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Narrative Storytelling Initiative and Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory,

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September 2020 | Vol. 1 Director and Editor in Chief, Envisioning the Future Steven Beschloss Contest Judges Steven Beschloss Joni Adamson Ron Broglio

Grappling with the world to come Adaptation to a changed reality is one of the recurring themes among the stories published here and most of the essays submitted. Some are set in a near future, with the COVID-19 pandemic very much top of mind. Others extend out decades further, when the ravages of extreme weather and an accelerating climate crisis have propelled more profound changes in both the planet’s ecology and how we humans live.

Project Management Michelle Schwartz Production Management and Social Media Strategy Kayla Frost Story Authors Hanna Sander-Green Thin Walls Joe Herbert The Sound of the Stars Gina Beyer Premeditatio Malorum Lisa Asher February 27, 2038 Karina Forbes Bohn America’s New Pastime Cover Design and Publication Layout Ashley Quay Story Illustrations Ashley Quay Thin Walls Ana Hernandez The Sound of the Stars Travis Buckner Premeditatio Malorum Patrick Cheung February 27, 2038 Jason Drees America’s New Pastime Contest support Hayley Bohall

One of the inspiring aspects of every submission, but particularly the winners, is how each of the authors grappled with and depicted the essential humanity of life, no matter how challenging or even bleak that ecological or social reality might be. That ingredient of humanity gives me optimism that we can face the future without forsaking the qualities that make life both livable and rewarding. The task of the “Envisioning the Future” story contest was to look forward to a world that does not yet exist, but that can be envisioned through the prism of the world we know. All the resulting entries (43 submissions, each no more than 700 words) are works of speculation, to be sure. But the winners offer insight into how futures narratives can draw from what’s known and then depict possible realities that a reader can experience.


The first-place story by Hanna Sander-Green performs the dual feat of describing a future world no longer dependent on coal while also taking us back to the present day and how people used to live “then” — drawing on the memories of the narrator’s grandmother. The second-place entry by Joe Herbert addresses the hardships and inequalities of the pandemic and climate crisis and then optimistically explores the possibility of a grassroots movement to create positive change. The third-place story by Gina Beyer offers a psychologically acute look at why we failed to think clearly and act faster to stave off multiple crises. The story by Lila Asher depicts the extreme weather of 2038 and the ways in which her main character manages an everyday life that is disrupted but also normalized. And the COVID-19-influenced story by Karina Forbes Bohn, about going to a baseball game during the pandemic, provides an insider’s specifics of the rituals we thought we could expect. The contest attracted submissions from at least five countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Germany. The finalists were chosen through a process of blind judging — no names or locations attached — by me and Arizona State University Professors Joni Adamson and Ron Broglio, both dedicated to environmental humanities. I can tell you that making the decisions was not easy.

The contest was launched to encourage reflection on and writing about environmental and societal challenges facing our globe. This is not a one-time thing: This is necessary work, and we will create other such opportunities in the coming year. One mission of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is to envision possible futures, with the belief that this creative and intellectual enterprise can spur positive paths forward. A key mission of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative is to encourage high-quality narrative writing that can create engagement and positive impact. I hope you enjoy reading the stories in the following pages and find valuable insights and perspectives. — Steven Beschloss

Steven Beschloss is the director of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative, a Professor of Practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and narratives lead of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

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Thin Walls written by Hanna Sander-Green

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Thin Walls 1ST PLACE

By Hanna Sander-Green Winters are still cold here, but my grandma says there used to be more snow. Snowbanks so high you could sit on your daddy’s shoulders, and even then you couldn’t see over. She says the lake used to be thick with ice well into April. I guess it’s different here now — like everywhere – but it’s plenty cold outside today. Inside the house, I’m warm. My grandma used to pay hundreds of dollars a month to feel warmth like this is in her house. Two hundred or 300 dollars or more, she said. The walls were thin, then. You couldn’t sit in the window sill, as I am now, awash with sun from the south. You couldn’t even set a book or a mug on the sill – that’s to give you an idea of how thin the walls were. She says they held some heat, yes, but before you knew it, the heat always found its way outside, like a 16-year-old sneaking out after curfew. So, she had to pay more money for more heat that would soon escape, too. She said the windows were worse. Set your hand on one and you’d feel the cool touch of the outside air, inside! And they’d be built facing any old bearing on the compass. Big windows facing straight north, if the view was to your liking.

