FUTURE WORKS 2050:
On December 18th during the Future Works, Stories of Change launch event at the Silk Mill in Derby, we ran a scenarios workshop about the future of energy, industry and making in the region: ‘Future Works 2050’. You can read more about the event and the workshop in an earlier post on this site.
The term scenario has an interesting history. Its origins were in theatre – note the Latin word scena, ‘scene’ and the later Italian word scenario, ‘sketch of the plot of a play’. In Baroque theatre, the scenario was pinned to the back of stage sets as a prompt to performers. It was also known as canovaccio or ‘that which is pinned to the canvas’ of which the scenery was constructed. Scenarios were synoptical collages of the actions, intentions, emotions and use of props in a play, usually associated with the improvisational performances of commedia dell’arte, known at the time as commedia a soggetto or commedia all’improvviso. Surviving manuscripts show an outline of characters, entrances, exits, and action describing the plot and sometimes including references to specific, and usually familiar, lazzi or comic turns.
The word scenario travelled from theatre to Hollywood and was used by screenwriters. In the 1960s the word was borrowed to describe the strategic planning techniques or ‘scenarios’ developed by Herman Kahn with the Rand Corporation during the Cold War. Kahn (the inspiration for Kubrick’s infamous Dr Strangelove), utilized systems theory and game theory to model the various effects of nuclear war – the ‘unthinkable’, in order to write multiple histories of the future– or the ‘future-now’. These scenario techniques were deployed by Shell from the1970s as a way of ‘rehearsing the future’. Scenario planning, now standard practice in business, propagated by foresight industries, used for trend watching and establishing emerging market opportunities still works in much the same way. The same techniques are used to put together the storylines and predictions of the effects of climate change in the scenarios of the IPCC and UNFCCC. What is surprising, however, in the processes of the IPCC and UNFCCC, is their failure to adequately integrate cultural work on climate change, given how heavily they rely on ‘scenarios’. Scenarios are ultimately acts of imagination about possible futures in human – natural – hybrid systems.
The Stories of Change project is exploring ways to engage people in the public and political conversation about energy. What does it mean to imagine the future collectively? Change is coming, what kind of change do we want? What stories of change in energy relations can we tell? What do we make of the possibilities for 2050?
2050 is the target date for the reduction of carbon emissions in the UK 2008 Climate Change Act, and also for many other European and global initiatives, for example the EU Roadmap 2050, Global Europe 2050 and Shell Energy Scenarios 2050. Does the future stop at 2050? What is the importance of the past and the present in the imagination of the future?
For the ‘Future Works 2050’ scenarios we wanted to test our thinking about scenarios and stories and the ways in which they might offer a good starting point for thinking together about uncertain futures. We started with a map. Each person round the table (and also the object from the Silk Mill archives) took it in turn to tell a story about energy – past, present or future – filling out the scenario with their own knowledge, hunches, gestures, journeys and emotions. The resulting scenarios were improvised, crafted, intentional, by turns serious and playful, and always based on collective experiences.