The 2041 Project

What does a positive climate future look like? What does an effective response to climate change entail? How would the systems we rely on every day, for transport, food, shelter, clothing, education, and entertainment, need to change? And while we restore ecological balance, can we also address other injustices? Can we build an indigenous future, a black future, and a non-gender binary future alongside a “green” one? And even though climate change will inevitably bring struggle and scarcity, can we envision a future where people are actually happier, feel more connected to one another, and find more meaning in their lives?

Graphic with world, a hand holding a hammer and text that reads: Be the change that saves the earth...join the youth service corps today!
Could a National Service Year unite our polity and create meaningful experiences for young people like the military draft did in the past?

About the Project

The 2041 Project of the A.J. Read Science Discovery Center at SUNY Oneonta addresses climate change by applying the tools of world-building, typically used by science fiction and fantasy writers, game designers, and filmmakers, to collectively imagine a positive climate future. Through workshops, art projects, a podcast series, and eventually an immersive theatre event, the 2041 Project facilitators will engage a broad range of people in thinking the unthinkable thought about climate change--not that it will be the end of humanity, but rather that it won’t. It’s all too easy to imagine a grim outcome to our political, public health, and climate crises (attested to by our culture industry’s prodigious production of nihilistic apocalyptica); the 2041 Project aims instead to do the hard work of cultivating positive visions of the future.

The 2041 world-building process is a purposeful simulation that can go where current political, economic, environmental, and scientific discourse cannot (yet) go. What is novel in our pedagogy is that we are asking people to world-build collectively; every participant is invited to be literal co-authors of our future.

Project Initiatives

The 2041 Project Podcast:

Independent Journalist Nadezh Moon explores the momentous changes happening in the year 2041, trying to illuminate the complex forces, actors, and events that have led to the present, fraught with danger but also hopeful for the first time in decades. Produced by SDC Graduate Intern Emma Sarnacki (who also plays Nadezh Moon) and with sound design by Andris Balin's Audio Arts IV and Studio Assistant I classes. The future is now!

Listen to the podcast!

2041 Workshop Series:

We can't build a positive future without many voices and points of view. We've created a series of 2-hour workshops that invite participants into our worldbuilding project. The workshops begin with a short introduction to the history and rationale of the project, followed by a collaborative activity in which participants explore the 2041 Project Timeline, which is designed both to invoke a specific future and to empower free, bold and positive speculation about that future. The heart of the workshop is the affinity group session, where participants can focus on a particular aspect of the climate future (food systems, housing, energy, culture, etc.). Through this activity participants will be introduced to several tools commonly used by world-builders that have utility beyond this exercise. The session will conclude with an interactive read-out of the small group ideas, group reflection about the world-building process and what it would take to make our imagined future a reality. All of the ideas created in our workshops will be considered for inclusion in the evolving 2041 universe.

To learn more about upcoming 2041 Workshops, watch this space, or contact Doug Reilly at reillydg@oneonta.edu

Future Art:

At the start of the Spring 2020 semester, over 100 SUNY Oneonta students in Dr. Brian Lowe's sociology classes and Ruben Salinas' computer art classes “traveled” into the future to collaboratively envision what the year 2041 might look like in a world that's taken major strides toward addressing climate change. During a full-day conference, students learned the basics of worldbuilding, heard from a climatologist about the realities of climate change today, examined the current visual culture of the campus, constructed a timeline of events that might occur between 2020 and 2041, and began brainstorming what the public art of the future, inspired by the WPA's posters of the New Deal.

Explore a gallery of the students' work!

About the 2041 Timeline

The 2041 Project is an exercise in cooperative worldbuilding. It will take a massive collective effort to adapt to and ameliorate the worst effects of climate change, and that effort has to begin collectively. Importantly, for the United States, the country with arguably the most power and the least consensus for action, we have to imagine what it would take to get us to realize our global responsibility. We don’t predict an easy road. Indeed, 2020 appears to be a preview. When we wrote our first outline of the next four decades in February, 2020, we had no idea that many of the cataclysms we predicted: pandemic, civil conflict, environmental catastrophes like forest fires and floods, would all be exemplified in the following six months! We’ve since compressed our timeline from four decades to two, moving the goalpost from 2061 to 2041. Nonlinear climate change is here now, and now is when we must act. So take a deep breath and join us in the year 2041.

