Future Earth 2021

What will Earth look like in 2121? 10 young leaders give their predictions

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

Originally Published: 
Portraits of twn young leaders giving their predictions about what the earth will look like
Chris Barker

When people think about climate change, they might imagine a polar bear on thinning ice or the ticking climate clock on 14th street in New York City. But while these images amplify what is going on in the present, the message of climate change has always been in the future tense.

From 1880 to 2020, the global temperature rose from -0.07 to 1.02 degrees celsius. Scientists warn that warmer temperatures could exacerbate water scarcity, heat waves, and food availability. According to the Climate Action Tracker, Morocco was the only documented country that met the 1.5-degree celsius greenhouse gas emissions target under the Paris Climate Agreement.

And the countries with the highest CO2 emissions are historically the least concerned: Even when President Biden announced this Earth Day intention to cut US climate pollution by 50 percent by 2030, double the country’s previous commitment, industry leaders were left disappointed over the vagueness of how we’ll hit that target.

It’s clear that our current efforts to solve the climate crisis aren’t enough. To save Earth, we need to listen to new voices. We need to take a new approach.

For Earth Day, Inverse interviewed ten young climate communicators. From researchers talking about greenhouse gases on TikTok to activists making space for Black environmentalists on Twitter, they’re catalyzing a different kind of conversation about the climate crisis.

Each person on our list was asked the same two questions: What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121? What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

Welcome to FUTURE EARTH, where Inverse forecasts 100 years of possibilities, challenges, and who will lead the way.

Meet the future of Earth.

Chris Barker

10. Aalayna R. Green, 22, conservation social scientist, East Lansing, MI

Aalayna Green is an incoming Ph.D. student in natural resources at Cornell University.

Aalayna Green

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

In 2121, I hope that the Earth is more reflective of the sustainable practices of Indigenous peoples. They are the original stewards of the Earth, and the sooner our world can uplift their knowledge in preservation and appreciation, the sooner the Earth can be restored.

I find that conversations in the environmental space continue to exclude the voices of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. This cycle of perpetuated oppression within the environmental space will be the downfall of the Earth. We need to break this cycle of oppression, and I hope that by 2121, we will.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

I am an incoming Ph.D. student in Natural Resources at Cornell University. With my position, I seek to conduct research that is focused on food sovereignty and human-wildlife coexistence. I also seek to conduct work with Indigenous and local communities. I seek to centralize the voices of BIPOC individuals in any conversations I have regarding conservation, the environment, or food justice. I'm intentional with my activism.

9. Kevin Patel, 20, activist and founder of One Up Action, Los Angeles, CA

Kevin Patel is the founder of One Up Action, Los Angeles.

Kevin Patel

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

I just hope that in 2121, we don’t have people who don’t have a roof over their head, who don’t have access to clean water, and that we've solved issues of environmental racism.

Environmental racism, both in practice and policy, put in place right now currently affects marginalized communities across the nation. I hope that we move away from these destructive industries, destructive to not only our communities but to the planet as well. I hope we go toward renewable energy and solutions actually going to help the planet.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

I’m the executive director of One Up Action and I push for youth climate commission across the nation and around the world. That’s the work I’m doing to make sure that the leaders of today are advocates and change-makers. I’m a firm believer that young people need the resources to do that.

When I first got started in activism, I had no resources, I had no support, and no mentorship. I don’t want another young person to feel that way. And that’s the reason why I started.

8. Belinda Chiu, 28, environmental justice activist and founder of A Healthy Blueprint, New York, NY

Belinda Chiu shares lessons on environmental justice and low-impact living.

Belinda Chiu

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

As someone who grew up in New York City, I see so much opportunity in reconnecting with and respecting nature and our neighbors. I hope that, as the global population grows and cities continue to transform, we find ways to embrace biophilia and community. To me, this will look like more green spaces (e.g. parks, community gardens, food forests, green roofs), especially in formerly predominantly Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income neighborhoods.

“I see so much opportunity in reconnecting with and respecting nature and our neighbors.”

