It’s that time of the year when we say goodbye to the past and welcome the future. All the more reason to share the outcome of our futuring exercise in this last newsletter of the year. But before we get to the good stuff, do us a solid by:
Now for the big reveal.
We spent eight weeks building up our collective vision of India’s future in the era of climate change, and here’s a series of videos of you reading your own vision of India’s future, section by section with text below the videos. To the readers of the collective letter: thank you.
I also want to thank everyone who came along for this journey: the course participants, the guest lecturers and my colleagues at Socratus. It’s been quite the experience.
Back to the Future 2030 → 2020
Standing here in India in 2030, it feels like the country has changed dramatically and for the better. In 2020, India stood at the crossroads of making crucial choices about its path to future development. With climate change looming, India’s most significant challenges at that time included rapid unplanned urbanization, scarcity of resources, malnutrition, high levels of poverty, as well as severe gender and human rights violations. In the country, we are inhabiting, people are undergoing stresses and breakdowns while adapting to new realities. Not all were equipped to handle the personal and social spheres’ changes and effectively respond to them. This made us realize that "educating for change" and "preparing people for the future" is as important as material changes. But these adversities also allowed India to leapfrog into a more just era. Today, we write to you about these adversities’ results, which lead to a better India compared to what it was in 2020.
The boom in Technology is now bigger than ever.
Tech companies now focus not just on making their users’ lives more comfortable but also on being more environmentally friendly. The biggest tech companies are all almost carbon neutral and are moving towards a carbon-negative plan for 2035. Artificially intelligent agents now run factories; erstwhile workers now focus more on humanitarian jobs. Data is much more secure and protected as privacy laws stand updated. On the web, you can go incognito and not worry about your personal information still being tracked. Paying via digital currencies is the new norm; we do not carry wallets nor cards anymore. This has played a massive role in curbing corruption. Each transaction can be traced using blockchain technology. There are no foreign exchange rates for digital currency transactions. Even taxes are paid via digital currencies. Further, citizens worldwide can now access unlimited and free internet at 8G speed, and the net carbon footprint left behind by each individual is now almost zero. More and more companies focussed on climate technology - building solutions to go carbon negative - are mushrooming.
Sustainable Urban Development and Mobility for all.
70% of our buildings standing today were still to be constructed in 2020. The current demand for mobility and transportation was a third of what it was in 2020. In addressing these gaps, the principles of reusing, repurposing, and recycling played a crucial role. Conscious that we live in a world that is increasingly running out of natural resources, judicious use of resources is a key philosophy that is being increasingly leveraged by businesses, policymakers, and citizens alike. Renting out spaces, services, and transport for everyday use has become the norm; this has helped reduce dependency on limited resources.
Electric vehicles are now much more common, cheaper, and accessible. It is easier to charge EVs because charging points are commonplace. People are purchasing fewer private vehicles and opt for public transport more often. Vehicles running on petroleum are still around, but they are less affordable to use and maintain now. Self-driving public transport modes such as cabs and buses have also become popular in Indian cities. Artificial intelligence directly maps traffic and routes you onto the most efficient path automatically. India has become an emerging hub for manufacturing such vehicles, which leave behind reduced carbon footprints. Sourcing and disposing of batteries became a major challenge, but we are working on materials that retain their ability to hold electricity for longer. However, we now have reskilled people like auto mechanics and drivers whose jobs had become obsolete due to this change. Retrofitting vehicles with internal combustion engines has been piloted in several places.
Roads are being laid using recycled materials and wastes instead of tar. Cities continue to grow large but are now organized into zones, reducing congestion, and improving supply networks’ efficiency. Local communities have been encouraged to decide on the kind of traffic they want on their roads. As an experiment, we see many communities restricting heavy/motorized vehicles, only allowing for small EVs and bicycles, designating no-vehicle streets, and free last-mile public transportation for lower-income groups. Carbon, old vehicle, import, and luxury taxes are being levied to fund the transition towards green vehicles, public transport, and public spaces. People have recognized the cultural relevance of roads, and they are now avenues for events such as pride parades. Several initiatives have encouraged people’s participation in the management of roads, keeping them safe for all, including the elderly, woman, non-humans, and thereby genuinely making our streets “for people.”
Education for knowledge, not for degrees or titles.
The focus of education has steadily turned towards gaining real-world knowledge; education is no longer just a rite of passage to secure degrees and jobs. Political literacy, legal literacy, and data literacy become part of the school curriculum. And the envisioned feminist curriculum is in practice. Children are encouraged to develop the sense that humanity merely occupies a place in the world we share with other species, in the larger scheme of things. There is a focus on the outdoors, exploratory nature visits, and lab work. Children are now guided to understand the ecological impact of their choices. They are encouraged to explore, define, and solve local problems that are a consequence of climate change. ‘Unschooling’ and homeschooling are being picked over traditional forms of education. In time, a growing number of Indian origin scholars stepped back into India to participate in the growth story that the country became, fuelling technological advances, which fuelled multifaceted development.
