Human beings may not naturally be good at thinking about the future.
One thought is that, just like with charity appeals for current disasters, we should focus on an individual. Think ourselves into the shoes of some one as they experience the future.
It could be ourselves, a grandchild (if we have one), a ‘descendant’ – or anyone we can picture.
A startling powerful example of this appears in the first chapter of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future, published in 2020. The author specialises in thoughtful, ‘realistic’ depictions of the future, for example in colonising Mars.
The Ministry for the Future starts by describing the experience of one Western man in a climate catastrophe, when twenty million people in northern India die in a heat wave. Many millions in a faraway country in the future: a newspaper headline. And ‘Frank May’, who works in a clinic near Lucknow, who nearly poaches to death in a lake full of people, where the water is above the temperature of blood.
I could not get the image of him out of my head for a lot longer than a headline.
I realised when watching the final episode of Planet Earth 3 last month that the image of Frank May was so vivid that it felt it was happening right now. It was not hypothetical, despite being fiction.
We may overdo the image of threats to a panda or polar bear or orangutan, to be invited to imagine a world without them. Just like we stop reacting to doe-eyed young children in charity ads. But I suspect we simply need this emotional connection.
Maybe like the Japanese traditionally put on the garment of a descendant, to feel how they will perceive the results of what we are doing now. We too could do this, to really feel it when we make a decision now about their infrastructure in fifty years’ time.
A technique to consider next time we are involved in long term asset decisions?