I want to see more regional food systems, universal composting programs, no more litter in our oceans and cities, and a successful transition away from single-use products and toward the adoption of a global circular economy.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

Using my platform A Healthy Blueprint, I cover topics on intersectional environmentalism, my low impact living journey, composting, food sovereignty, and more. Here in New York City, I've been so encouraged by the community coming together to support one another during the pandemic. I've met a fantastic group of people through volunteering with the #SaveOurCompost coalition and joining the Climate Reality Project NYC Chapter after getting trained as a Climate Reality Leader over the summer. Getting involved with local groups is one of the best ways to effect change within our communities, so I hope my contributions can make an incremental impact on the future I envision.

7. Nat Young, 25, a masters student at Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

What I see in my field of entomology, and in the larger scientific community, is empty spaces. There are so many people missing from this field. Black people, brown people, queer people, disabled people. I cheer for the representatives that I do see, but still, I mourn the lack of representation as a whole.

Those folks that are in these fields are tough, and from the stories I have heard and from personal experience, we have had to endure a lot to get to where we are. These spaces seldom support underrepresented scientists, nor applaud diverse opinions. So often "diversity and inclusion" means one diversity hire and a book club. There is a persisting reluctance for systemic change.

This is not only in America. This spreads wide. Dark-skinned folks, queer folks, and disabled folks are denied opportunities in many different countries, entirely barred from access in others. This damage will take decades to undo. In 2121, I hope that scientists from underrepresented backgrounds are truly included. It doesn't seem a lot to ask, but if the last century has taught us anything, it's the stubbornness of prejudice, the unchanging nature of hate, and the many tiptoes it takes to achieve liberation.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

In my work, I bring with me the philosophy of Building While Breaking. In the house of Building, I work on ways to create the inclusive community of my dreams. This includes visibility weeks like #BlackinEnto, spotlighting underrepresented scientists, giving seminars on inclusivity, adapting curricula, and advocating for policy changes that benefit these communities.

“I bring with me the philosophy of Building While Breaking.”

The Breaking category is a little more difficult for folks to swallow. At the same time as building the scientific community I want to see, I recognize that these institutions were not made for us. No matter how much I build, there are systemic issues that plague academia and need to be broken. To break, I protest campus police, lead workshops on disarming police, decolonize curricula by dispelling myths of white fathers of science, and demand the replacement of practices that oppress underrepresented communities. I hope that others will join in my quest to build safe spaces where underrepresented folks can be celebrated rather than tolerated and to tear down the system that has prevented this liberation for so long.

6. Zachary Labe, 28, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO

Zachary Labe is a climate scientist with 35K followers on Twitter.

Zachary Labe

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

I am a climate scientist, and to be honest, I hope Earth looks nothing like the data I work with every day. In other words, I hope Earth looks nothing like the current projections from climate models for 2121. We are at an important reflection point in how we think about nature and our relationship with energy. We know that without systematically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions that there will be devastating consequences to ecosystems, biodiversity, and global society.

“I hope Earth looks nothing like the data I work with every day.”

Climate change is a global challenge. It is one that further exacerbates inequalities. But I am optimistic for 2121. I see a world that has a clean and diverse energy portfolio. A world that supports evidence-based science and one that reduces existing disparities in marginalized and minoritized communities. I see a world in 2121 that has big challenges — climate change is already here in 2021 and causing a mess. But for future generations, I hope we have clearly avoided the worst-case climate change scenarios.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

In addition to my research, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to better communicate science. To solve a challenge, like climate change, you need to talk about it. So to start a conversation about it, I share data. Basically, I share visuals of data on social media to show indicators of climate change in real-time. I've found that data visualization is a powerful and accessible tool to communicate the current and future impacts of climate change. It allows any audience to engage with the scientific data and watch it change over time.

Take Arctic sea ice. We know Arctic sea ice is shrinking. I can also tell you specifically that Arctic sea-ice extent is decreasing by about 13 percent per decade. But what if I show you and let the data tell a story about the changing Arctic? I am constantly thinking about new ways to tell climate change stories through data and how we can use these visuals to start conversations.

Of course, I realize that this is a small answer to a big challenge. But we have to start somewhere. And we need all voices at the table to avoid those worst-case climate change scenarios in 2121. My advice: talk about it.

5. Wanjiku Wawa Gatheru, 22, environmental justice advocate, Hartford, CT

Environmental justice advocate Wanjiku Gatheru is the founder of the platform Black Girl Environmentalist.

