Trading Futures


The History of Thinking into the Future.

Climate change and our current energy predicament appear to require an unprecedented shift, and a radical re-imagining of our future. But to affect change we have always had first to imagine a future into being: in fictions, predictions, models, plans, dreams. How have visions of our (energy) futures changed, and what can we learn from past and present ideas of the future?

Trading Futures is the text of a game about energy futures put together by Renata Tyszczuk and Bradon Smith for a workshop at the Stories of Change TippingPoint event in September 2014. Two people (1 and 2 ) trade alternative visions of the future. They start at a date, lets say 2050, and go back and forth, trading futures to get back to the future present of 2014. It was inspired by Forced Entertainment’s Tomorrow’s Parties.

Trading Futures

1: Let’s start in 2050…

Climate Change Act 2008- otherwise known as ‘2050’

‘An Act to set a target for the year 2050 for the reduction of targeted greenhouse gas emissions; to provide for a system of carbon budgeting; to establish a Committee on Climate Change; to confer powers to establish trading schemes for the purpose of limiting greenhouse gas emissions or encouraging activities that reduce such emissions or remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere; to make provision about adaptation to climate change; to confer powers to make schemes for providing financial incentives to produce less domestic waste and to recycle more of what is produced; to make provision about the collection of household waste; to confer powers to make provision about charging for single use carrier bags; to amend the provisions of the Energy Act 2004 about renewable transport fuel obligations; to make provision about carbon emissions reduction targets; to make other provision about climate change; and for connected purposes.’

2: Speaking of 2050, isn’t that an important date in George Orwell’s 1984? In Orwell’s dystopian society, 2050 was the date by when it was planned that everybody would be speaking the same language: the terrifying ‘Newspeak’.

 1: … 1984…The artist Gerard Byrne’s installation ‘1984 and beyond’ shown recently at Tate Britain (but made in 2007) re-staged with actors conversations that had taken place between sci-fi writers in which they discussed the future. Among others involved were Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. They predict (imagine?) a wonderful future, of space travel, widespread affluence and sexual liberation. The sexual liberation in particular excites them – so it’s not too surprising that the original conversations, published under the same title – ‘1984 and beyond’ – were commissioned by and published in Playboy, in 1963.

 2: … 1966 (well, it’s close enough)… In 1966, commissioned by Shell to write an essay about the future, James Lovelock offered ‘Some Thoughts on the year 2000’. One of the things he said: ‘If I am right in my prediction that by 2000 a large proportion of the total energy turnover is going towards the avoidance of ecological disaster; then we can be sure that Shell will be in the business of counter-measures for profit. This might be its major activity.’

1: Also thinking about the year 2000 was Edward Bellamy. He too wrote some thoughts on the what the year 2000 would look like. Looking Backward, 2000 to 1887, purportedly written in 2000, this early science fiction utopia, looks back over the previous 120 years of human history. Bellamy’s text was actually written in 1888. The narrator begins by describing the easy life he had as a result of the late 19th century capitalist system, he observes:

‘But how could I live without service to the world? you ask. Why should the world have supported in utter idleness one who was able to render service? The answer is that my great-grandfather had accumulated a sum of money on which his descendants had ever since lived. The sum, you will naturally infer, must have been very large not to have been exhausted in supporting three generations in idleness. This, however, was not the fact. The sum had been originally by no means large. It was, in fact, much larger now that three generations had been supported upon it in idleness, than it was at first. This mystery of use without consumption, of warmth without combustion, seems like magic, but was merely an ingenious application of the art now happily lost but carried to great perfection by your ancestors, of shifting the burden of one’s support on [to] the shoulders of others.’

 2: Written only shortly before Bellamy’s text in 1863, Jules Verne also wrote an account of the future. Called Paris in the 20th Century, it wasn’t published because Verne’s publisher thought it too implausible. (It wasn’t published until 1994). In this 20th C Paris, only business and technology are valued, while arts and literature have almost disappeared. Towards the end of the novel, Europe is gripped by a new ice age; the protagonist has to resort to eating the cheapest form of food with is derived from coal, called ‘coal bread’, and as he descends into madness is pursued by the Demon of Electricity. Walking next to the Seine, the protagonist Michel sees that, ‘Over his head the sky was cluttered with electric wires passing from one bank to the other and extending like a huge spidersweb.’

Verne’s novel was set in 1960.

1: Around 1960 (well, 1964 but near enough) another famous science fiction writer imagined visiting the year 2014. In ‘Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014’ Isaac Asimov wrote in The New York Times that:

An experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014. (Even today, a small but genuine fusion explosion is demonstrated at frequent intervals in the G.E. exhibit at the 1964 fair.) Large solar-power stations will also be in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas — Arizona, the Negev, Kazakhstan. In the more crowded, but cloudy and smoggy areas, solar power will be less practical. An exhibit at the 2014 fair will show models of power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected down to earth.’

2: Back to 2014

Image By PLCjr from Richmond, VA, USA (NY World’s Fair 1964-1965) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


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