It's time for humankind to recognize a disturbing truth: we have colonized the future. In wealthy countries, especially, we treat it like a distant colonial outpost where we can freely dump ecological damage and technological risk as if there was nobody there.
The tragedy is that tomorrow's generations aren't here to challenge this pillaging of their inheritance. They can't leap in front of the king's horse like a suffragette or stage a sit-in like a civil rights activist or go on a Salt March to defy their colonial oppressors like Mahatma Gandhi. They're granted no political rights or representation; they have no influence in the marketplace. The great silent majority of future generations is rendered powerless.
It could be hard to grasp the scale of this injustice, so look at it this way: There are 7.7 billion people alive today. That's just a tiny fraction of the estimated 100 billion people who have lived and died over the past 50,000 years. But both of these are vastly outnumbered by the nearly seven trillion people who will be born over the next 50,000 years, assuming current birth rates stabilize. In the next two centuries alone, tens of billions of people will be born, amongst them, all your grandchildren, and their grandchildren and the friends and communities on whom they'll depend. How will all these future generations look back on us and the legacy we're leaving for them?
We've clearly inherited extraordinary legacies from our common ancestors: the gift of the agricultural revolution, medical discoveries and the cities we still live in. But we've certainly inherited destructive legacies too. Legacies of slavery and colonialism and racism creating deep inequities that must now be repaired. Legacies of economies that are structurally addicted to fossil fuels and endless growth that must now be transformed. So how can we become the good ancestors that future generations deserve?
Well, over the past decade, a global movement has started to emerge of people committed to decolonizing the future and extending our time horizons towards a longer now. This movement is still fragmented and as yet has no name. I think of its pioneers as time rebels. They can be found at work in Japan's visionary Future Design movement, which aims to overcome the short-term cycles that dominate politics by drawing on the principle of seventh generation decision making practiced by many Native Americans communities.
Future Design gathers together residents to draw up and discuss plans for the towns and cities where they live. Half the group are told they're residents from the present day. The other half are given ceremonial robes to wear and told to imagine themselves as residents from the year 2060. Well, it turns out that the residents from 2060 systematically advocate far more transformative city plans, from healthcare investments to climate change action. And this innovative form of future citizens assembly is now spreading throughout Japan from small towns like Yahaba to major cities like Kyoto. What if Future Design was adopted by towns and cities worldwide to revitalize democratic decision making and extend their vision far beyond the now?
Now, time rebels have also taken to courts of law to secure the rights of future people. The organization Our Children's Trust has filed a landmark case against the US Government on behalf of 21 young people campaigning for the legal right to a safe climate and healthy atmosphere for both current and future generations. Their David versus Goliath struggle has already inspired groundbreaking lawsuits worldwide from Colombia and Pakistan to Uganda and the Netherlands. And this wave of activism is growing alongside the movement to grant legal personhood to nature, from the Whanganui River in Aotearoa, New Zealand to the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India.
Time rebels are taking action at the ballot box too. In 2019, teenagers across Europe began lobbying their parents and grandparents to give them their votes in the European parliamentary elections of that year. The hashtag #givethekidsyourvote went viral on social media and was spread by climate campaigners as far as Australia. My partner and I heard about it and decided to give our votes in the last UK general election to our 11-year-old twins. So we all sat around the kitchen table and debated the party manifestos, and they then each told us where to put the X on the ballot sheet. And in case you're wondering, no, they didn't simply mirror their parents' political opinions.
So the time rebellion has begun. The rebels are rising to decolonize the future founding a global movement for long-term thinking and intergenerational justice that may turn out to be one of the most powerful political movements of this century. They're helping us escape the short-term cycles that digital distraction and consumer culture trap us in, with the lure of the Buy Now button and 24/7 news. They inspire us to extend our time horizons from seconds and minutes to decades and far beyond.
The artist Katie Paterson's project, Future Library, will be a century in the making. Every year, a famous writer donates a book which will remain completely unread until 2114 when the whole collection will be printed on paper made from a forest of trees planted for this very purpose. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault sets its vision even further, housing millions of seeds in an indestructible rock bunker in the Arctic Circle that's designed to last 1,000 years. But how can we really think and plan on the scale of millennia?
Well, the answer is perhaps the ultimate secret to being a time rebel, and it comes from the biomimicry designer Janine Benyus, who suggests we learn from nature's 3.8 billion years of evolution. How is it that other species have learned to survive and thrive for 10,000 generations or more? Well, it's by taking care of the place that would take care of their offspring, by living within the ecosystem in which they're embedded, by knowing not to foul the nest, which is what humans have been doing with devastating effects at an ever-increasing pace and scale over the past century.
So a profound starting point for time rebels everywhere is to focus not simply on lengthening time but on regenerating place. We must restore and repair and care for the planetary home that will take care of our offspring. For our children, and our children's children, and all those yet to come, we must fall in love with rivers and mountains, with ice sheets and savannas, and reconnect with the long and life-giving cycles of nature.
Let us all become time rebels and be inspired by the beautiful Mohawk blessing spoken when a child is born: "Thank you, Earth. You know the way."