Wanjiku Gatheru

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

I hope that we’re freed of carceral state, that prisons are obsolete, and that people are able to live a life beyond survival. And I hope that we can move beyond a capitalist system toward a future where people can live their full lives authentically, without having to fear poverty, racism, or any oppressive system.

I look up to and seek a lot of guidance from abolitionists. In order to solve a climate crisis and make sure that we’re not in this place again, we need to dismantle oppressive systems. The prison industrial complex exists as an oppressive state. I simply can’t think of or legitimize a just future that validates a system that is oppressive in nature.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

I’m currently a grad student at the University of Oxford and a lot of the work that I do is actually outside of the classroom. I’ve been in the environmental movement for the past six years. Something I’ve found is we aren’t adequately prepared to ensure the solutions we’re providing are founded within the expertise and experiences of frontline people, particularly folks from the most affected areas and people of color.

I see my place in this movement as doing what I can to ensure that Black girls, Black women, and Black non-binary environmentalists have that space we deserve. I’m also the founder of Black Girl Environmentalist, which is a community that intentionally serves Black girls, Black women, and Black non-binary environmentalists.

4. Lydia Jennings, 35, soil scientist, Tucson, AZ

Lydia Jennings is an expert in environmental remediation, Indigenous science, and mining policy.

Lydia Jennings

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

I hope that we continue to have green spaces and water resources. I’m in the Sonoran Desert so I think of iconic plants and animals like saguaro cactuses that are keystone species for climate change. I hope that we continue to have things like the monsoon rainstorms that come in the summertime, even just continuing to have a diurnal rain cycle of soft, gentle winter rains, and then our more intense monsoon rains.

And I bring those up because those are becoming less and less frequent. Rain in general, but particularly our monsoon rains. So I think for the Sonoran Desert, specifically those iconic cactuses that bring so many people, plants, and animals around here.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

I am a soil microbiologist repairing the land after they’ve been impacted by mining. I think that work has really led me to think a lot more about how Indigenous knowledge is incorporated into things like restoration, or even just having Indigenous viewpoints incorporated into conversations we have about ecological challenges that were primarily created by non-Indigenous peoples. I’m really excited to amplify Indigenous knowledge and expertise at the forefront of those conversations.

3. Tori Tsui, 27, intersectional climate activist and mental health advocate, Bristol & Hong Kong

Climate activist and organizer Tori Tsui has 32.2K followers on Instagram.

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

I’m hoping that climate justice and the intersecting of different movements become the focal point of environmentalism. I’m hoping these movements become stronger and work together to dismantle systems of oppression that harm people and the planet.

The climate crisis is one of the most all-encompassing issues we face, and unsurprisingly it has its roots in systems of oppression that continue to exist. I truly believe that everybody has a reason to engage in climate activism. For me, there’s obviously an individual vested interest in trying to campaign for a more just future, but also I think we need to normalize caring about others and the planet.

I am more specifically a climate justice activist, so for me, I want to be dismantling all aspects of oppression that feed into this crisis and how it impacts most affected people and areas.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

By employing a more intersectional lens and reaching out to movements, we can seek common goals and build coalitions to ensure universal justice.

Whenever I move through spaces that what I advocate for is climate justice. So if environmentalism is touting solutions that continue to harm the earth and marginalised people, I call into question how sustainability and climate activism can be more inclusive.

That being said it can be quite difficult to keep tabs on all aspects of climate justice, which is why I advocate for progress not perfectionism. I co-run a collective with other activists called Bad Activist which tries to dismantle perfectionism whilst striving for accountability. We are inherently radical by nature but try to leave room for nuance in discussions and make sure that we’re talking about as many intersecting issues as possible.

1/2. Malik and Miles George, both 21, science communicators and current students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Malik and Miles George have 52.6K followers on TikTok.

What do you hope Earth looks like in 2121?

We’d like to see at least 75 percent of all energy be green. Realistically, we would like to say all of it. But in 100 years, we hope we have 75 percent nonfossil fuel.

What are you doing now to make sure that happens?

In the long term, to study biological engineering. Ideally, in the future, we can make more sustainable ways of energy, food, and maybe wild materials and biofuels and things of that nature.

In the short term, we do a lot of science communication about the environment through primarily social media. We also provide STEM education to young people, teach them about science and why it’s important.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for brevity.

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