Just Governance and Human Rights take Giant Strides forward.
Indian democracy grew more robust post-2020; few countries enacted as many pro-democratic reforms as India. The two-party duopoly did not read the signs around them. Civil groups steadily campaigned for checks and balances in the electoral process, not just at the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha levels, but rather at all levels down to the Gram Panchayat. These civil groups catalyzed reforms whereby independents could contest elections and hold public office without fear, with the aid of police security. Such security is also afforded to elected independents after their tenure at the office. There is a notable shift in power from Central and State governments towards Municipalities and Gram Panchayats, where elected office bearers could autonomously make governance decisions.
Almost simultaneously came a far-reaching change to the contemporary values Indians held dear. The omnipresent corruption of the past culminated in a moral revolution. Recognizing that they were subject to a reign of polarising politics, India’s people, especially young Indians, actively outvoted separatists. While aiming for inclusive societies, people realized that ideologies, institutions, and practices should not be associated with religions. Ideologists stoking communal disharmony lost much of their influence. Mainstream media and publishing houses routinely showed ideas and stories of moderate values in high esteem. As a result, in place of parochial values, the notion of tolerant coexistence gained massive currency. Caste had no place at home, the workplace, or society at large. People have begun to see others as individuals with every right to take on a religious, gender, sexual, occupational, political, and, in general, any social identity they think appropriate.
Freedom of religion is well respected; there are no outcries of 'love jihad' when a person marries another of a different faith; missionary movements continue to exist, but vulnerable groups are not targeted. There is vigorous enforcement of laws against forced conversion and malicious opposition towards voluntary conversion. There is dignity in labor; people appreciate that other individual(s) help fixes a problem they would otherwise struggle with. The practice of manual scavenging has no place in contemporary Indian society. The sense to treat information transmitted by media outlets, mainly social media outlets, with skepticism prevails very strongly. This, in turn, has also played a key role in keeping divisive politics at bay.
Animal rights have become a part of mainstream social justice movements, and the political discourses are not devoid of recognizing animal rights and sentience.
Progressive, Inclusive Economic Development.
On the economic front, India took a series of measures that boosted per capita GDP and reduced income inequality. Broad adoption of permaculture helped the primary sector remain resilient to climate change. A notable shift in food demand towards plant-based produce helped reduce the country's carbon footprint. Urban farming in citizen homes has boosted agricultural production and helped meet the exponential growth in food demand. Clean energy wins that Tamil Nadu saw pre-2020 blazed a trail for other states, driving down India’s carbon dependency.
We now witness Gandhi’s resurgence and several Gandhian principles, namely production efficiency, sufficiency in consumption, and what he could well have called “conservancy” of resources and “deficiency” in wastes. Particularly in terms of food and energy production, India has organized itself into self-sustaining, interconnected communities. Each such community now comprises about 25 houses and has solar, biomass, or wind-based power generators to produce energy locally. The energy thus produced adequately meets domestic demand and that of local shops and other recreational spaces within the community.
Several investments in engineering, infrastructure (especially in rural parts), and textiles created new jobs in design, communication, and outreach, thus boosting demand, despite the advent of AI that took over several manual jobs. With peaceful international relationships came sustained surges in trade. In the services sector, India continues to be an IT leader. India’s healthcare is more focused on healthy living and wellness, where different systems of health and medicine complement each other. Our mortality and morbidity indicators have shown a drastic decline in the past decade, making India’s health indicators comparable with those of developed countries. Both communicable and non-communicable diseases have almost disappeared, with people across all age groups and socio-economic categories, adopting healthy lifestyles. We now have enough beds and trained and skilled healthcare professionals to address the needs of those requiring hospitalization. The healthcare sector grew several folds; India now has the most number of hospital beds per capita than any other country in the world. Both classical and contemporary Indian culture continued to influence the world, and consequently, sustainable tourism and entertainment export flourished.
Progressive taxation helped develop a social security net for the underprivileged. Fundamental freedoms such as food, water, housing, education, and healthcare could finally be afforded to every citizen. Further, several government services ended up getting digitized in the wake and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. This deterred corruption and brought in much-needed trust in institutions. Working from home (remote working) is commonplace and allows family members to spend more time at home and divide domestic responsibilities more equitably across genders.
Gender Justice at long last
I am happy to report that women’s representation in all walks of life is almost 50%. Professional colleges, political parties, and even corporations have more women at top-level positions than ever before. Gender fluidity is tolerated, as are all sexual orientations; discriminatory practices and hate crimes are severely punishable offenses; a sizable population now identifies with genders and sexual orientations that were uncommon in public in 2020.
