In the coming decades, humanity has to deal with environmental problems caused by climate change: a complex situation which is mostly a result of human impact on the earth system. Nowadays, our ecological footprint has grown such that we require an average of 1,6 earths (~3,4 for the Netherlands) to maintain our consumption patterns. This is not a sustainable situation and greatly impacts our future. Consequently, when thinking about icons of the future, rather than questioning what such an icon would look like, the more important question is, what will the world around the icon look like?

While crucial, these problems cannot be tackled by government or technological innovation alone. It is the behavior of individuals that shapes the world of the future. Some people like meat, others need to fly regularly for work, or cannot get through the day without their coffee. We are not saying to dismiss all these things, instead we ask all individuals to consider their choices. When we see all these choices as each individually contributing to a scenario of the future, it becomes clear that a change is needed.

 

Our object explained

With our icon of the future a feeling of public accountability and participation in the future is created: every individual’s behavior combined shapes everyone’s world of the future. At the Uninvited Futuring exhibition, the visitors turned out to be a diverse group hailing from Oegstgeest to Brussels to Utrecht, aged 19 to 66. They were invited to fill in a questionnaire created on the basis of everyday choices. These questions directly relate to the size of a balloon, which increases or decreases in size according to the participants’ picks. The differing balloon sizes depict individual consumption differences and spark discussions on each other’s behaviors. For example, at the exhibition almost everyone turned out to separate garbage to some extent. On the other hand many participants still use grey energy, especially if their landlord decides this for them.

Our icon thus functions as a learning tool, allowing one to experiment with consumption and learn from or be inspired by others about reconfiguration. As became clear from the collection of balloons marked with a tag showing the amount of earths needed, every one of us has more sustainable choices to make. Our icon is participatory and seeks to engage individuals, in order to encourage a sense of citizenship and individual responsibility for the world around us. This mirrors our vision of the future, that in 2040 policy making, planning, urban development will be participatory, engaging, and facilitative of a change in consumption patterns around the world.