“To make a great dream come true, the first requirement is a great capacity to dream; the second is persistence.” – Cesar Chavez
In the year 2030, an inventor created a device that enabled Cow* language to be automatically translated to human speech. It allowed Cows to communicate their thoughts to the world; they shared different topics that humans found compelling. The invention quickly gained global attention from the media and became the most talked about in popular culture, so much so that a documentary and a reality show featuring Cows were aired on TV.
Because Cows were simple, funny, and smart, more people began to see them as individuals, prompting a considerable amount of the human population to stop consuming them for food. But it was only until later, when an insider publicly leaked a speech from a survivor Cow, that more people began to pay attention.
The speech contained an emotional and chilling account of the survivor Cow’s horrific experiences while living in a farm; above all else, it revealed the anguish and pain the Cow felt upon seeing the plight of fellow animals who were unable to escape slaughter.
People were reduced to tears; they sympathized and felt guilty for having consumed burgers, milk, and steaks. But because speciesism was deeply ingrained in many others, animal rights advocates still had to fight for the freedom of animals.
It’s now 2050. Animal liberation has been achieved. It was not a smooth-sailing journey, but instead of taking hundreds of years, the straightforward yet groundbreaking invention from 20 years ago helped to fast-track progress.
This is the story that Shiela R. Castillo, Futures Learning Advisor of Center for Engaged Foresight, shared with me when I asked her what an “impossible future” for animals looked like. “Since I started working on Futures, I looked at the word impossible as a relative, rather than an absolute term. A thing is impossible [only if it is] based on a certain reference point. Things that were thought impossible in the past are now possible; even normal in the present.”
According to Castillo, we can learn a lot about the future if we looked at our past. “Although it is not the only way of learning about the future, it certainly could provide insights as to how the future can unfold. So, for me, animal liberation and achieving harmony in the animal kingdom (remember that both include humans) are not impossible futures,” she explained. “Going back to the reference point of impossibility, I would say that there is also a point of possibility.”
Shiela approaches issues with a concept called Futures Thinking. But what exactly does it mean? How is it different from just simply making predictions? Will it truly help advance the life of animals?
In this conversation, Castillo allowed a more in-depth look at the concept.
Question: What is Futures Thinking?
Castillo: Futures Thinking is a fur mom finding ways for animal health care to be accessible to all. It is an animal rights activist thinking of how animal liberation can be achieved. It is a vegan looking for new ways to encourage others to adopt the same lifestyle and make veganism mainstream. It is an entrepreneur developing a product or service not yet in the market. It is a politician pushing for animal rights policies that might seem absurd at the moment. It is an ethicist or philosopher exploring how animals rights could be enshrined in the future.
Basically, Futures Thinking is about imagining, creating, and acting for the future to transform today. Whoever you are, [may you be] a student, parent, public servant, or CEO, you have to develop your creativity and anticipatory capacity to be able to move ahead in this fast-paces world.
Q: How will Futures Thinking benefit animals?
C: The great thing about the future is that it’s not here yet. It is a completely open field and we have the agency to imagine and create it. We can shape it the way we want to. But to do that, we have to make decisions today.
And we have to act on those decisions. For me, foresight is only as good as the actions you take on them. I believe that that [actions are] the intrinsic value of foresight. Even if the only decision you make is to rethink the way you think about things, that makes foresight useful.
Alvin Toffler said that in dealing with the future, it is more important to be imaginative than to be right. Think of what you want to achieve and imagine how you would be able to achieve it, and then act on it. You will commit mistakes along the way. You might even fail. Remember that hindsight is always 20/20. But if you are not bold enough just because you are afraid to be wrong, then you are doomed to stagnancy. You are in the same cycle whether it works or not. You are not able to think and act on other, perhaps more creatuve, effective, and impactful ways. Sadly, it is not you but the animals who lose in the long run.
So, let your imagination run wild. As animals lovers and advocates, if you are doing something different, you are breaking new grounds, you are pushing the bar.
Q: How can we make an “impossible future” for animals a possibility?
C: I read Napoleon Hill when I was a kid, even before I understood many of the words in his book. But something really stuck with me: He said whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, the mind of man can achieve.
And so, we are faced now with what I think is the biggest barrier to animal liberation: lack of imagination. The only [reason] people say animal liberation is impossible is that people can’t imagine it.
Once this barrier is removed, everything else will follow – maybe not easily, but definitely with possibility. Policies will be enacted, systems will be put in place, education will embrace the concept, and it will start to seep into all aspects of life, from day-to-day living and transforming the economy and technology, to becoming the norm and being embedded in culture. It will move from the fringe to mainstream.