We don’t imagine an easy two decades for the United States, and if 2020 is any measure, our speculation may be sadly correct. Climate change will continue to drive increasingly severe weather, which in turn will drive a historic mass migration, from outside and within the country. Wildfires will continue to ravage the land, and new pandemics will emerge. With little ability to work through disagreements and increasingly polarized worldviews, the US will experience a bitter ten-year civil war that will look more like Lebanon in the 1980s than the. Meanwhile, the world will grow closer together without us, building a consensus on the urgency of addressing climate change and developing an efficient process of carbon sequestration that nonetheless requires enormous infrastructure commitments, and a voluntary reduction in material consumption. China and India sponsor a treaty conference to organize humanity’s response to climate change, an extinction-level-event of our own making. Most of the world signs it, but the US remains on the margins, not yet done consuming itself. But things are changing there, too.

What starts as a movement for cultural rebirth on a South Dakota reservation becomes a new religion, New Gaiaism, which holds the earth sacred and calls on its followers to assume their responsibilities as stewards of the planet. Reservations around the country join the movement and become neutral sanctuaries in the Civil War, attracting people fleeing conflict and collapse. Some non-native communities start re-forming as Sanctuaries, and the cultural, economic and political power of the Sanctuary Network becomes powerful enough that its leaders are able to broker a peace accord that ends the Civil War and begins the process of reconstituting the United States.

The country that emerges from that process is vastly different than the one we know today. The first free elections in over a decade bring a Green coalition to power, and the government passes a massive legislative package to rebuild, and rebuild better, with a greater focus on community and sustainability along with massive public works projects to address climate change. The US joins the global climate treaty regime and starts building carbon-scrubbing towers. Agencies are set up to build seawalls, resettle refugees, rewild the land and reconstruct agriculture using sustainable practices. Every graduating high school or college senior is drafted into a year of National Service. The Black Hills Treaty that ends the civil war (and gives the treaty’s namesake region back to the Cheyenne and Lakota nations) also sets up a process for the country’s third Constitutional convention. Tribal leaders are invited to advise the convention and gender equality, the seventh generation rule and a unicameral representative congress filled through proportional or ranked voting are all under consideration.

The country holds its breath. Will the peace hold? Will the new Constitution finally right historic injustices? Sporadic domestic terrorism, like the bombing of a Kansas carbon-scrubbing tower in 2038, remind Americans that their hard-won peace is fragile. And environmental pressures have intensified. 2039 is the worst wildfire season on record, with tens of thousands of casualties. Flooding continues to ravage the gulf-coast states with several American cities virtually abandoned; some begin to admit that there are areas that will never be reclaimed from the sea. But people are working together to save what they can. And in early 2041 the country celebrates a major victory: New York City is free of floodwaters for the first time in two decades, as the first section of the Great Atlantic Seawall comes online.

American daily life has been completely transformed by two decades of tumult and chaos. Cultural values have been similarly transformed by the common experience of near-total collapse. The values enshrined in New Gaiaism (respect for the earth, reduced consumption, zero-waste, focus on community) permeates people’s daily lives, even outside of the Sanctuary Network. Americans are daring to be optimistic, and young people in particular are excited by the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves, the greatest project humanity has ever undertaken, a bottom-to-top renegotiation of our relationship to the biosphere.

Graphic of a hand throwing away a paper bag with a killer whale in it, while a police tape goes across that says Climate Crime Do Not Cross
Will climate crimes be prosecuted more widely in the future?

The 2041 Timeline:

2022: The US government establishes the National Medical Service.

2022: Astronauts Calvin Watkins and Thanh Lieu depart Earth for NASA’s 18-year Outer Passage mission to the Kuiper Belt.

2023: New Gaiaism, a new, earth-centered, religion, is founded and draws millions of converts across the land.

2023: Climate Change and New Gaiaism lead to a schism in American Christianity: Stewards believe in protecting the earth and Revelationists believe in hastening the end times for the second coming.

