“Change the Course: Write Your Own Story of the Year 2050” by Ben Sibelman

This essay was originally published at Solseed.org.  Images courtesy of Postcards from the Future.

“All organizing is science fiction. Organizers and activists dedicate their lives to creating and envisioning another world, or many other worlds–so what better venue for organizers to explore their work than science fiction stories?”

– Walidah Imarisha, introduction to Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements

The Rainforest Action Network’s new Change the Course visioning process begins with a guided meditation, asking us to imagine a day in the year 2050 when people come together in a “beautiful park” to celebrate “an announcement made this morning that, thanks to deep emissions cuts, we have successfully stabilized the climate.” Then it gives you a series of prompts so you can write the rest of the story. This exercise was very well put together and provides a beautiful way to imagine a future worth fighting for. I highly recommend you try it.

Here are my responses to the prompts, which alternate between multiple choice and essay questions. You might want to wait to read them until after you’ve gone through the exercise yourself, so you can experience it without any preconceptions about the questions or possible answers.


My initial impressions of the year 2050:
The park is on a hill surrounded by water. The streets are canals; every coastal city is now Venice. People walk on floating sidewalks that rise and fall with the tide. The tall buildings are partially submerged. My friend’s home is underwater, an inverted aquarium whose exterior is partly covered by an artificial reef.

On how communities adapted to climate change in 2050:
“We adopted climate-resilient building and construction standards, and created things like floating homes.”

On the most important change to the political system in 2050:
“We abolished corporate personhood.”

On traveling around our communities in 2050:
Rebuilding cities on higher ground was generally too expensive, so we retrofitted existing ones to welcome the sea. Electric cars and buses are now amphibious, easily transforming into boats to traverse flooded areas. A network of sidewalks modeled on floating piers, with occasional drawbridges over the canals, enables pedestrian and bicycle access.

On Long-Distance Transportation in 2050:
“I take advantages of new aerospace technologies that significantly reduce plane emissions and fossil fuel usage. What carbon I do release into the atmosphere, I compensate for by fighting climate change in other ways.”
More on traveling long distances in 2050:
Of course I only fly when I have to—because it usually takes so long! The new suborbital spaceplanes are few and super-expensive, but zeppelins have made a comeback, and advanced technology makes them just as fast as the freeway used to be—but no faster. Too bad those high-speed trains didn’t work out.

On community in 2050:
“I live in the heart of a bustling city and cities have become more dense, as people have moved to efficient urban centers.”
More on community:
There are three choices for where to live inside city limits: in the apartment and condo towers, on a houseboat, or underwater in one of the new glass-and-bioplastic-sealed aquarium homes (a few of which were built long ago as regular houses, and converted before the sea got to them). All of the choices are expensive, so cohousinghas become nearly ubiquitous as a way of sharing the cost. This has had a transformational impact on the formerly alienated and unfriendly urban life of my city.

On home in 2050:
“I live in a co-housing community where people share resources like community social spaces, kitchens, outdoor spaces and a power grid.”
More on how home has changed:
Cohousing means we still have some private space, but we have to get along. We can’t let hidden conflicts fester until they explode, so we use the ZEGG Forum process to keep our important feelings in the open. We also have lots of fun together, playing all kinds of games from cards and Scrabble to virtual-reality adventures.

London-Futures-Piccadilly-Circus-Water-lilies-fish-and-wind-turbinesOn how we changed our energy mix in 2050:
“We banned coal, oil and natural gas and met our energy needs through small ‘local-scale’ renewable energy, such as rooftop solar, wind power and significant energy efficiency measures.”
More on home’s energy:
Wind power is now the largest single source of electricity in the world. We buy power from our city’s local grid, which is largely powered by the rows of eggbeater-like vertical-axis wind turbines sticking up from the middle of the canals between the tall buildings downtown. Those concrete canyons sure do funnel the wind nicely.
More about how we changed our energy mix:
Let me tell you, those big fossil-fuel companies did not go down without a fight! After we finally revoked their corporate personhood rights, they tried to muscle into the exploding renewable energy markets and push a bunch of crazy centralized megaprojects like paving the Sahara Desert with some kind of plastic solar panels made from—surprise—all their stranded oil reserves. Once city-scale grids proved resilient enough, we finally shut that nonsense down for good.