Post COVID-19, men started sharing responsibilities of managing homes. A series of wildly successful viral films and popular music played a significant role in shaming the perpetrators of domestic violence to a point where neighbors and relatives played a substantial role in helping women tortured by their husbands and in-laws. The right to an equal share of inheritance has been enforced even more strongly, which has helped women get an equal voice in their marriages.
The shift probably accelerated because, at last, men and boys were also included in the conversation on gender justice. Content emphasizing equal roles for all sexes became part of the school curriculum and was given as much weightage as any other subject in the curricula. Workplaces are considered backward and close-minded unless their workforces have a fair representation of alternately abled, LGBTQ persons and women. We are not 100% there but are slowly and surely getting to a point where a person’s gender will not determine the chances of success or failure in their careers, their general well-being, or their acceptance of their choices.
In addition to household chores and childcare, emotional labor is also shared by men. Household work and home management are valued as economic contributions and compensated in monetary terms, and participation in this is no longer a matter of convenience for men. The concept of family is redefined after recognizing same-sex marriages in India, and one can avail of ration and other social benefits for queer families.
Medical Advances and Accessible Healthcare further improve the Quality of Life.
Far fewer people wear spectacles – I came across a stitching club where 90-year-olds were the main participants – that’s something! Psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and development disorders such as autism are not typical and certainly not life-altering. Preventive practices such as meditation and mindfulness and non-invasive methods of diagnosing irregular brain waves help treat such issues. Stem cell therapies are routinely offered; even district-level health centers offer some form of organ replacement options. For example, livers can be regrown in about 6-7 months – previously, livers were harvested ex-situ (cultured in sterile labs), but now livers stem cells are seeded in the patient’s body from day zero – yes and without surgery. Advances in Genetics have made cancer treatment much more effective than in the past. Surgery nowadays mostly requires minimally invasive micro-keyhole openings, and patients are almost always conscious during the procedure. In addition to accessible health care facilities, there is an awareness that personal care is not just about the individual but also the community and the collective. Instead of individual behavior modification and therapy, people explored practices to collectively remedy the systems, causing them harm. Simultaneously, as these medical advances have come to be, healthcare facilities and services are now accessible to citizens of all socio-economic groups.
Culture creation: Literature, visual arts, music, and performing arts.
If VR was the most exciting thing to happen in 2020, then UR – Ultra reality is what the artists are talking about. Performances of a hybrid fusion of painting and light art are held as street art on city corners. Street squares are the new art galleries. Some of them are rendered with the most luminous, intense effects that 2020 couldn’t have conceived of. Also, the scale and size of civic art have expanded –imposing images of the scale of trees are projected with the dynamism provided by electronic media. All this is temporary – it can be created and dissolved at will without impeding pedestrian and vehicular movement.
As for music – Compositions are created on the spur of the moment with an ensemble of real and virtual instruments. Soloists have been replaced by artistes groups who come together and make instant music -not the practiced premeditated studio releases of the previous decade. The sound and melody effects have kept pace with the technology used to create them. Outdoor stereo projections of sound are the norm providing listeners immersive experiences of theatrical quality appearing as distant background accompaniment to instruments nearby. Film industries have stopped objectifying women, and sexist culture is no longer acceptable, reflecting the changes in societies' value system. The music concert halls of the Margazhi festival season in Tamil Nadu are filled with Dalit Carnatic singers and musicians.
Security, terrorism, and conflicts
The pervasive presence of cyber terrorists is the new threat as they appear to have followed pace with the blockchain advancements. There was a severe security breach in the quantum computers of one of the few corporations with the expertise to process Climate data. Cyberstalkers have had unauthorized access to carbon and hydrogen trading data, with implications for malicious manipulation of carbon economies. Surviving these ‘wars ‘ of 2030 are the challenges which nations are addressing.
Accountability of third parties – countries and corporations in systems with global impact is the weakest link here. Some belligerents have created tensions in international relations by manipulating climate data that tracks the Arctic Ice melt.
It would have seemed that conventional wars were a thing of the past when Asian countries ventured towards a geopolitical unification of Southeast Asian nations as a strategy to counter climate change. There exists an African union too. There was substantial disapproval from anti- unificationists - breakaway factions whose means were not always without violence against the state. These groups are believed to have a hand in subverting the climate accords between countries, fortunately with limited effect.
So there we are after a time travel back to the future right up to 2030 and back again. In 2020 a bunch of dreamers paused in the middle of a pandemic to make this time capsule in anticipation of a promise of a not-too-distant future after an era of unprecedented challenges. Having encountered a century preceding this as a time of heroic human endeavors and terrible ecological damage in its wake - it was a pause point to review the graph of human progress, apply course correction measures, and persist with the ideals of mutual peace, harmony with nature and equity. We leave it to the finders of this time capsule who live in better times to judge how close to reality these hopes and predictions turned out to be.
From the Wicked Minds of 2020
We will be back in the new year with next steps…..