Envisioning Good Anthropocenes and Growing Seeds of a Better Future (By Anna Kusmer)

We are in the Anthropocene, which is a time of unprecedented challenges and change for both humans and the earth. So, what does the future look like in the Anthropocene?  For many, the future in the Anthropocene is negative, maybe even dystopic. But can the future in the Anthropocene be ‘Good’?

Just for a minute, shelf your fear and despair, and imagine a positive future. Each of us has our own particular idea of what a positive future might look like. For some, a positive future involves decarbonization, circular economies, and alternative economic systems. For others, a positive future involves engineered ecosystems, vertical gardens as tall as skyscrapers, and flying electric cars. The future in the Anthropocene may contain elements from diverse and even divergent visions. It may sometimes contradict itself, as our current world does, as different people and places approach problems in different ways.

It may be easy to imagine our own personal utopias. However, the question remains: how do we get there?

The good news is (as Canadian Sci-Fi writer William Gibson has said), the future is already here –it’s just unevenly distributed. There are projects, people, and initiatives all around us who exemplify a positive future and are actively building it.

The Seeds of Good Anthropocenes project is collecting projects and stories that represent potential pathways of socio-ecological transformation in society – we call these projects ‘seeds’.  These seeds are crowd-sourced on the project’s website and represent a diversity of contexts and worldviews. (A positive future will be diverse, after all.)

With our collection of seeds, we can ask: How do seeds grow in size (scale up), replicate in other places (scale out), and change the underlying values of the societies where they are (scale deep)? And what makes some seeds more successful than others? How can seeds work together to have potentially symbiotic relationships? A large, diverse, global database of seeds can help us understand how transformation to a better future can happen.

The database now hosts hundreds of projects from diverse contexts all around the world. One of the seeds is Ecopeace Middle East which is a project that brings together youth from Jordan, Israel, and Palestine to promote peacemaking, water conservation, and sustainability education. Another seed is Iron and Earth, which is a Canadian initiative to train oil and gas workers in the skills needed for jobs in the renewable energy sector.  Another seed – Better World Cameroon – is an African Permaculture ecovillage which works to bridge the gap between traditional stewardship practices and modern sustainability principles.

These seeds, as well as hundreds of others, represent a bank of ideas about how humans can work together to solve social and ecological challenges; these seeds often represent models of resilience in the face of Anthropocene pressures. Project co-founder Elena Bennett of McGill University refers to seeds as, “pockets of the future in the present.”

Looking at the seeds together, we can create future scenarios for humans and the planet that are based on radical (non-incremental) change, and inspired by bottom-up initiatives that actually exist. We hope to learn about change from on-the-ground change-makers and create visions of the future with the help of local activists, artists, and visionaries.

Much of environmental science and education is problem-oriented. This is understandable – we need a clear understanding of the problems we face if we want to change for the better. However, a constant negative framing about ecological issues can be scary in a way that paralyzes people and discourages action.

Two things are true. One, the future will be radically different than the world as we know it today. Two, while the Anthropocene represents global environmental challenges, it also represents unprecedented opportunity for change. The future is not written, and we can only actively build the future that we can imagine. So, where do you see a seed of a positive future, and how can that seed grow, replicate, and change the world?


Follow on Twitter:  blog-post author @ASKusmer or @SeedsGA, @ElenaBennett

Read:  Bennett, E.M et al. “Bright spots: seeds of a good Anthropocene.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 14.8 (2016): 441-448.

View:  Bennett, E.M. (2016) Identifying successful socio ecological initiatives, World Economic Forum.


Anna Kusmer is a recent graduate of the E4A project and has just finished her E4A internship at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Stockholm, Sweden where she worked on the Seeds of Good Anthropocenes project. Anna’s previous work considered the complex relationship between historic agricultural land use and current day water quality in Quebec, Canada. She is interested in sustainable food systems, resilience, and science communication.

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