Futures of Cultural Identity
Timing: This was a joint project completed for my Foresight class and my Strategy class of my Masters program between January 2021 - April 2021. There were independent and group components executed by a team of 5 grad students.
Context: Using the topic of Space as a framework, our class was asked to consider how what life might look like in 2048. My group came together because of a shared interest in considering how human cultural identity might change as humanity establishes a greater and more permanent presence off-Earth.
Key Activities: Environmental scan, trend identification, scenario generation, "artifact" building, strategic objectives, and windtunneling.
My Primary Roles: Research, narrative building, writing and editing
Why I'm Sharing: Foresight appeals to my storytelling background and the teamwork of this group was next level. Living in the future during this project, at times, was depressing -- many of our futures were very bleak. But identifying an ideal world to work towards was inspiring.
How might we approach preservation efforts towards a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future of humanity?
We used a 2x2 Matrix crossing the critical uncertainties that would frame our scenarios: resource depletion and cultural preservation. Next, we labelled the extremes of each critical uncertainty to set the parameters for each quadrant; radical environmentalism(devotion) and environmental degradation (depletion), crossed with nationalism and pride (jingoism) and cultural loss (eradication). Recognizing that all these scenarios emerged from intersecting two extremes, we created a fifth scenario that represented balance, inadvertently creating a preferred future.
S1 – Ecofascist ostracism: The preservation of the environment to protect cultural heritage and human identity leads to extreme punishment for non-conformists: planetary expulsion.
S2 – Radical ecocentrism: Decades of environmental degradation create a penitent society, with all of mankind moving to settlements in orbit to let Earth heal from the virus of mankind.
S3 – Apocalyptic survivalism: Technological advancements combined with decades of reckless consumption of the world’s resources has left Earth an anarchic, barren wasteland of roving groups trying to survive.
S4 – Elitist supremacism: With the depletion of the earth’s resources, space becomes a playground for the ultra-rich, while the rest of the population suffers the consequences of environmental degradation.
S5 – Authentic exploration: A balance between scientific progress, environmental preservation, and cultural revival, creates a flourishing economy, society, and culture rooted in values of decolonization.
Scenario 1: Ecofascist Ostracism
High Culture X High Environment
Each team member took ownership of one of our five scenarios. Each vision of the future begins with a look at the catalytic events of 2020 and then jumps 50 years into the future, to 2075. I took on our first scenario, sitting at the extreme of high culture and high environment: The Ecofascist Ostracism.
As freedoms and “normalcy” start to return following vaccination efforts for COVID-19, many people begin to resent their lost years, setting off a 21st century “Roaring Twenties” with people indulging in everything and anything. As soon as travel restrictions are lifted, people start traveling more than ever before, pumping thousands of pollutants into the atmosphere and overwhelming tourism hotspots.
As a result, these wild times are short- lived as a new coronavirus appears in 2026 and plunges the world back into a now-familiar lockdown scenario. However, it is much harder to get people to adhere to imposed restrictions this time around. Despite the millions of people dead at the hands of COVID-19,24 the reality of having survived a pandemic mostly unscathed makes many people ignore new protocols. Unfortunately, this virus proves to be much more vicious, and the results are devastating worldwide.
Ultimately, these events finally lead to a tipping point. Climate scientists together with epidemiologists issue a stark warning to the UN: if we don’t get climate change under control, humanity will essentially live in a perpetual state of pandemic. The unregulated escalation of capitalism has led to the depletion of natural resources, an increase in natural disasters and, worst of all, the emergence and spread of new viruses. The projections are bleak and gain credibility as death tolls skyrocket all over. Citizens demand action and around the world, dissatisfied with the old guard in power, climate activists are given the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to step up and lead.
It starts with water. By 2025 Places like Rio de Janiero, Brazil; Miami Beach, Florida; and the Maldives25 all suffer irreversible damage from increasingly violent storms, and residents soon have no choice but to escape the eroding coastlines and move further inland. The grief at seeing these iconic shores overtaken by the oceans is more than most can take. It’s not just sorrows over destroyed beaches, it is the loss of cultural outputs that we have failed to preserve; the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is uncrossable, what is Brazil’s Carnival without the booming energy of Rio? There are even rumours that coffee and wine could be nearly eradicated by 2050 if the soils that grows the beans and grapes get any more acidic.
And so, unable to ignore the evidence, the environmental uprising begins.
After nearly losing everything to the effects of climate change, humanity embraces a new dominant worldview: The planet is precious and worthy of protection.
