Dreams of a Low Carbon Future: A Vision of York in 2150

The graphic novel project ‘Dreams of a Low Carbon Future’, launched in 2013, was coordinated by James McKay, a comic artist and manager of the doctoral training centre for low carbon technologies at the University of Leeds. The novel – a collaboration between engineering researchers, students, artists and school children – explored different versions of the future based on questions around the environment and sustainability. The launch of the novel was accompanied by an exhibition at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery (University of Leeds), which included items from the University Library’s Science Fiction Collection in Special Collections. Following the success of the first novel, James is now working on a second novel, to be launched at the Thought Bubble Comic Art Festival on the 5-6 November 2016.

Rather than multiple visions, this second novel focuses on one dream of a low carbon future, viewed through the eyes of a young girl in the year 2150. The story unfolds in the form of a history lesson, which goes through the changes to the environment that have taken place in the last 100 or so years, particularly in the northern region of England. York is featured in the novel, in the image below. The caption for this frame reads:

Lazing in the sun, the port of York straddles the estuary of the River Ouse where it opens out into the saltmarshes of the Bay of York. Once Caer Ebrauc to the Celts, Eboracum to the Romans, Eoforwik to the Saxons, Jorvik to the Vikings, and finally York, its days are numbered, with scientists predicting it will be fully under water within a century. Already, although a thriving port with floating leisure complexes, large numbers of residents have had to evacuate, to be replaced by Da Hai You Min (Sea King) settlers in kychys (floating communities), gaining a living in the ocean of reeds that line the bay.

View of York’s streets in 2150

The inevitable submersion of York under water (by 2250) is not portrayed negatively here. James’s thinking is that our current challenge is to attempt to imagine environmental change positively, in contrast to the dystopian tropes that pervade disaster movies.

While coming up with solutions to the environmental problems humanity faces is no easy task, the novel explores such possibilities. The emphasis is primarily on low-carbon technologies but also on changes to the way people live. In this sense, the project echoes the utopian thinking of My Future York, and the recent workshops and discussions around cooperative housing and transport, food assemblies and collaborative city planning.

Difficult as it is to think of ourselves living and being otherwise, the project shows how stories and SF narratives can help us to try. Less a plan or roadmap to the future than an imaginative response to future eventualities, these types of visions allow for reflection on the hopes and fears of the present moment.

News from the Utopia Fair, 24th-26th June

Over the weekend of the 24-26 June some of the My Future York team headed down to London in a minibus to take up our stall at the Utopia Fair (Somerset House). I went, along with Helen (University of Leeds), Richard, Lianne and Gavin (York Past and Present), Victoria (York Libraries and Archives) and Alice (Reet So).

The fair was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme as part of the Connected Communities Festival 2016. Taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia (published in Latin in 1516), the Festival theme, Community Futures and Utopia, was run in partnership with The Somerset House Trust’s ‘Utopia 2016: a year of Imagination and Possibility’.

The theme of our stall was living well together, which was identified as an important issue at the first York planning meeting. We engaged with this theme through the idea of the Utopian Council of 2066, and invited people to write letters to the Council sharing their hopes for the future. This future Council would be founded on utopian principles, taking account of people’s collective desires or fears and thinking beyond only what is ‘possible’ in the language of development and planning.

The stall, designed by Reet So, looked great with its eye-catching purple and neon orange signage, and people were soon drawn in to find out what it was all about. There was a lot of interest in the My Future York project, and several people commented that the discussions around York’s Local Plan reflected similar situations in the areas where they were living. Some issues people wrote about in their letters to the Council included food waste, housing, car pollution, local-regional decision-making and young people and families. One letter even recommended a current project that encourages the use of food waste to feed pigs – see http://thepigidea.org/

Providing they gave an address, every person that wrote a letter to the Utopian Council over the weekend will receive a reply by post. The letters will be discussed at a storytelling session, to be held in York (in the Council Chamber) at the end of July. This collective conversation will inform the response letters people receive. Details of the Utopian Council storytelling session will be announced soon on the Events page.