The Politics of Future Visioning – on #FutureScapes

Sony, with the help of Forum for the Future, had launched a project called Futurescapes. The project relies on four scenarios which can be seen on the project website. Typically, these scenarios are not informed by the most menacing dangers to our collective futures. While scenarios can be powerful tools, if scenario builders are not willing critique their own assumptions (especially in terms of ecological realities and social justice) – they are wasting their time (if the goal is exploring sustainable futures). Limiting the analysis in this way, however, IS good for Sony and other corporations interested in inspiring consumer confidence.

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Econopoly: On Ecosystems and Economics

Econopoly: Phase One of Ecology Games 2012

The original game of Monopoly was invented by a Quaker woman called Elizabeth Magie in 1903 (and originally called The Landlord’s Game). Elizabeth Magie’s game intended to demonstrate the injustices of Henry George’s Single Tax on land but instead Parker Brothers bought the rights and made a game about buying property, making monopolies and beating other players by charging them rent.

Econopoly is about the commodification of the natural world. Presently, ecological ‘services’ are being given financial value in a desperate effort to convince industrialists to acknowledge the importance of Nature. The financialisation of ‘ecosystem services’ is based on the belief this will help protect biodiversity. But does assigning ecosystems an economic value really work?

Consider the recent The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report, which estimates a total economic value of insect pollination worldwide at €153 billion (Gallai et al. 2009 in TEEB, 2010: p.8). It’s a high number, but does this number actually reflect the value of pollinating insects? Considering that we are dependent on functioning ecological systems, surely these ‘ecosystem services’ and the pollinating insects which are a vital part of these ecosystems are in fact priceless. Continue reading

Mapping Environmental Discourses

Having just finished writing a sub-chapter of my PhD I decided that a new model was needed to address certain problems. I am not going to publish the whole discussion yet. This new diagram attempts to reflect power dynamics and ideological positions of dominant environmental discourses.

The model is premised on the idea that discourses that suit business interests are legitimized at the expense of discourses that more profoundly problematise current industrial practices. To a large extent, the market determines what information is publicly available because communications either take the form of marketing and/or are produced by industries that are dependent on advertising. Discursive discipline marginalizes critical positions. Furthermore, discourses are not always made explicit; vested interests will mask their intentions to influence policy that works in their favour. The green capitalism discourse is hegemonic but as crises continue to accelerate, a more coersive type of ‘disaster capitalism’ emerges (Klein, 2008).

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Why EcoMag Failed


The first issue of EcoMag, Future Scenarios, is in boxes in my hallway. Our intention with EcoMag was to create a magazine that would help bring some discussions, ideas and information common amoungst environmentalists to wider audiences; and specifically those in the design and cultural industries in London. Unfortunately, although over the magazine pdf has been downloaded over 17,000 times on-line and the artwork is excellent (thanks to eight brilliant artists), the magazine itself did not make it financially viable to produce another issue. Our second issue was going to use the same technique of using artwork to map complex information visually. The theme of the second issue was going to create information design on the theme of ecological economics.

What went wrong with EcoMag? Well, EcoMag intended to reach unengaged audiences in the cultural sector. Could images convince them to become involved with the struggles to stop some of the threats depicted in the magazine? It is hard to analyze the impact of a series images. But in a culture that only values financially lucrative projects, EcoMag was an oddity and failed to find the support it needed. Yesterday a prominent designer interested in ‘sustainability’ explained to me that designers are now getting involved with ecological issues because they now see how it can be profitable. I think this man has seriously miscalculated both the severity of the problems we face in terms of climate change, resource depletion, soil erosion, bio-diversity loss, water scarcity, fish depletion, etc. etc.  and the capacity of the present system to pay people to fix these problems. More honestly, there is now a deeper recognizition of the crises, and the system had made some money avaliable for those who will make it appear like these problems are being addressed, as long as they do not question the deeper roots of the problems (thereby legitimizing the status quo).

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