Envisioning Sustainable Futures in Science Fiction Film

Presented at the 2018 Escape Velocity conference in Washington, DC, Envisioning Sustainable Futures in Science Fiction Film explores elements of the challenge, obstacles, and efforts to envision sustainable future worlds and transitions in science fiction film. For decades, scientists have provided reports and warnings of growing global environmental and health threats – global warming, water crises, species extinctions, resource depletion and conflicts, overpopulation, and hunger. These concerns have in turn been the source of highly emotional international, national, and local policy debates as to the nature of the problems and solutions and how these might play out in the future. Cinema, especially science fiction, has drawn upon many of these same concerns in constructing future worlds and scenarios. Many of these films have thrilled audiences with frightening apocalyptic landscapes and oppressive dystopias. Another sub-genre, what might be described as “techno-fantasy,” builds stories around convenient future technological solutions allowing for interstellar flight and colonies, nanotechnical Aladdin’s lamps, and future sources of unlimited energy. While such films may be entertaining, they are not necessarily stories about how humanity might build upon current knowledge and action to effectively address our actual global threats. This presentation examines the challenge of science fiction film in constructing scientifically plausible scenarios and visions of humanity’s transition to ecologically sustainable futures. While such cinematic visions and narratives do not easily fit into the expected action vehicles identified with “science fiction”, there is nevertheless a deep and increasing need for hopeful and plausible visions of how positive futures might evolve.

The presentation explores how imagination and scientific knowledge in film can provide not simply entertainment and escape but hopeful visions and inspiration for humanity's creation of a sustainable future world.