She said the electricity — for the heat, that she paid so much money for — came from far away. Not from panels on the roof, like mine. Not from a wind turbine down the road (we have those, too). She paid a company that ran a power plant hundreds of miles away. She was connected to that plant by a thick web of wires, crisscrossing the forests this way and that. The company paid to have coal shipped from hundreds of miles away from the plant, on trains. Before the trains, the coal came from inside mountains and rolling hills; their tops were scraped off as if they were no more than an unwanted layer of thick icing on a cake. And if all of those great distances weren’t enough, the companies who owned the coal mines and the power plants and the wires running every which way, they were all somewhere else, too, in a big city not connected to any of it. Funny thing my grandma told me: they called the rocks and the soil and the trees, the thick skin of the mountain above the coal, ‘overburden.’ You know what sounds like a burden to me? Hauling coal out of the middle of a perfectly good mountain, shipping it halfway across who-knows-where, making electricity to


send even farther along, heating a house with it, just to have it seep out of the windows and walls, anyways. Then paying all that money for it, month after month. Another burden would be having to move your house to higher ground, after the river spilled its banks one too many times. That’s what happened to my grandma. Good things came of building part of the city over, though. That’s when they built the thick walls and made sure the big windows faced to the south. That’s when they put solar panels on many of the roofs, gardens on others. That’s when they disconnected from the wires that brought the power from the coal that came from inside the mountains so far away. Grandma says the best part of all was that the companies that dug up the coal had to help pay for a lot of the big move. Other companies too, those that drilled and scraped the earth for oil and those that shook the land so violently when they went about fracking for natural gas. Because it was they who made all of the money back when things were different (when my grandma paid so much for heating her house), and it was they who had to take responsibility for the river flooding year after year.

About the Author Hanna Sander-Green has a BS in physical geography. She’s worked as a backcountry lodge cook, a ski patroller, a whitewater raft guide throughout Canada, and a virtual bookkeeper. Her life has changed dramatically in the last year, when she became ill with myalgic encephalomyelitis. Hanna is a mom to two young children and a growing collection of houseplants in British Columbia, Canada. Why Hanna wrote this story: “I read about this contest in Emily Atkin’s fantastic newsletter called HEATED. I decided to write about a future that I dearly hope for, and think is possible, if we can build enough public engagement around — and mobilization for — serious climate action.”

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The Sound of the Stars written by Joe Herbert 8


The Sound of the Stars 2ND PLACE

By Joe Herbert I glance up at the dusty TV clinging to the wall above me. I can just about hear its low volume murmuring over the dying embers of the evening’s conversation. Not that I need to hear it to know what is being said. The evening news reports have been telling the same story for months now. Each day, a different middleaged white guy in a suit lamenting the latest dip in economic growth, before packing up and driving his flashy car back to his five-bedroom suburban home, an automatic gate guarding its front entrance, or something like that. The economy hadn’t recovered — not here, or anywhere — since the pandemic back in 2020, when I was too busy playing video games and flunking online school work to appreciate the severity of the situation. It seems crazy now, thinking about how that crisis changed everything. Well, maybe not everything. The politicians and corporations didn’t learn much. Of course they didn’t. They tried to restart things exactly as they were before. All the support measures they put into place during the pandemic were stripped away at the first possible instance, like candy from a baby. They said ‘savings’ had to be made, ‘difficult decisions’ had to be made. Again.

Yet the fossil fuel companies got bailed out, the airlines got bailed out, and the same people that always suffer, suffered once more, even worse than before. The big polluters were allowed to continue inflicting their ecocide upon the world. And look where it got us. The IPCC’s 2030 deadline for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees passed, and the target was missed. Now we’re staring down runaway climate breakdown, like a freight train heading towards us. Every year is hotter, more hurricanes, more flooding, more droughts. I dread to think where we would be if the people hadn’t woken up. Us, the normal people, the 99%. Because, sure, maybe the pandemic didn’t change everything, but it changed a lot. Whilst governments around the world fought month after month, year after year to keep their dying neoliberal dream alive, praying to the gods of growth to resuscitate their precious 3% annual rise in GDP, the rest of us grew tired. Tired of seeing the future of our planet sold for profit, millions sentenced to death so that the billionaires could have a good party whilst watching our world burn from their space bunkers. Those who previously had faith in that regime began to lose it, joined the ones who had been shouting from the sidelines for


far too long. The pandemic smashed the myths of infinite growth and a high tide lifting all boats. Though the rich couldn’t admit it, we knew those days were gone. Now, the tide literally was high, and we were about to start drowning. And that’s how the movement started, started like all good movements, on the streets, in classrooms, over dinner tables, in coffee shops and bars. The elites wouldn’t save us, wouldn’t save the planet, so we would have to do things ourselves. At first, people started talking to strangers rather than simply walking by. Then people started sharing: food, skills, labour, books, whatever was required. We stopped going to the supermarkets, stopped going cap in hand to the local authorities, what little evidence of these still existed. The movement gradually displaced them. After a while, whole towns and cities were meeting most of their own needs. Verges and parks were filled with vegetable gardens. Colour, even animals, returned to previously grey, concrete consumerist wastelands. Buildings vacant since the recession were commandeered, becoming shelters for the vulnerable, community centres, libraries, neighborhood assemblies. People became happier living a simpler life.