The catalyst for this was a surge of space tourism in the mid 2030s. The high expense of space travel meant it largely remained the domain of the rich and powerful. Unexpectedly, the movement collapsed under its own success. Moved by the view of Earth from above, a critical mass of visitors experienced the Overview Effect and began lobbying for stricter environmental sanctions on
Earth and severe punishments for those found engaging in any activities that lead to ecological harm.
Though travel between nations is basically impossible with the environmental sanctions and virus prevention strategies in place, most people are not even interested: years of nation-isolation has diminished interest in other cultures, stoking flames of domestic nationalist pride and cultural superiority. Like the vaccine rollout of the early 2020s, each nation has put itself and its people first.
Off-Earth travel is another story. Ever since NASA launched their first crewed Mars landing in 2038, the seed was planted for how to deal with dissenters in the future. Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’“Blue Origin”26 space colony is seized by the US government and reimagined as the Experimental Correctional Centre in Orbit for Proper Environmental Activity(ECO-PEA). This is where the worst offenders of environmental sanctity are sent in order to instil an appreciation(some would say fanaticism) of Earth’s natural wonders. The thinking goes: If you’re not putting planet preservation above all else, you threaten humanity’s survival on Earth.
Over a million people were sent into orbit within the first 5 years of its launch, but fewer than 10 percent have ever returned.It is understood that a sentence to space is the equivalent of the death penalty, and sentencing comes easily.
Outside of planetary expulsion and environmentally focused innovations, technological advancement has mostly stagnated. The ecological cost of mining raw materials for electronics and keeping server farms was deemed unworthy for what the world got out of it.
Coming so close to losing nearly everything humankind has ever achieved heightens the importance of cultural markers of the past. Surviving artifacts are revered as many of the resources needed to create them are no longer readily available. While a return to humanity’s past way of life would be detrimental to its survival, many long for the freedoms and creativity that seemed to be available to everyone in the past.
Humble Time Machines
To deepen our narratives, we visualized artifacts that were representative of each of our scenarios. Objects that one might excavate from another time and draw conclusions about the world it came from. For our topic, we were particularly drawn to the concept of fashion and clothing as an indicator of what it might look like to exist in these worlds.
Fashion is reflective of the times and places that people inhabit. The clothes we wear can tell stories of the larger systems we occupy and signal our place within them. We felt that fashion perfectly tied into our broader theme of cultural identity and would allow for enough flexibility to showcase the clothing of each world in a distinct way. We were able to envision how each iteration of clothing in each one of our scenarios would reflect the world around it.
As we thought about what mediums might be used for mass communication, and how those communications would reflect the appearance of people living in those worlds. it became clear that each scenario would need it's clothing to be showcased in the appropriate format; in this world, a propaganda poster.
In this world, it is one's patriotic duty to prioritize the wellness of the environment above all other things. As a result, heavy-duty production work has been eradicated unless it is in direct service to improving sustainability. The fashion industry, a historically bad polluter, was one of the first sectors to go.
Rather than relying on new items, people repurpose existing materials to fit their clothing needs, and prioritize function over fashion. The faded monochrome colours of the fabrics subtly suggest a uniform, both of attire and mindset.For those that dissent, a one-way ticket to the orbiting space prison awaits. Should anyone be tempted to turn back to old ways, propaganda adorning city walls reinforces the importance of eco-living for sustained life on Earth.
For the final part of this project, we used created 7 strategies that aligned with the mission of our persona organization - ECHO (loosely based on UNESCO) - for whom we were doing this work. Weassessed the resilience and fit of ECHO's strategic options and how they would perform going into the future against the 5 generated scenarios.
We began thewindtunneling exercise by framingECHO’s potential role in each of the five worlds. The windtunneling rounds werestructured, strategic conversations withteam members where we discussed each strategy in each scenario and awardeda high, medium or low score for fit and resilience. Thecumulative score for each strategy wasthen considered the final result.
After two rounds of windtunneling,we proposed moving ahead with fourstrategies that are the most robustacross scenarios and most relevant to thefutures of cultural identity in space. Theseinclude:
- space accountability - medium/high
- thoughtleadership in culture - high
- empowerment ofpriority groups - medium/high
- leveraging outsideexpertise and resources - medium/high
Acknowledgements and Thank Yous
Thank you to my wonderful team, the #CultureCrew!
Nicole Brkic: Authentic Exploration scenario owner, visual artist and mind mapper extraordinaire
Gregorio Magarelli: Radical Ecocentrism scenario owner, Powerpoint wizard, soundscape mixer, and propaganda artist
Puja Prakash: Elitist Supremacism scenario owner, Backcasting maven and visionary
Hetvi Vyas: Apocalyptic Survivalist scenario owner, Reference queen and context setter