound of kids playing and people chatting carries on the fresh breeze.

Our space adapts to what we need - right now I sit at a desk connecting with other communities around the world - at other times it’s used as an area for meetings, eating, playing, and resting.

I live with my biological family - two children, my siblings and their kids - but the concept of family extends to the wider community, as we all share a vital and reciprocal role in each other's lives. We cook for each other, we play together, we’re caregivers to children and elders, and we share skills, knowledge and stories.

Education has changed since I went to school. Advances in free, remote learning have given greater access to knowledge. People of all ages can participate in a wide range of subjects like conflict resolution, ecological economics and regenerative design. New technology has made core subjects like history, science and creative pursuits more interactive and engaging, and learning has moved away from a standardised approach to one that adapts to the personal needs and styles of individuals. The core skill is learning how to learn, and our school systems are centred around collaboration instead of individual assessment and competition.

Healthcare has seen a transformation too. Administrative work has been mostly automated and made way for highly personalised recommendations and treatment. We take a holistic and proactive approach that includes mental health, greater physical activity in our daily lives, and more well-rounded diets.

I finish writing and tend to our communal garden. This vibrant and multi-layered ecosystem never ceases to amaze me. As I walk along a path, herbs and medicinal plants tickle my ankles. Leguminous plants shoot up amongst them, collecting nitrogen for the soil where root vegetables thrive. Berry bushes, fruit trees and grapevines guide the way, as the speckled light passes through the tree canopy. I take stock of the inventory and check the health of the soil, alongside other gardeners, small robots and sensors that do the same. Together we strategise how we can generate even more abundance for our community.

In the last decades, our food systems have become as adaptable as our homes. We’re better at predicting supply and demand, we rapidly adapt our diets to the seasons, and anything we waste goes back into the earth safely. A global shift to a plant-based diet meant that we no longer bred animals for our consumption and the land could be rewilded. We stopped using pesticides and chemicals and instead let the ecosystems do the work. You can tell it’s working because the garden is bursting with life - larger animals graze and fertilise the land organically on a rotation, and birds, insects, and microorganisms all work together to keep things in balance. Our garden also has natural water reservoirs where we grow kelp and algae, and similarly, those ecosystems are bursting with life too. All of this was accelerated by governments subsidising regenerative practices as more success stories proved their value, and there was a global effort to give farmers a fair transition to this new way of life.

I leave the main garden and set out towards the art and cultural space. I can get anywhere within 15 minutes. Our communities are compact, with everything accessible by walking or cycling. But while this is where we’ve settled currently, migration has become the norm. During this transition, we began living simpler lives, each move raising questions about our need for objects. Products are designed to be reused, repurposed and passed on as companies are now legally responsible for paying for any waste they create. Shared public transportation received huge investments to make migration easier and safer. Regions focused on how to scale up and distribute resources more widely in times of greater immigration, and to scale down, preserve and share, in times of greater emigration. With greater diversity came more innovation as we learned from each other’s different experiences and skills. It became reinforcing.

Democracy needed to change with the times too. People vote on policies not just people, and access to voting has expanded with digital voting becoming available globally too. Politics became more inclusive and with more people learning about conflict resolution and communication in school, issues are debated and decisions made with more consensus and expertise.

While there’s more to be done, we can look back on the last decades with pride as the potential of human collaboration was realised more than ever before. The new nature-based religions united everyone in a shared belief of regeneration and the move back to communal living was the antidote to the loneliness epidemic. As new people are born, our children grow up, and adults grow old, we all share one value - to leave the planet better than we found it.

So what was my role?

As a designer, I helped teams to better understand people and their needs. Together we found the right leverage points to redesign products, services and lead social changes that improved things rather than adding more problems. I empowered people to find climate-positive jobs, I guided companies in their shift to regenerative business models and governments to ecologically-centred policies, I helped climate justice projects gain the traction they needed, and I taught more of the world how to garden.

But you know all of this because I shared all of it, the ups, downs, but especially the learnings as much as I could over these last 20 years.

This essay was inspired by this amazing video from prolific Systems Thinker and Sustainability expert Donella Meadows on the importance of vision.