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Future Ancestor

living for the future

a film by. Josue Rivas
Country. canada
RUN time. 10:12 Min

“Fueled by prayer and bone broth, Lyla is an unlikely candidate who reveals a new vision for leadership, urging us to “think seven generations ahead.”
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future generations thinking

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a crisis of
the present

Though the climate crisis is often seen as a crisis of matter and physicality, it is also a crisis of time and perspective. Modern global capitalism is underpinned by the neoliberal ideology, which operates as if it is trapped in a never-ending present excluded from the ramifications of the past and the future.

But the way we live our lives and who we live them for is brought into stark focus by the ticking clock of climate breakdown. Learning from indigenous concepts and non-western philosophies that prioritise loving future peoples and living in ways that benefit everyone is a key method to help us achieve climate justice.

Just as parents raise children and grandparents live to see their grandchildren into the world, we must think of those who don’t exist yet and ask ourselves how we can create a world that is safe and equitable for them

future generations thinking

It is important to foreground this topic by saying that the climate crisis is here now and Future Generations Thinking is just as important to people living on the front lines of the climate crisis today as it is for those who come after us. Future Generations Thinking is not just another euphemistic way to view the climate crisis as a far off, future threat to economically and geographically shielded western countries. It is a targeted ideology that aims to find real, practical solutions to revolutionise how we live to service the future of people living today and secure the rights of future generations.

Lyla’s 7 day fast was representative of the Seventh Generation Principle, an indigenous ideology that urges the current generation of humans to live and work for the benefit of people seven generations in the future. The Seventh Generation Principle was first written in The Great Law of Haudenosaunee Confederacy — a native north American society — in 1142 to 1500 AD. For the Haudenosaunee, whose society was one of the world’s first democracies, law, society and nature are equal partners and each plays an important role in sustaining life.

Indigenous protestors march for their ancestors who have already lived whilst also living for the future generations of descendants who are yet to come
“We need to practice planting seeds that will bear fruit that we will never taste. We need to practice loving things that we will never meet, people we will never see because we’ll be lone gone. We need to have that kind of mentality.”
Lyla June Johnston

This sort of really long term thinking can be hard to comprehend to those who live in a modern, western society. The immediacy of our fast-moving lifestyle distorts how we interact with nature, future generations and other processes that operate on the scale of ‘deep time’ — John McPhee’s term for geological time occurring over centuries and millennia. We rarely have any incentive to think on this elongated time scale as none of our current societal framework rewards people for considering questions like how their great great grandchild will have access to clean water.

The future is assumed as some guaranteed fact — an inalienable right that humanity’s actions cannot change. Indeed most electoral cycles last for either 4 or 5 years, meaning governments are incentivised to make policies that boost the economy in the short term to help them stay in power, removing their capacity to truly plan for the future. Our electoral systems also fail to adequately represent the interests of everyone under the age of 18, leaving them disenfranchised from the decision making processes that organise society and decide their futures.

Western society and the environmental movement can learn from many aspects of Future Generations Thinking, from its commitment to creating practical solutions for sustainable societies to how it takes pieces of ideology from sustainable, indigenous societies throughout global history and collages them into a new way of thinking. In this way Future Generations Thinking becomes an amalgamation of the best human thought throughout history, using the wisdom of our collective experience to create real solutions for the future. We can see this in action with the adoption of indigenous land regeneration techniques in western movements for regenerative agriculture and global movements against desertification.

Lyla June Johnston in a quiet moment during her political campaign
“We’re connected to the first Indians who walked on this earth, the very first ones, however long ago that was. But we’re also connected to those Indians who aren’t even born yet, who are going to walk this earth. And our job in the middle is to bridge that gap. You take the inheritance from the past, you add to it, your ideas and your thinking, and you bundle it up and shoot it to the future.”
Rick Hill Sr, Chair of the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on NAGPRA
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securing our rights to the present and the future

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the dots

the un put together this map tanking countries overall progress on all the SDG's

how does your country rank
on sustainable development?

securing our rights to the future and the present

The practical side of Future Generations Thinking looks at sustainable development and governance, searching to establish global legal principles such that current policies and actions are less focused on the immediate and more on the very long term. The climate crisis doesn’t see borders or nations and therefore demands international and global policy unity in order to deal with the the many long term challenges it will bring. International unity is being fostered by the climate justice movement’s global focus and, in particular, what the ecologist John Bellamy Foster calls ‘species consciousness’: an increasing sense of universalist identification with humanity and other species. In our increasingly globalised world, where individuals living thousands of miles away are connected in seconds via the internet, it has never been easier to relate to other people. The environmental movement is taking advantage of this more and more through coalitions and solidarity that stretches beyond borders to help pressure politicians to build the same type of unity on the policy.

Policy unity can come from international organisations at the government level. The EU’s emissions trading scheme ensures that businesses in countries across the EU have to report and reduce their emissions over time - strengthening international commitments to a long term emissions reduction policy. However critics of the scheme have pointed out its willingness to allocate emissions allowances for high-emitting sectors and failures to meet its emissions goals. As international consensus is difficult to achieve, especially as the election system cycles out willing governments for obstructive regimes, international bodies like the EU and the UN are important institutions of future thinking policy making.

The EU is a crucial body for building international policy unity that can pass laws that guarantee prosperity for future generations

Legislative progress in this area is slow but there have been some victories. The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which was introduced in 2015, requires all 44 public bodies in Wales to work towards seven goals:

• A globally responsible Wales
• A prosperous Wales
• A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh Language
• A resilient Wales
• A healthier Wales
• A more equal Wales
• A Wales of cohesive communities

The sustainable development principle requires public bodies to work collaboratively, and listen to what people say. This has led to revised local wellbeing plans where poor public transport is seen as fuelling poverty in the long term. The post of Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, currently occupied by Sophie Howe, was subsequently created to hold the Welsh government and public bodies to account on sustainable development principles. The Commissioner has statutory powers and is independent of government. She has “name and shame” powers to challenge unsustainable practices as she did in 2019, when she worked with civil society to get the Welsh government to reject a planned motorway being built on grounds of both cost and the environment.

There are other ways to shift policy to focus on securing our future. New Zealand has added a wellbeing budget which aims to entrench mental health, indigenous community investment and climate policies in the long term economic planning of a country - leaving behind the obsession with GDP in favour of creating a happier, more sustainable country. Putting in place structures and budgets which look towards the wellbeing of a society acts as a safety net for people in the present whilst helping to guide us to create a kinder society for future generations.

Law is another key avenue for achieving long term change. From the recent Dutch court ruling that Shell must cut its emissions by 2030 to attempts to enshrine the rights of indigenous peoples in law, the law is able to hold short-termist governments to account and protect future-focused principles. Legal charities such as Client Earth have the power to challenge governments on issues — such as when they took the UK government to court on air pollution and won — and their commitment to establishing legal precedents that help ensure the long term safety of future peoples in law is another key part of living with future generations in mind.

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how do we untangle this mess?

but, practically, where do you even start?


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curation Ally Lantz
written Jake Coleman
art direction Susanna Basso
director Josue Rivas
country Candada
run 10:12 min

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