On where our water comes from in 2050:
“Desalination plant”
More about water systems:
Desalination used to be thought of as just another giant industrial solution, but the SlingshotLiving Machines, and other related small-scale water treatment devices—many of which rely on internal ecologies to filter water the way Nature intended—ensured that we could each wield the power of transforming seawater into tap water and back again. Almost every large building has its own desalination and wastewater treatment systems built right in, and the underwater houses share neighborhood-scale facilities.

On food production in 2050:
“My food is grown on small-scale farms close to my city or town, and I buy it directly from the farmers or at markets that stock local produce.”
More about how food is produced:
We have a few of those fancy farm towers nowadays, producing food right here in the city, but most of it comes from the land just like it always has. We even get some delicacies by zeppelin from faraway lands, but basic staples are grown right next door. Sadly the farmers are still fairly poor—many of them live out there because they can’t afford the city—but most of them love their work, and their polyculture fields are works of art, with curving rows of different crops spiraling around and through each other. And of course the harvester bots have put an end to the inhumanity of making people work all day picking produce in the middle of our brutal summers.

On how our diets have changed in 2050:
“We eat a balanced diet of plants, grains and a little meat.”
More about food consumption:
Look, I know meat used to be a hugely divisive issue, but these days people have found a balance and don’t have to think about it much anymore. What livestock we have is carefully grazed in ways that mimic natural herds and help rebuild soil, drawing down a significant amount of the excess carbon in the air, though not nearly as much as Dr. Savory thought. We rarely eat carnivorous fish, but herbivores are farmed alongside water-based crops in aquaculture systems—some of which double as wastewater treatment (yes, that idea does take some getting used to). And the trend of eating insects seems to be taking off, though I’m still not sure whether it will turn out to be just a fad.

On how people consume goods in 2050:
“Recognizing that many base their purchasing decisions on costs, we found ways of reducing the cost of more sustainable goods & accurately reflecting the cost of non-sustainable goods.”
More on how people consume goods in 2050:
“Make doing the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard” was the battle cry of the Tax Shifter Movement, which really took off once that whole corporate personhood nonsense was out of the way. It’s simple: we tax products more if they harm people or other living things, and use the money to subsidize the good stuff, like organic produce and new computers made 100% from the materials in old computers. It all works much better since we started requiring that all retailers take back their worn-out products for refurbishment or recycling, and since the Circular Economy Act of 2047, they even have to pay people for turning in those old products.

On workplace and enterprise decision-making in 2050:
“Where you spend your money, workers are given agency to make decisions about the business as a whole whether through small- or large-scale organization.”
More on workplace and enterprise decision-making:
You could say it’s the Spanish Empire all over again, but in my opinion, the wave of cooperatives that popped up across the country after that anti-corporate-personhood amendment, mostly modeled on Mondragon, really is the best thing that’s happened to the economy in decades, maybe centuries. It’s taking a while, but even the biggest surviving corporate behemoths from the twentieth century are slowly converting to cooperatives as more and more of their employees threaten to desert.

On worker compensation in 2050:
“Workers are given more agency in their own employment to set their own wages.”
More about worker compensation:
I guess it used to be taboo to talk about salaries, but when the employees own the company, that really has to change. At my co-op we have a salary board that keeps track of the overall compensation picture and gently dissuades anyone who tries to write him/herself a pay raise that doesn’t make sense.

On economic policy change in 2050:
“We raised taxes on corporations and the wealthy, closed tax loopholes, and eliminated fossil fuel subsidies.”
More about economic policy changes:
I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but really everything came down to corporate personhood. As long as those giant private economic entities were able to hold our government hostage by declaring that any move to limit their power violated their Constitutional rights, we just couldn’t make the changes society and the climate so desperately needed.

On social programs in 2050:
“Free higher education for everyone.”
More about social programs:
This modern world is crazy complicated for us primates, and our brains haven’t evolved enough yet to keep up on their own, unless you count those crazy new cyborg brain implants as a form of evolution. At least for the vast majority who aren’t interested in being that kind of early adopter, college education is really a basic necessity, and I’m thrilled the government finally realized that. I wish it weren’t so common these days to take all your classes from home, but I guess most of those huge campuses really did need to be converted to farmland.

