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Four Score and Seven Years From Now

Ever since directing State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability I’ve gotten the question of yes, but what would a sustainable culture really look like? As I started writing about degrowth for State of the World 2012, this question only grew in frequency. So, recently I attempted to paint a utopian vision of a Sustainable America in 2100.

And by utopian, I mean that in both the positive and negative sense of the word–ideal but impossibly so. With ancient political realities in play (power preserves itself) the idea that we will smoothly transition to a post-consumer, post-growth, post-fossil fuel world is pretty hard to believe. But this is my imagining of a sustainable 22nd century America where reason prevailed. After all, without fantasies about the future, what keeps us motivated to keep on working towards utopia?  Below you’ll find a few excerpts from my recent E Magazine article, “Choose Your Future: A Vision of Sustainable America in 2100.”  You can read the full piece online.

Climate change has had a devastating impact, and it’s not over yet. The total warming of 3.3 to 4.5 degrees Celsius predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has led to considerable ecological changes. Chicago now has the climate of New Orleans, and New Orleans, well, much of that was claimed by the Gulf of Mexico. The rest of that city, one half of Miami, a third of Manhattan and many other cities were either lost to rising sea levels or proactively converted into wetlands in order to provide a buffer to what habitable land remained. Losing that land was a great tragedy, but a shrinking population, combined with an increasingly agrarian economy made it less painful—in economic terms at least. Nothing will ever replace the loss of the birthplace of jazz.

I started the piece by making it clear that even in the extremely utopian future, we’re going to have ugly ecological changes. We’ve built those into the system already. So, I’m sorry Miami and New Orleans but I don’t think you’ll make it through the century, no matter how quickly we course correct (Manhattan, on the other hand, is so loaded that they’ll probably insulate themselves for a while with sea walls).

Read more at Worldwatch.