Introducing The World We Made

Phaidon editor Ellen Christie previews our Jonathon Porritt title offering a bright, optimistic vision of sustainability
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Phaidon editor Ellen Christie with a copy of The World We Made
Phaidon editor Ellen Christie with a copy of The World We Made

There can be few news stories as dispiriting as global climate change. Recent reports suggest that mankind will have to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by half within the next three decades in order to avoid a dangerous rise in the world's temperatures. However, there is a brighter narrative to be picked out. By 2050, we could be living in a world in which 90% of our energy comes from clean sources; where IT devices compute at the speed of human thought; where nanotechnology and 3D printing transforms manufacturing; and where personal genomics allows everyone to lead longer and healthier lives. This is the kind of future outlined by Britain's leading environmentalist writer and campaigner, Jonathon Porritt (founder of Forum for the Future, a global sustainability non-profit), in his new book The World We Made. Part speculative fiction, part road map towards a better world, The World We Made: Alex McKay's Story from 2050, tells the tale of how our world might turn out, from the point of view of a school history teacher living thirty-seven years hence. Read on to discover how Phaidon editor Ellen Christie helped create this incredible new title.

 

A slow travel air cruiser over Incheon Bridge, South Korea 2041
A slow travel air cruiser over Incheon Bridge, South Korea 2041

How did this title come about?

Sustainability is such an urgent issue, but it always seems to be tackled in a scare-mongering way. I think people also get put off by thinking that it’s simply a ‘green’ issue. However, as the book shows, it applies to all aspects of our lives. So there’s really a need for a positive and accessible vision of sustainability, and who better to write it than Jonathon Porritt, the Founder Director of Forum for the Future – his voice is very well known, he's a great writer and he has unparalleled knowledge on the subject.

The book's written from the viewpoint of a fictional history teacher in 2050, how did this unusual treatment come about?

Environmental sustainability can be a very daunting subject. There is a lot of coverage, and you can feel powerless. We wanted to empower the reader, reminding them that their decisions can and do make a difference. Jonathon came up with the idea of this fictional character, Alex McKay. He, or she – the name is gender neutral (though I think of Alex as a he) – is a history teacher and is about to move schools. He has quite an emotional attachment to the school he has been teaching at for 19 years, and so he gets together with sixth-form students to do a leaving project. The 'project' is this book. It's partly written as a memoir, partly an explanation of how, with the right decisions, we might be able to alter or adapt to climate change and the economic and social problems that face us now. It covers a really wide range of topics. Each entry is self-contained and written like a diary entry so the content is broken down into small nuggets of information. We have entries that cover agriculture, food and water; biodiversity and the natural world; climate change; economics and finance; energy; health and education; politics and security; society and cities; technology and manufacturing; and travel and transport. It’s great to dip in and out of.

 

BoeingAir's C2050, launched in 2028
BoeingAir's C2050, launched in 2028

How was Jonathon to work with?

After each meeting I came away with tons of new knowledge; I feel privileged to have worked so closely with him. I’ve also never met anyone who is as dedicated to their cause as Jonathon is – it was pretty inspiring.

The design is particularly compelling, isn't it?

Well, given the advent of digital media, we wanted to capture a similar feel to reading articles online, where texts are shorter and you can flick back and forth between sites. The book is full of visual elements: sketches, doodles, graphs, mock headlines, photomontages. There's always something to hook you in. You can scan through, look for something that piques your interest, and jump in.

 

Urban farming in Detroit, from The World We Made Image by Charlotte Tyson
Urban farming in Detroit, from The World We Made Image by Charlotte Tyson

Who created these visual elements?

It really was a collaborative process. Charlotte Tyson created these incredibly advanced photomontages to create a photorealistic view from 2050. Charlotte normally makes background environments for feature films; she worked on Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, as well as Total Recall and Snow White and the Hunstman. Catalogtree oversaw the infographics; they contributed to our overview of 20th Century World Architecture, and they have a very minimalistic design sensibility, presenting quite technical data in an easy-to-understand way. James Graham, who has been commissioned by The New York Times, Colors Magazine and Le Monde, drew the illustrated pages, which look as if they were torn from Alex’s own journal and which add a quirky, personal touch. Finally, Astrid Stavro, a wonderful graphic designer based in Spain, whose clients include Creative Review and The Art Directors Club of Europe, pulled the whole thing together. In all it's a really compelling package.

 

Image by James Graham
Image by James Graham

Who do you think the book will appeal to?

The beauty of the book is that you can dip in and out, learning about certain subjects at will, without being overwhelmed or growing disheartened. So in that sense, I think it will have a really broad readership: general newspaper readers; anyone concerned with current affairs and, of course, our future.

You must have learned a lot during the making of this book...

Lots! One of my favourite parts of my job is that I get to delve into many different topics. Content-wise, what struck me most was how advanced a lot of the technologies mentioned in the book already are– all of it is based on real developments. In the entry, ‘Manufacturing Reborn’, for example, Alex discusses 3D printing, biomimicry and nanotechnology. Obviously 3D printing is controversial at the moment with the printed gun demonstrating the potential repercussions of democratizing the means of production and yes, that’s a very real risk, but the book also draws attention to the benefits – a huge reduction in the amount of energy and material waste produced, for example.

 

Is this the future of cargo shipping? From The World We Made. Image by Charlotte Tyson
Is this the future of cargo shipping? From The World We Made. Image by Charlotte Tyson

In the same entry, there is an example of biomimicry (taking inspiration from design that occurs in nature), which is amazing: desert greenhouses (solar powered, of course) are designed to mimic the water harvesting techniques of the Namibian fog-basking beetle, which has little notches in its shell that capture moisture from the air, condensing it, and then the beetle tips its shell forward to drink before the water evaporates. In the same way, the greenhouses (which are already in production, see The Sahara Forest Project) are cooled by seawater piped in from the sea, and as it evaporates in the greenhouse, the incoming hot air is cooled and humidified, resulting in a much better growing environment.

 

Biomimicry draws primarily on the genius of nature - taking ideas from the natural world and applying them to our own lives
Biomimicry draws primarily on the genius of nature - taking ideas from the natural world and applying them to our own lives

What’s the part of the book that has particular resonance for you?

There are several entries that I really like. It's easy to relate to the one on genetics and see how it might affect our own future. People often are disgusted at the idea of artificial meat because it seems unnatural, but something that highlighted the importance of this development – as so much mass-produced and processed meat today is really problematic in terms of what is in it, welfare and contribution to greenhouse gases – was when the horse meat scandal broke out. Funnily, we were working on the ‘Artificial Meat’ illustrated page, and James had done a version where he included little sketches of animals. The next time we saw it, the day after the horsemeat headlines broke, a horse had joined the sketches of the usual farmyard animals! Maybe it was a subconscious thing.

Another favourite part of the book is the production of the book itself. Astrid had suggested we use lots of different papers so that it felt as if Alex had just printed it on whatever was to hand. We were determined to only include 100% recycled paper, so what you see in the book is an amazing example of the range and quality of papers available that are 100% recycled – very different from the stuff I remember at school where the ink would always bleed into the fibres. The book’s sustainability was a really interesting element and challenge for us. To make sure it was as green as possible, we worked with a printer, Pureprint, and a paper maker Arjowiggins who specialise in sustainable printing and papers. I joined the production team to see the book on press, which was fantastic.

 


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Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
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