Learning to Lose Hope at the Futuredome

On a recent excursion to Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth, I visited their new ‘Futuredome’ exhibit. Like a planetarium, the exhibit featured a dome-shaped ceiling, onto which a movie was projected for the reclining audience to watch. This particular version also had buttons for each person to vote on various issues presented, collectively choosing the course of the movie. The audience was split into three groups, and each group focused on a different topic. As suggested by the name, the overall theme was time travel, teaching children that their choices today can affect the world of the future.

In theme and purpose, the Futuredome is an admirable project. But in presentation, it is a stunning failure. Its current trio of issues — energy, population, and water — is crucial to explore, but nearly impossible to condense into a fifteen-minute, child-friendly show. The end result did little but trumpet common assumptions and present false dichotomies without challenging the economic structures that have led to our present crises.

In one section, fossil fuels were presented as the only ‘affordable’ energy solution, despite rising prices, the costs of pollution, and escalating global instability related to their use. Climate change was presented as the single negative result of petroleum consumption, but renewables were presented as hopelessly inadequate, and conservation (aside from forced rationing) was not mentioned at all. Discussion of nuclear power ignored the role of fossil fuels in building new reactors and obtaining uranium, and neglected to mention that uranium is actually a limited resource.

In the other sections, water was examined as just another resource to exploit, rather than considering its wider role in global life-support systems. Genetically-engineered crops and state-mandated limits to family size were presented as the only solutions to overpopulation.

Obviously, the Futuredome is meant to teach that there are no perfect solutions or easy answers. But by divorcing issues from their wider contexts and ignoring their root causes, it perpetuates the linear, reductionist kind of thinking that created those issues to begin with. By offering scenarios drenched in political bias, children learn to equate single-mindedness with objectivity. The status quo was presented as the best of all possible situations, without a whisper that things might be better if we manage to change our ways. According to the Futuredome, the world can only get worse.

In seeking to go beyond short-termism, the Futuredome has merely expanded the pitfalls of our quick-fix society. This does nothing to develop our next generation of problem-solvers, and it does much to stunt the growth of their critical reasoning skills. By failing to question the assumptions that led to our problems, they will never be solved. By failing to offer visions worth working for, children are taught to give up before they’ve even begun.

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