what [would] a tourist be recommended to do on a city visit in 2045. What is on the menu in the lab-meat restaurant? What exhibition is displayed at the Blast Furnace Museum? What music do we listen to? How is the successful transition commemorated? Are there areas of the city we should avoid?Excerpt from workshop invitation
Yesterday I was in Lund for a workshop on “The Rough Guide to Zero-Carbon Europe 2045”. The workshop was organised by Narrating Climate Futures, an initiative at Lund university that has made Lund to the hotspot of exciting and innovative futures studies activites in Sweden.
The idea behind the rough guide is simple yet brilliant: to use the genre of a travel guide book to explore and tell a story of a de-carbonised Europe in 2045. One reason for why I find this idea so brilliant is that it tackles one common problem with futures studies – that both the process of crafting scenarios and the resulting scenarios tend to be rather inaccessible (and uninteresting) to people who are not futurists or policy-makers. A travel guide book is a type of artifact that many people recognise and have experience of. Moreover, a travel guide book is typically focused on describing activities and environments that many people can relate to, and is comprised by a compilation of rather short and descriptive texts – i.e. no need to be able to write longer or literary pieces of text.
The workshop was linked an ongoing research project which explores possible ways to decarbonise industrial sectors in the EU (including e.g. steel, and pulp and paper), and based on this project a number of writing prompts had been prepared. While some of the prompts dealt with topics that are commonly found in travel guide books, such as sports, music, museums, areas to avoid, etc., quite a few dealt with changes in the production systems. I guess that this mirrors the focus of the research project but was a bit surprising in light of the task at hand. Changes in the production side does not always surface in everyday life, and even when they do one have to consider that they might not be seen as new or unique enough to be brought up in a travel guide book. This is especially the case if the transition to a fossil-fuel free society is imagined to take place more or less the same way across Europe, or even globally. Otherwise one could have constructed a world with increasing differences between regions and local areas, f.ex. that lab-grewn meat is something that can only be found in the Netherlands, while in Sweden the protein transition took another form. Thinking about how changes in production take shape and are experienced in everyday life made me remember the struggles we had with the very same issue when developing the energy fiction Vitiden. A lot of the changes in the scenario Legato, which we used as the basis for Vitiden, had to do with more efficient systems of production or more efficient buildings, things that are usually not experienced in everyday life. In the end we decided to leave some things out, and in other cases to re-write the Legato scenario slightly. In the case of the Rough Guide, working with changes in production requires a three-step process of translation – first identifying what changes happen; second, to identify how these changes can be seen or in other ways experienced; and third, identifying what of this would be relevant from a travel guide book perspective. On the other hand, people are visiting old industrial sites already today, so that might be a possibility also for the future.
I picked a promt about new and old sports, and ended up writing a contribution about an artificial ice rink in the form of a canal – celebrating the traditional (?) Dutch sport and recreation of ice-skating which, due to global warming, can no longer take place on natural ice. Even though it’s just a first draft, I’m actually quite happy with how the contribution came out, and will definitely think about how to re-use or hack this idea of a travel guide in my own research.
Finally, I look very much forward to follow the Swedish rough guide project “Att göra visioner om klimatomställning meningsfulla genom en reseguide till ett fossilfritt Skåne” that got funded by Formas just a week before the workshop. Looks like Lund will continue to be a futures hot spot for some time to come.