And when the storm does come, we will face it together. As I wander out into the clear night, I swear I can hear the stars, humming with the sound of change.

About the Author Joe Herbert is a PhD student in human geography at Newcastle University, United Kingdom. His research is on young environmental activists and their narratives of socio-ecological crisis and transformation. Joe is active in the international degrowth movement through his research and as a blog editor for the website degrowth.info. Why Joe wrote this story: “In my PhD research, I write about ecological crisis and visions of alternative futures, but writing about these topics through fiction is something less familiar to me. Whilst research and science are clearly crucial in addressing our ecological crisis, fiction is a massively powerful tool which I believe also has a huge role to play in helping us to envision alternative futures and inspiring action.”

And I guess that’s where we are now. Don’t get me wrong, the storm is still coming, but we are stronger by the day. As they lose their dream of infinite growth, we are gaining something powerful. We are gaining each other, gaining hope. 10


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Premeditatio Malorum written by Gina Beyer 12


Premeditatio Malorum 3RD PLACE

By Gina Beyer Our greatest failure in 2020 was our thinking, or more simply our lack of it. We just didn’t think. We surrendered our minds to distractions. We numbed out. We forgot. But it wasn’t our fault. It’s the way we’re wired. Our brain’s default mode network was so bored and sedated, we resorted to thinking about “Me… What’s in it for me?” — that tragic American motto. As the dark night of 2020 unfolded, we simply could not see the dangers creeping upon us even though it was obvious from all other perspectives. Indeed, all of nature was sounding the alarm, but we remained ignorantly unaware. We didn’t see our enemies until there was acute danger. The slow creeping chronic stuff didn’t register in our brains. We focused on the short term and failed to think long term, so we weren’t prepared for the future. We didn’t expect disaster would happen in our life, so why care? Not my problem. Let somebody else deal with it. Another tragic twist of thinking — the diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect. Our minds were so susceptible to bias. Again, it’s just the way we’re wired. It wasn’t our fault.

What happened next? Well, it was all there in the books — a classic and completely predictable arc. It appeared the danger was gone, so we let down our guard. Back to normal life. Such a shame too because we all know the plot — it’s about to get much worse. Covid-19 was the canary in the coal mine. Hate quarantine for a few months? How about a lifetime of it? Is that impossible to imagine? Try it. Everything we know and love gone in an instant — the rituals, routines and structures of “normal” life. Implausible. We refused to think it about it because it’s too awful and scary. It made us feel bad, so we chased the thoughts out of our heads with any mind-numbing thing. Pick a desire. It was inevitable as we multiplied, ventured to untouched places and frozen ground thawed that the viruses would spread through our sickly herd. Simultaneously and quite obviously, global climate change triggered massive losses of biodiversity. Ecosystems collapsed in stunning numbers. The insects disappeared. It was our death knell, but we didn’t hear it. It all happened too fast. Within a few short years there were massive


crop and livestock losses, economies crumbled, borders closed, wars an orange itchy trigger finger away, we were trapped. Unprepared. Unequipped. Entirely responsible. With no escape possible, we finally woke up. AI didn’t come to our rescue. We didn’t have time to develop it and disseminate en masse. Just look at how long it took to work out a single vaccine. How prideful to think AI would miraculously save us from the world we destroyed. The beautiful and delicate dances of nature, exquisitely balancing all things through symbiosis and partnership. It’s a lot easier to break something than it is to fix it. We failed to think. We were a tragic species because we thought we were so advanced, but we weren’t. We foolishly built our world on either/or fallacies — either you or me — either human advancement or ecology — the industrial world or nature. We didn’t understand it could be both/and. We failed to think. The most powerful gift we had was our ability to come together — to unite — and use our creative powers for not only our benefit but also the benefit of everything around us. But it just didn’t happen in time. Given our proclivities to avoid thinking about what’s uncomfortable, we simply weren’t prepared. Unbalanced and teetering, we missed our moment because we were divided, and divided we fell.