On politics and decions-making in 2050:
“Our government is a representative democracy as it is now, but there are more mechanisms in place to ensure representatives take into account the voices of the people.”
More about politics and decision-making:
Sorry, it’s getting late, but if you want a good overview of some of the best new decision-making tools, check out the short story “Degrees of Freedom” by Karl Schroeder, in the collection Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future. We’re a small-group species; it’s taken a lot of creative software design to get that large-group decision-making problem under control, and we’re still a long way from perfect.

On racial equity in 2050:
“We eliminated racial caste systems such as the U.S. criminal justice system and the war on drugs.”
More about racial equity in 2050:
Aside from abolishing corporate personhood, the most important law in the last 35 years was the one requiring police forces to replace officers faster in places where arrest rates were most disproportionate to demographics, e.g. fraction of those arrested being black men as compared to fraction of the general population. In the American South, for a while it was standard for cities to hire a whole new force every couple of years, and I guess the unconscious bias trainings finally got through to people. Coming in third in importance, probably, would be the law that abolished prison time as punishment for nonviolent offenses.

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taken by Kate Ausburn at an Occupy Sydney general assembly

On how the climate movement built power and won in 2050:
“We built a powerful coalition for climate justice and social justice, with organized labor, civil rights groups, immigration reform groups, economic justice groups, and other movements working for justice.”
More about how the climate movement built power and won:
It was a lot of hard work and diplomacy. All the different advocacy groups wanted similar things but the disagreements to be ironed out were endless. Again the ZEGG Forum process was a big help, among several other techniques, including the ones from “Degrees of Freedom.”

On front-line climate adaption in 2050:
“We changed unfair trade and structural adjustment practices, and abolished debt to developing countries.”
More about front-line climate adaptation:
Since 2008, everyone has known that we had to do something about the big banks driving the rest of the world deeper and deeper into debt. After abolishing corporate personhood, we finally did something about it, something big: we abolished compound interest for any financial institution doing business in America, and held a Jubilee to celebrate in which all unpayable debts to U.S. interests were revoked. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

On climate displacement in 2050:
“We opened our doors to climate refugees, and put in place just immigration reforms.”
More about dealing with climate displacement:
Yeah, you know those poor farmers I told you about? Most of them are immigrants, same as always. But at least they have citizenship now. It’s looking likely that we’ll elect our second Latino president this year—sorry, Latina—and she’s got some big ideas for improvements, but the fact is that these huge population flows are a hard problem with no easy solutions.

On how we stopped deforestation and the Sixth Great Extinction in 2050:
“We declared public lands off-limits for logging, mining, and dirty energy development”’
More on nature:
Technically a lot of public lands were already off limits, but the government kept writing new loopholes until we cut their ties with the resource-extraction cartels by, you guessed it, abolishing corporate personhood. Similar political shifts in Brazil and Indonesia solved the bulk of the deforestation problem. As for extinctions, the new Rights of Nature amendments in Constitutions around the world are helping finally put teeth in all those Environmental Impact Assessments, which used to be basically just rubber stamps for developers.

On the social or cultural change most pivotal to making the world just and sustainable in 2050:
“We saw ourselves as a part of nature and not separate from or above nature.”
More about the social or cultural shift that contributed to climate stability:
There are so many people better qualified than me to talk about this: Joanna MacyDavid Kortenthe Pachamama AlliancePlanetary Collective, the list goes on. The New Sacred Story of interconnectedness and interdependence was already beginning to go mainstream in 2015.

On fighting climate change in 2050:
“We eliminated fossil fuel subsidies and passed carbon tax bills to force the market to take into account the true costs of fossil fuels, which gave renewable energy the chance to beat out fossil fuels.”
More about the single most important thing we did to stop climate change:
The military always says “you go to war with the army you have.” The most powerful tool we had in 2015 was the global market. People argued that market signals would never be enough—and they were right at first. The carbon taxes stayed too low to make a big enough difference, until we fixed our democracy and voters across our drought-stricken, wildfire-charred, and hurricane-ravaged nation finally demanded sufficient action.

The Author: Ben Sibelman

Ben at Port Angeles small

Ben Sibelman is a contributing member of the SolSeed Movement, as well as an environmental activist, amateur graphic artist, writer, and programmer. He is working on a sci-fi novel set in a hollow-asteroid colony in the 25th century.  Ben’s  personal blog is OpenSpace4Life.

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