Blog post #13: How to predict the future?

My colleagues and I are facilitating a seminar at Leuphana University of Lüneburg this fall semester – in the famous Leuphana Semester, where students no matter which undergradute study program and major they are going to study, embark on their very first research project together. The motto could be collaboration before disciplinary education.

The title of the seminar we are facilitating is “And they lived happily ever after” – Sustainability Stories in Literature, Film, and Media. What motivated us to offer this seminar was the question of “What are the effects of deliberately dealing with the media in order to sensitise one’s own sustainability awareness?”

After some years of research in the field of Sustainability Higher Education, in the Educating Future Change Agents research project, we are now eagerly trying to put theory and insights gained into practice.

We presented the Sustainable Development Goals and the Key Competencies in Sustainability (Wiek et al. 2011) as analysis frameworks. A literary piece we recently suggested for analysis was Jostein Gaarder’s book “2084 – Nora’s World” [German version]. “2084” calls to mind George Orwell’s novel “1984”. Both pieces demonstrate futures-thinking, one of the key competencies described by Wiek et al. (2011), in terms of imagining how the world might look like at a certain point in future, particularly without any major interventions which could prevent the unpleasant scenarios portrayed in these books.

Although the chapter we discussed in class drew a not so motivating future scenario in front of our eyes, with apps indicating which species just got extinct every other second (biodiversity actually already being now a planetary boundary we have crossed, see Rockström et al. 2009), Nora’s World definitely does not leave the reader like after this chapter: disillusioned with the times ahead of us. Nora, the 16 year old protagonist, would fit quite well in the Friday-for-Futures crowd. Is she a change agent? If we take the key competencies in sustainability as a framework for analysis, let’s see:

She seems to have a certain level of systems-thinking competence, seeing the interconnections between the dromedary camels outside her window in Norway and global warming provoked by the pace we burn fossil fuels.

Although she dreams about what the future will look like if we do not change right here right now – let’s say she has futures-thinking competence, even if while asleep.

If Nora wasn’t concerned about other people and what global warming does to them, without this interpersonal competence of empathy and values-thinking competence, keeping in mind that there are principles such as human rights granting dignity to all humans, she probably wouldn’t start an initiative with her friend (SDG 13: Climate Action).

Did Nora create a desirable vision as well? If yes, does she have strategic-thinking competence, which allows her to realize her vision in clearly identified steps, also keeping potential uncertainties in mind? Maybe. I shouldn’t reveal the entire story as I want to give several people in my surrounding Nora’s World as a present. And I can only highly suggest it to you.

Nora has not only the skill to effectively communicate facts but also to compassionately engage in conversations. Bringing a message across nowadays, given the steady information-input we expose ourselves consciously or unconsciously to, is not an easy task. I wonder whom “she”, with this book, is reaching – and what it will trigger in the reader.

Nora’s World might be a fictious story – but it couldn’t be more contemporary. We live in times of change. Sure, that’s scary. What might be a remedy, though, to say it with Abraham Lincoln’s words:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

How shall life on earth 2084 look like? Let´s be visionary! If you want to share your vision of a desirable future, feel free to e-mail me:



Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al. (2009), A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461, pp. 472–475.

Wiek, A., Withycombe, L. and Redman, C.L. (2011b), Key competencies in sustainability. A reference framework for academic program development, Sustainability Science, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 203–218.

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