2024: A Revelationist militia bombs the US Congress, kicking off a ten-year period of intense but sporadic violence that will come to be known as the Second Civil War.

2024: The most deadly hurricane season on record causes extensive flooding and a mass exodus from the coasts.

2025: The US government sets up the Rescue and Resettlement Agency to deal with the flow of people fleeing from climate change-related instability.

2026: Construction begins on the New York City seawall.

2028: Denmark and China negotiate the Anderson-Ma Pact, a massive multinational plan to scrub and sequester atmospheric carbon using the Chakyar-Zhiang Process.

2029: Central Asian Ruminant Virus (CARV) leads to the culling of 90% of US livestock and triggers a famine that kills two million Americans.

2031: The first Chakyar-Zhiang towers come online in Xiangiang, China.

2031: New Gaiaist intentional communities (called Sanctuaries) across the US declare themselves as independent and neutral in the Civil War and quickly grow in population, territory, and influence.

2033: Students across the country organize a general strike to demand an end to the fighting.

2033: A peace conference sponsored by the New Gaiaist sanctuaries leads to a two-week Christmas Truce, which then becomes an Armistice.

2034: The Black Hills Agreement sets up a framework for free elections in 2035 (and restores the Black Hills to the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes).

2035: The Green Coalition wins majorities in the House and Senate, and the Presidency, in the first election since the beginning of the Civil War.

2036: The New US government signs the Anderson-Ma Pact and passes the Green New Deal legislative package, which creates several new agencies, including the Corps of Geoengineers and the New Farms Administration.

2037: Congress passes the Public Service Draft Act, creating a mandatory public service year for all graduating high school or college seniors.

2038: The Ascension Fighters, a Revelationist militia, blows up a C-Z Tower under construction in Kansas, killing 38 workers, including 12 Public Service Volunteers.

2038: The “38 of ‘38” are declared “Saints of Gaia” by the Sanctuaries and are laid in state at the newly-reconstructed Congress.

2039: The Great Western Drought causes over 5,000 fires in California, Oregon, and other western states which lead to the dislocation of millions and over 8,000 deaths.

2040: Calvin Watkins returns to Earth from the Outer Passage mission.

2040: A fire-devastated nation unites in support of the Torres Reforestation Act, named for Lenora Torres, an 18-year old college student who lost her life after leading over 2,000 homeless people to safety from the Bend Fire in Oregon.

2041: The New York City Seawall is completed and the five boroughs are flood free for the first time since 2024, a victory for the Corps of Geoengineers and the recovering nation. Congress declares a new national holiday on April 12th: Reclamation Day.

2041: 50% of Americans identify as vegetarians/vegans and 34% as members of New Gaiaist sanctuaries.

2041: The New Farms Administration begins a massive reorganization and reorientation of the agricultural system to decrease the carbon footprint of food production, but also to decentralize and increase the resilience of the national food system.

2041: US Reforest Service is established, which aims to reforest not only the scorched land in the Northwest, but to replant 90% of US forestland within 20 years.

2041: The Great Lakes States Water Combine proposes a third great national infrastructure project: a network of water pipelines from the lakes to critical natural and settlement areas of the Midwest and West.

A farm landscape with the words Small Organic Farms in the sky and on the road in the foreground, the statement "On the Road for a Greener Tomorrow" and in the bottom left, the logo NFA for New Farms Administration.
Can the revitilization of small farms create a more resilient and sustainable food system?

Worldbuilding Ground Rules

Every worldbuilding project has rules or foundational concepts (physics, if you will):

  1. Very bad stuff is unavoidable. Climate change will cause widespread disruption and calamity; surviving it will entail change and sacrifice.

  2. There are no easy outs. Adapting to, and ameliorating, climate change will take a lot of work and collective action, and any workable solution will involve both technological innovation and radical changes in behavior.

  3. While hope might not be justified, we are called to be courageous.

  4. A positive climate future is possible, and is actually intertwined with a more just and healthy human future.

Three visions of the future: a family farm, a green city and an urban farm.
What will the cities of the future really look like?
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