Our Future is at Risk and the Futurists Don’t Seem to Care
Climate change is the greatest risk to humanity since the invention of nuclear weapons. Our future is at risk. As large regions of the world become uninhabitable mass migrations will occur. The last five years of global politics has shown that humans do not respond well to large immigration populations. Brexit, Trump, and a right wing wave in other European nations (Poland, Sweden, Italy, etc) all began as immigrant bashing movements. It stands to reason that as the climate continues to worsen, immigration will increase, and fascists will gain strength.
The billionaire class would rather wave the climate change cape as the public runs past it like a bull. There are no Futurists appearing on the New York Times bestseller list or appearing with the President in making a change to solve these issues. As Dave Karpf wrote, the big tech industry has tired of hearing about how they bear responsibility for their inventions. So, with artificial intelligence, web3, and the metaverse (bleh), “The entrepreneurs, the TED talkers, the engineers, the investors, and the almighty founders all agree: The Future is almost here, it’s inevitable, and it’s going to be great. They haven’t settled on what that future is, though.” Speculation is the game, not solutions.
Even the electric car market is doing very little to help avert the climate change crises it seeks to profit from. Tesla may be moving the public away from gasoline, but its cars seem to have a short lifespan and bad build quality. Which brings us to the other behavior preventing the tech world from leading to solutions. Charlie Werzl summarized it perfectly, “There is a fundamental tension in the tech industry between the desire to build at all costs, because building is a universal virtue, and the less flashy value system of maintaining structures that already exist so that they may flourish.”
Alvin Toffler, a Futurist in his own right, called this “high transience”. He predicted our fall into a throw-away society and the champions of capital have been happy to oblige us all with plenty of garbage to throw away. The solution is going to have to come from a group much maligned in the past few years. The same group who first took ownership of the term 100 years ago.
The Futurists, Past and Present
The Futurist movement in the early 20th century produced some amazing works. It began in Italy and saw its influence spread through a large portion of eastern Europe. Umberto Boccioni and other artists wanted to push society forward. Futurists embraced the industrial revolution active in other nations and used abstract forms to push their own nations into a dynamic future. Futurism is primarily remembered as an artistic movement yet the academic practices these artists cultivated had massive influence in architecture, technology, and social planning.
One problem with this early 20th century movement was its quick adoption by the fascist and despotic movements of its day. Mussolini embraced the artists and much of their forward thinking influenced the urban and industrial changes of pre-war Italy. The Russian Futurists did not receive the same social appreciation. Embraced during the revolution for its imagery of hope, the Russian Futurist movement was snuffed out by the authorities after taking power. The ideas they brought about were also quickly adopted by the usual ne’er do well cast of characters in the early 20th century.
Architects and urban designers inspired by some futurist work include Albert Speer of Nazi Germany. Le Corbusier, who many consider the father of modern architecture and has had influence on every modern city, was never a direct member of the Futurist movement but he very much fit the mold. He looked to the future and wanted to use urban planning and architecture to rebuild societal structures. Le Corbusier designed utopian concepts meant to bridge the class gaps and make cities efficient as well as pleasant. Mussolini was a huge fan and Le Corbusier’s lack of care for historic preservation, cultural expression or equality, and eugenist influence have built needed contention around his work.
The closest comparison to the Futurists of yesteryear come from the Middle East. Building massive oases in the desert, the architects of OPEC are building truly impressive physical cities. Look at the skylines of Dubai or Qatar and you’ll see skyscrapers built to impress and look like the future. While they certainly provide the look of a utopian society; unfortunately, these impressive achievements lack the Futurist theory they attempt to portray. Saudi Arabia’s proposed “The Line” serves as an ideal example.
The Line is a 109 mile city concept that is 200 meters wide and 500 meters tall to house 9 million people. Renderings show it covered in mirrors and filled with nature, robots, and tourists. Running on renewable energy, with robot maids and flying taxis, The Line “will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities and create a model for nature preservation and enhanced human livability. The Line will tackle the challenges facing humanity in urban life today and will shine a light on alternative ways to live.” If that sounds a bit too good to be true, there’s a good reason.
Building a city in a format never before attempted with technology not yet invented in a desert with scant resources other than oil to be powered with fully renewable energy should raise some red flags. The other being that the above quote came from Mohammad bin Salmon, the Saudi Prince notorious for human rights violations, who murdered journalist Jamaal Kahsoggi, and hob knobs with Trumps and Kushners. While this steaming pile of ego will never be built, it is disappointing that such bold attempts are primarily being lived out to satisfy aristocrats.
There are certainly people today who think towards the future, whether it be in technology, medicine, or science. Michio Kaku is a physicist whose books attempt to scientifically prove some of the more exciting tropes of science fiction. Artificial Intelligence continues to get plenty of investment dollars as Dall-E and other image creation tools show us we are closer to Singularity (the moment AI advances enough to know longer need human intervention) than previously thought. Others are looking at how artificial body parts will preserve our lifetimes.
None of these are looking to solve the major problem facing the globe. Climate change is more than environmental disaster. It has begun a vicious cycle of pain, migration, and reaction. Proposed solutions are only enforced by government regulations, which are weak and threatened by the trends of voters. Until humans can overcome our high transience and make climate change our main focus, I’m afraid it will continue to remain “someone else’s problem” for the champions of industry, technology, and capital.