Speculative climate futures
Otera is a fictional marketplace offering accommodation and traveling services for people affected by the climate crisis. Through a combination of foresight research and dark humor storytelling, the project aims at creating conversations around the relationship among climate change, living space, and capitalism.
Through this piece of speculative design, we encourage viewers to think about the following questions.
How would our living space be affected at the future peak of the climate crisis?
What could possibly go wrong with a capitalistic system in the face of climate change?
How might a world recovering from climate change look like?
Instead of traditional design thinking, the project adopted the Strategic Foresight framework to extrapolate trends and weak signals. The end result is not meant to be a solution to climate change, but an interactive story provoking thoughts on the future trajectory of climate change and its impact on our living space.
The first step of Strategic Foresight is to determine the domain and foresight horizon. We chose "The Future of Living under Climate Change by 2042" because climate change is one of the biggest threat to the humanity in the next few decades. Given our current ignorance and inaction, it is important to study the extreme scenarios to generate useful insights and raise awareness around the issue.
As we moved to the scanning stage, we mapped out all the climate-related topics and issues discussed by the media, academia and the public. This allowed us to identify trends and weak signals that affect how people, organizations and societies in the future may react to climate change.
Based on the trends and weak signals from the scanning stage, we forecasted a set of future scenarios and ranked them based on their likelihood. At the end, we decided to postulate a future that is neither too far-fetched nor too obvious. This allows us to craft a relatable yet unexpected story in the final stage.
Different from Strategic Foresight in a commercial setting, we did not restrict the chosen future to be positive or constructive in nature. In fact, a somewhat dystopian but not entirely pessimistic future would make the story feel more credible and provocative.
The specific scenario we chose in the forecasting stage was further explored in the envisioning stage. We extrapolated a set of phenomena and events and used them to build a cohesive narrative around Climate Capitalism. We also speculated two potential philosophical perspectives that may emerge in this future - Neo-nomadism and Co-existentialism.
Before the execution, we backtracked the scenario from the envisioned future to the present by developing a series of news headlines that captured the events happening between the two ends of the time interval. These would help back the story by building a more complete worldview and providing plot materials.
In the final execution, we designed a collection of speculative artifacts for a fictional company called Otera. These include company posters, promotional pamphlets, and an interactive website. In other words, if we could visit the postulated future for 10 seconds with a time machine, these would be the artifacts we choose to bring back for examination.
The posters showcased two examples of seasoning housing. The left side is a waterproof house in seasonally flooded regions submerged under water until the flood recedes. The right side is a house in an area suffering from heat wave that use indoor plants for natural cooling. We speculated that with the help of advanced construction technologies, extreme architecture became a common type of listing in the marketplace.
The pamphlet detailed the mission and product offerings of Otera. Significant reduction in originally livable areas allowed Otera to quickly monopolize the global housing market by buying underdeveloped lands predicted to be climate shelters. Besides, Otera offers disaster tourism services for people who want to visit disaster zones as an adventure.
The Otera website is an Airbnb-like online marketplace offering housing and travel experiences to customers ranging from climate refugees and resourceful individuals. Through an interactive and immersive web browsing experience, we aim to make the viewers feel like they are browsing a fully functioning website in the exact future that Otera is in.
Otera supports the "living" of both the rich people who can afford climate-resistant housing and the poor people whose living conditions depend heavily on the extreme weather. Users, including neo-nomads and co-existentialists, can filter the search result by the types of terrain, locations, prices, and weather conditions.
On the listing page, the detailed amenities and restrictions are listed. A video showing the nearby weather conditions is also provided. Users have to pay in Universal Carbon Dollar using supported blockchain wallet.
A live version of the website (only supporting desktop) is available at https://otera.world.
Such an absurd future is already here to some extent. The coming ice-free summers of the Northwest Passage will lower the cross-continent shipping expense of international companies. A few organizations have already been selling carbon credits from trees that are not in danger of destruction. Some corporates are buying these inflated carbon credits to reduce on-paper carbon footprint and boost their ESG score.
We hope this project could alert key decision makers and the general public that, while fighting against climate change, we should also beware of letting extreme capitalism sneak in.