Our lesson was to think better — to train our minds to see a bigger picture. To realize that nature’s giving is not infinite in its capacities. The material world is finite. We are finite. Our most cherished possessions are impermanent. We took too much. We learned, but at a cost. In this fragile and tenuous new world, we humbly bow to Nature. We know this moment is our only true possession. Today is all we have. We are all we have.

About the Author Gina Beyer is a counselor and consultant with over a decade of experience in the field of personal growth. Her areas of expertise include psychology, mindfulness meditation and the contemplative sciences. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature, a master’s degree in counseling psychology and has traveled the world studying insight traditions. Why Gina wrote this story: “Writing is a form of therapy, which is why I penned this essay. I was inspired by Marcus Aurelius and the Stoic practice of anticipating the worst in order to be prepared for anything — so it’s definitely dark. Yet, I don’t think it’s off-base because humankind is so tragically disconnected from nature. I hope that the uncertainty and upheaval of 2020 wakes us from our complacency.”

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February 27, 2038 written by Lila Asher 16


February 27, 2038 4TH PLACE

By Lila Asher On the eighth floor landing, Charlotte pauses to catch her breath. Despite the decentralized power grid, storms like today’s have a tendency to cause blackouts in her old apartment building, and she doesn’t want to risk getting caught in the elevator. Just four more flights, she tells herself, heading for the roof garden. Charlotte spent the majority of last winter hauling supplies to build wind shelters and raised beds for her baby plants. She used every cent of the small community garden grant she had received though Michigan’s Neighborhood Fund. When the tiny green shoots had emerged last week, Charlotte had knocked on each door in the building personally. Sharing the news face-to-face was so rewarding that for a minute she’d stopped resenting China’s constant disruption of American internet. At the top of the stairs, rain completely obscures the narrow window. It reminds Charlotte of going through a car wash, when she was small enough to need a car seat and luxuries like cars were still widespread. Maybe Mariah is right, and she shouldn’t go out in this weather, no matter how much anxiety she feels for the seedlings. Charlotte thinks of

her girlfriend awaiting her return in their apartment below and feels a pang of guilt for leaving her alone. These storms always terrify Mariah, despite the city’s consistent Storm Protocol town halls and drills. The door is hard to open against the wind, but Charlotte pushes through and heads to the garden. The bamboo wind shelter stands strong against the gusts, but inside, the soil in the beds is nearly soupy. There’s only so much that drainage can do against the buckets of water falling from the sky. Last summer she had missed fresh vegetables so much; the drought made the ones at the grocery store too expensive to be a frequent feature on her dinner table. Now the rain seems to be mocking her and her tiny seedlings. Her peas look bedraggled, beaten down by the water, and her carrots and radishes are practically swimming. Just yesterday, Charlotte had been marveling at her sprouts, the early spring silver lining to Detroit’s warming weather. Now she watches them helplessly, their relative safety from frost doing little to protect them from drowning. She can’t really do anything to help them, she realizes, but after her long trek up the stairs it comforts her to be drenched in solidarity.


After watching the plants battle the storm for a long minute, Charlotte looks over the fence lining the roof’s edge. The streets are still and empty as pedestrians hide from the deluge. The electric trams have stopped running, probably due to flooding closer to the lakeshore. Most days, the trams shine with carbon-neutral promise, but the echoing consequences of past emissions bring them to an abrupt halt during each storm. Shivering from the water in her rain boots, Charlotte forces her way back through the door and begins her clomp down the stairs. She’ll have to check again tomorrow to see if her seedlings made it through. She wishes she could call Mariah and reassure them both that she’ll be home soon, but her phone is barely more than a friendship bracelet without reliable internet. Charlotte knows it was right for the country to support Hong Kong’s independence, but China’s retaliation hit civilian telecommunications surprisingly hard — a constant reminder that American hegemony never recovered from the pandemic nearly 20 years ago.

