Theme Park Earth 🌍

Earth as home, resource, and tourist attraction.

Welcome to New World Same Humans, a weekly newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.

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🎧 If you’d prefer to listen to this week’s instalment, go here for the audio version of Theme Park Earth🎧


This week two related, and telling, stories caught my eye. Take them as two signs of the times.

A few days ago Jeff Bezos spoke at an event called Our Future in Space. In conversation with the Washington Post journalist David Ignatius, Bezos said that in centuries to come millions of humans will live in vast, floating cities among the stars.

People will be born in space, said Bezos, and know it as their first home. They’ll visit Earth, ‘the way you would visit Yellowstone National Park’. You can see the whole conversation here.

Meanwhile, the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow ended yesterday.

Working late into Saturday night, delegates managed to agree a final text. But the emissions pledges made in that text won’t limit warming to 1.5C; the agreement states only that nations will gather in Egypt next year to look again at emissions. And a promise to ‘phase out’ coal was diluted at the last minute, so that it’s now a promise to ‘phase down’ coal. Just as it sounds, the language phase down was chosen because no one really knows what it means.

One week; two stories. Taken together they would be funny, if the situation we find ourselves in wasn’t so serious.

On the one hand a collective failure – at the highest level – even to articulate a plan that will see us avoid catastrophic degradation of our planet. On the other, a billionaire’s dream of a future in which a new breed of space people visit that planet as tourists visit Yellowstone, to wonder at nature.

I don’t want my criticism of Bezos to appear harsher than it really is. For a start, there’s a chance he’s right. Perhaps in centuries to come people really will visit Earth in the way that tourists today visit Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. And he did also say of Earth, ‘this place is special; you can’t ruin it’.

But there’s such a deep, and deeply ironical, relationship between Bezos’s vision of a humankind untethered from Earth and the environmental crisis that we’re living through. Both depend on a phenomenon that underlies much of what we call modernity. That is, the instrumentalization of nature such that it becomes only another resource, or even a form of entertainment, a kind of ersatz connection to something real. Nature as tool; nature as theme park.

The upshot? Future space-dwellers may well leave their floating cities to embark on two-week, package deal trips to Earth. But if we here in the 21st-century can’t remake our relationship with nature, they’ll arrive to find their holiday destination in a state of collapse. A testament to what existed once, but is now gone forever.

The more I write NWSH, the more I think about the predicament we share in the third decade of the 21st-century. And the more I think about that predicament, the more I come to believe that the question of what to do, of how to live at this moment, underlies everything I’m trying to address with this newsletter.

I’m at work on the next evolution of our community. That question – how should I live now? – will be at its heart.

More on that coming soon. But in the meantime thanks for reading. And until Wednesday, be well,

David.


David Mattin is the founder of the Strategy and Futures Research Unit. He sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumption.