Brave New World: A conference experiment from the future

By Ramona Bruck, Forum Umwelt & Entwicklung (German Forum on Environment and Development)

“The year 2048 is close to becoming a remarkable breakthrough for German sustainability policy. After thorough negotiations, the government managed to published the two-year action plan ‘Save Sustainability’ which might give a new momentum for the implementation of the ’Governance Goals on Goodness and Global Justice’ ”. [1]

Inspired by Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as well as Orwell’s ’1984’, the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development was invited to a new, brave kind of conference in November 2018. Through time travel, the aim was to change the perspectives and to critically reflect on the current political and social situation as well as upcoming challenges and turnarounds. Therefore, it was not surprising that – after a stunning light installation that set the mood for the future – no one other than Aldous Huxley himself welcomed the 220 guests at the conference. He pointed out that time traveling is still an evolving technology – which bares several risks. One of this is the unpredictability about which path the present will choose to go. Fortunately, this conference gave the rare chance to look at two scenarios at the same time and these two confronting scenarios to exist parallel. On the one hand, there was an utopian, positive scenario (plan A), where current demands by civil society e.g. sustainability, equality and fair world trade were fully implemented. Herta Däubler-Gmelin, former minister of justice, played the role of herself as a 100-year old activist, looking back at the last 30 years. She explained how after many conflicts and catastrophes at the beginning of the century the political system has been undergoing major changes – even against predominant business interests. Still there was also a dystopian, negative scenario (plan B), where current trends moved forward, unrestrictedly manifesting unstoppable consequences such as climate change, extensive digitalisation and data collection and acute social inequality. Karl-Mephisto Cassandra, (played by Peter Wahl, co-founder of attac) pointed out that even the most ambitious actions against climate change or loss of species were already too late.

Yet the focus of the conference did not – or at least not primarily – lie on visionary ideas and remarkable acting, but convincing arguments on how the world would look like in 2048, given the paths we take today. Diving deeper into the scenarios, the participants could choose between eight different forums (digitalisation, democracy, bio-economy & agriculture, Europe, urbanisation & rural depopulation, social inequality, climate & energy). Based on the underlying idea of the two diverging scenarios. Each forum was composed by one representative of plan A and B, representing individuals from the year 2048: Business representative, old activist or even a living algorithm. The time travelers gave a brief outline what had happened during the last 30 years, which milestones had been important and how they managed to shape the world as it was now, in 2048. The second part covered a discussion between the representatives of both plans. Plan B was in general easier to trace, because current trends are simply continuing and can easily be imagined in the future. However, the challenge was to explain comprehensibly why these trends were carried on despite being recognised as problematic by critical civil-society.

In this respect, plan A was much more tricky, because they not only needed to figure out the momentums during the past 30 years in which civil society was able to change the established the path, but also needed to describe strategies and methods they and on which strategic alliances change they were built.

This two-day conference was also accompanied by different cultural elements as well as ‘future food’. Along with a stage play ‘avanti popolo’ and a poetry slam, the impressive performance by Katharina Schlothauer as Margarethe Thatcher provoked the audience just as the real person had done in the past: “You want to change the world? Let someone explain this to you, who already did.. Me. […] You need the dissatisfied. Tell them you do something good for them – even it is not true. We stood for a better future. At the end, the majority believed me – or at least they believed more in me than in the rest”.

Finally, we returned from the future and invited the concluding panel, NGO representatives from 2018, to draw their conclusions.

Check out our website for the full documentation:

 Forum Umwelt & Entwicklung / the German Forum on Environment and Development was founded in 1992 after the UN conference on Environment and Development (“Rio“). We coordinate German NGOs in international political processes on sustainable development and environmental issues. Our mission is to raise awareness in the German public on the connection between environment and development and to insist on a change of the current wasteful economy and lifestyle of industrial countries.

[1] Staudt, Elisabeth 

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