About the Author Lila Asher is pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning. She aspires to be an urban planner who contributes to the movement for sustainable and equitable cities. A feminist scholar and activist, Lila writes about environmental issues and queer culture. You can find her at lilaasher.bitbucket.io. Why Lila wrote this story: “I wanted to capture the contradictions that we hold in this moment as we look towards the future. My dad read the piece as a bleak vision, while my best friend saw it as hopeful. Writing in the COVID-19 era, I wanted to highlight how horrible conditions can become normalized, while also imagining the potential for community and security to survive if we do take action to mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

The motion sensors controlling the lights in the stairwell preserve electricity, but Charlotte can’t look too far ahead without feeling like she’s descending into darkness. She’s relieved to reach the third floor and the door to her own apartment. Still dripping, she stands outside for a moment, listening to Mariah softly playing the guitar inside to comfort herself through the storm. As the thunder recedes into the distance, Charlotte slips into her apartment, home. 18


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America’s New Pastime written by Karina Forbes Bohn 20


America’s New Pastime 5TH PLACE

By Karina Forbes Bohn As I walk through the gates, the biosecurity team is a bit intimidating at first. Dressed in their protective gear, they remind me of the movie “Monsters, Inc.” Remember when one of the factory workers accidentally brought a kid’s sock back through the portal after their nightly shift? The poor thing had to be power washed and shaved down nearly naked. But for me, this isn’t a Pixar movie. This is real life. Three men in yellow hazmat suits stand at the entrance, waiting to take my temperature and scan my clothing for any traces of COVID-19. Or maybe they’re women? It’s hard to tell. The suits’ internal compressors take away any chance of an educated guess. I briefly remove my mask to provide the mandatory respiratory sample, wait 10 seconds for the “all clear” green light, then move to the temperature station. The beam quickly scans my forehead, and the overhead display shows a reassuring 98.6 degrees. I move to the final step, which I’m told is the roughest — UV light immersion, combined with a disinfectant aerosol wash. All external, of course.

Turns out the tests aren’t as invasive as I think they will be. But still, is this what it takes to go to a baseball game these days? I figure I’ll grab a hot dog and a beer before sitting down, in an attempt to keep a tiny bit of tradition alive. As I stand in line, I feel a slight breeze, then hear a whirring above my head. A monotone female voice begins to kindly, yet firmly tell me that I’m not maintaining the standard six feet of social distance between customers. So begins the awkward backup process, kind of like when you can’t get your ticket to work at the parking gate. Finally, when I safely reach the front of the line, I try to place my order. “A large beer and a chili dog,” I say. “A large beer and a Philly dog?” the server asks. Clearly, my homemade PPE, crafted from two hair ties and a PetSmart bandana my dog received at her last grooming appointment, is better at muzzling my order than protecting me from germs. My poor pup wasn’t quite sure what to make of me as I left the house.


“A LARGE BEER. And a CHILI dog. A CHILI DOG! A HOT DOG WITH CHILI, PLEASE!” I repeat. I am trying to simultaneously yell my order, maintain six feet of space, and keep a polite disposition. “A large beer and a chili dog. That will be $15,” says the server. I hand her a $20, tell her to keep the change, then step over to the human cattle pen where everyone waits for their burgers and hot dogs. How ironic. I’ve always said that a sporting event brings out humanity at its best and worst, and a post-pandemic baseball game is no different. Take this makeshift corral for instance. You have the “this is all a government hoax” guy, who refuses to maintain a six-foot distance. He’s especially rude to people who wear PPE, because apparently we are “part of the conspiracy.” You have your ubercareful folks with N95 masks and sterile gloves who don’t even want to look at you. Maybe they think the virus can be transmitted through eye contact? I guess they don’t understand they can stay home and watch the game on TV. But then, they must reason, if they watch the game from home, they can’t catch a foul ball in the stands. But does anyone really want to catch a foul ball these days? I mean, did the clubhouse manager use a special sanitized version of Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud? Did the batboy use hand sanitizer when he gave the ball to the umpire? What about

when the umpire gave the ball to the catcher? When the catcher threw it to the pitcher? And did the pitcher lick his fingertips before he threw it to the batter? You know what, I think I’m going to let the others fight it out. I’ve always said that no foul ball is worth losing my life over. Today, I really mean it.

About the Author Karina Forbes Bohn is the Chief Operating Officer of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University. Before joining ASU, she was a front office executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team from 2004 to 2016. Karina lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband Brad, son Cade and daughter Carson. Why Karina wrote this story: “Having worked in baseball for years, I’ve had a lot of first-hand experience watching the general public interact in a mass setting, and I thought it would be interesting to envision how this would play out in the ‘new normal.’ I have empathy for the operations staff at every sports facility, who I know will put in countless hours trying to make fans feel safe while still enabling them to have an enjoyable experience. Trying to balance these two sometimes-competing interests is going to be a challenge.” 22


Narrative Storytelling Initiative and Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, in association with the Environmental Humanities Initiative and Institute for Humanities Research

Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory Narrative Storytelling Initiative @asuglobalfuture

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