Q: Who needs to get involved?
C: In creating a future where all animals (including humans) live in harmony with each other, everybody needs to be involved. Governments, corporations, organizations, communities and families all have a role to play. All of these are composed of individuals, so individual actions are as important as large-scale ones.
Individuals can start by going vegan and asking governments and businesses to make policies and system changes.
Veganism does not have to be solely an individual solution; there are many ways that this can be implemented at scales and at speed. Animal advocates and animal organizations need to collaborate to find creative ways to make changes.
The future is free
As an animal advocate myself, I envision a future where animals thrive — for me, this means that cruel practices and traditions are out of the picture, places of exploitation no longer exist, nature is on its ways to healing, and new practices and policies that give all nonhuman animals protection are put in place. I envision a world where nonhuman animals are free from needless pain and suffering where humans ahve finally reached a level of consciousness that permits us to truly live in harmony with other species.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the story – let’s think about what it would be like to live in that 2050. Animal liberation will have been achieved. But what does that world actually look like? Imagine…
1. Cruel practices are illegal
Such practices include the hunting of animals (widlife, game, fishing), bloodsport (bullfighting, cockfighting, dogfighting, horseracing), wildlife trae and exotic animal-use transportation (horses, dogs, camels), animal skin use for fashion (leather, down, fur, sil, wool, hairs), roadside circuses, vivisection, and the use of animals for scientific research.
2. Places of exploitation no longer exist
Slaughterhouses will have been converted to memorial museums. Zoos and sea parks will have become animal sanctuaries. Anima shelters and pounds will have been turned into veterinary hospitals.
3. New polices are in place
A commission on animal rights will have existed in governments across the world. Laws and policies that protect all animals are strengthened. The Decalration of Animal Rights will have been passed.
Animal rights courses will have been integrated into the school curriculum.
Animals are included in contingency plans in the event of a crisis or a disaster; this includes having separate evacuation centers for humans with companion animals.
Most countries will have been utalizings vertical indoor farming, reducing harm to small animals and insects that may be unintentionally harmed by taditional farming. Most farmers will have shifted to plant farming.
Restaurants will have been predominantly plant-based, it will be more difficult to find places that serve animal-derived dishes. Most restaurants accept (or have a separate dining area for) customers with companion animals.
4. Nature begins to heal
The status of endangered species will continue to improve the general population of wildlife stabilizes. Rainforests are slowly but surely returning. The polar ice caps are freezing again; the climate crisis is curbed.
Other viruses that will have followed COVID-19 are ontained. There will have been little to no risk of pandemics.
5. The tipping point is reached
The minority will have gone way past the tipping point. Scientists believe that in order for the majority to accept an idea of belief, one needs only ten percent of the population to make the push. In the future, 40% of the human population will have gone either vegetaian or plant-based, while 35% are already vegan.
I have seen the future. What happens next?
What happens when we finally get the future that we want? Does it mean that we stop dreaming? Do we keep fighting? Is there even anything else to fight for?
Shiela had this to say: “Reaching it at one point doesn’t end the story, once achieved, the goal will be questioned, challenged, and might even be subverted.
Even Utopia is not static; there will always be disruptors. The constancy of change should keep the guardians on their toes. Future generations might find themselves fighting for something their ancestors already won.”
As we head into a new year and a new decade, we also need to offer a fresh vision of where we want the future of animals to go. It starts with us: It starts with our ideas and our dreams. This future may seem unreachable or maybe even completely impossible for now, but remember that things only ever seem impossible until they’re done.
Back to the future
Here are a few films that give us a sneak peek into the future based on the issues that we face today.
1. Endgame 2050
– Humanity has backed itself into an ecological endgame as we approach the year 2050. It’s an exploration into the existential crises bearing down on the planet, underscoring the harsh reality that were are hastening our own destruction. You can watch this documentary on YouTube.
2. Carnage by Simon Amstell
– It’s 2067: The UK is vegan, but older generations are suffering the guilt of their carnivorous past. Simon Amstell asks us to forgive them for the horrors of what they swallowed. This film can be viewed on the BBC website.
3. David Attenborough: A Life on our Planet
– A broadcaster recounts his life, and the evolutionary history of life on Earth, to grieve the loss of wild places and to offer a vision for the futre. This is available on Netflix.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s January-February issue.
You might want to read:
– Opinion: A vegan future the safest one for all felines
– How veganism affects cats (and cat owners)
– Setting the planet on fire: The effects of climate crisis on wildlife and other animals