Made by Mary Mark and Dror Margalit
We are currently witnessing unprecedented consequences of climate change, where July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. With such vast global changes, it is hard to imagine what life will feel like in the foreseeable future. Yet, despite the extreme uncertainty, we have to make decisions today that will affect generations to come. To help guide decisions and understand the implications of our collective actions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a global scientific community on climate change – proposed five storylines of climate and social trajectories.
Reflecting Forward is an interactive video installation that invites viewers to ponder the possible climate futures. The scientific community and IPCC present a set of plausible scenarios ranging from “most optimistic” to “avoid at all costs” that paint a picture of five possible global development and emission paths and their consequences. Using stories and visual imagery inspired by the data from these scenarios, the piece provides a glimpse of what alternative future realities could mean for each one of us.
The central object of Reflecting Forward is a mirror. As viewers approach and spend more time with their reflection, the mirror begins to reveal snapshots of the future. The visuals are reactive to the viewers’ movements through which they can explore the relationship between the local and global environments. Twelve stories that mark the crucial shifts in the climate throughout the five scenarios (i.e.,+1C, +2C, +3C, and +4C global temperature increase) are generated through an iterative and collaborative process with generative AI.
Altogether, Reflecting Forward uses scientific data not only to explore what the future of climate change could look like but also how it might feel. It allows viewers to reflect on the implications of collective actions in their local environment and see how they connect to the rest of the world. As people engage with the mirror, they are invited to envision what kind of future they want to live in and what they are willing to do for it.
Future climate stories
SSP5-8.5, +1.5C, 2028
It is 2025 in the heart of the Amazon, an emerald womb of the world struggling under an iron sky. But seasons do not change like they used to. The bountiful rain and the earthy scent in the wind has been replaced by the ominous crackling of wildfire, echoing like a death knell. The vibrant chorus of the jungle slowly hushes, as if holding its breath, bracing for the encroaching inferno. Under that life-choking veil of smoke, survival is a daily combat. But even as Mother Nature holds her breath, the world around the Amazon continues its relentless dance with fossil fuel and the promise of economic growth and prosperity. Technological marvels thunder around the globe, their echo drowned in the hushed whispers of the dying jungle
SSP5-8.5, +2C, 2042
In the throbbing heart of the vast, arid expanse of Central Africa, an old man glares at the cruel-taunting sun that hangs perpetually in the sky. The wind carries whispers of a time when the earth cradled lush greens, a time that may as well be a fantasy. Maize stalks, once golden, lie wilted and beaten into the parched earth, never to rise again.
The waterhole, once teeming with life, is now reduced to a withering pit. Mortality haunts the animal kingdom; all species succumb to this lethal heat.
In the hardened calluses on old man’s feeble hands are untold stories of forced migrations, of life and death battles for habitable lands. The year is 2041 and the earth, angered by years of exploitation, is unforgiving, yet the man stubbornly clings on, a testament to defiant human spirit.
SSP5-8.5, +3C, 2065
Heavy air clings to us like a shroud, the stifling heat causing everything and everyone to move sluggishly. Even time seems to have slowed down, wearied by the relentless sun. Sweat drips from my brow, tracing rivulets down my leathery skin. As we prey for the heat to stop, we remember how a few mere months ago floods have swept up more than just our possessions, they carried away pieces of our identity, leaving us treading in its path, holding onto any semblance of hope. New technologies rise around us, mirages, in steel and glass, mocking our frantic efforts for survival. Our faith wavered, with the dying sunlight. We thought we could manage this, could engineer our way past nature's fury. We were wrong. Our once populated streets are now the domain of relentless heat that slowly siphons our spirits away. The unrelenting iron grip of climate change tightens, and in its merciless grasp, we find our lives, reduced to mere survival. The chilling truth now resounds in our hearts - we traded the cool breath of Mother Nature for this searing district of despair.
SSP5-8.5, +4C, 2085
The sun blazes defiantly on a barren world named Earth. Dust swirls where dense forests once stood, currents of air whipping them into tornados that dance across the sickly brown landscape. Farmers cursed with relentless drought measure their lives in failed harvests. In the heart of this desolation, a man named Samuella clings to survival.
Once a botanist, Samuella now tends flora that barely resemble what she'd studied. Their leaves waxy against the heat, stems sun-bleached and brittle. Each day, she wakes to the bone-dry incandescence, coaxing life from the parched ground. Water is precious; most of it kept underground to avoid evaporation. Every drop goes to her plants and her own parched throat.
Samuella hopes. She must. As the sun turns the world to furnace, the hope keeps her alive. What was once a world teeming with life, is now a testament to resilience. Samuella, the plant caretaker, refuses to yield.
SSP3-7.0, +1.5C, 2031
Nestled in the heart of Appalachia, the quaint town of Smoky Pine faces the trials of a changing world. Smoky Pine is wilting, the summer heat no longer a passing grip, but a relentless oppressor. Days are searing, nights, a mockery of respite. The quaint cabins now tin boxes under an unyielding sun. Unseen hands stoke the fiery heat, making the once verdant greens stoop to the might of a relentless summer.
The Pine River, their pride, is a lethargic serpent struggling to beat mind-numbing heat, its playful gush reduced to a wheezing trickle. It's not just the heat. It's the silence. The woods, once teeming with nature's orchestra, echo a disturbing quietude. The black bears, the red foxes, a memory receding every passing day. The town’s souls weathered by harsh winter's kiss now dream of cold. In Smoky Pine, the seasons of joy are remembered, retold, relived, but mostly in past tense.
SSP3-7.0, +2C, 2047
In the sweltering heart of 2047, we huddle in our homes tucked away in the foothills of Cordillera de Talamanca, the whisper of the last Volcano Hummingbird echoing through barren trees, her color lost to our children's memory. The air's sticky embrace was once a welcome, tropical caress, but now, it's a deadly stranglehold reminding us of our wrongs.
Dirt roads crumble into neglect as our once bustling markets now stand empty. Increasing precipitation drowns our crops, leaving marshes as mocking reminders of crop fields.
A far cry from the abundant paradise of our ancestors, we hunker stubbornly amidst an environment gasping for breath beneath the crushing weight of our ambitions. Yet, the biggest irony of all, is that we are less afraid of dying than we are of admitting we were wrong.
SSP3-7.0, +3C, 2076
In the sultry tropics of Southeast Asia, an old fisherman named Anh steps into his slender, well-worn boat. Sweat pours down his weathered face, a constant reminder of the merciless heat - a devilous monster that never relents. Day by day, his nets come up emptier. The vibrant, diverse aquatic life of his youth, which once teemed beneath the azure surface, now more legend than reality. The rising temperatures have created a deadly playground for the once friendly waters. With hollowed eyes, he takes in the sparse, singed vegetation around him - victims of encroaching changes, a cruel thief robbing them of their lushness. Anh heaves a sigh resonating with the collective fatigue of his village - their resiliency tested and worn. His dreams are haunted by the ghost of the past. But as the sun relentlessly scorches, dreams fade as swiftly as the receding shoreline.
SSP2-4.5, +1.5C, 2031
In the heart of bustling Tokyo, the mercury rises steadily, a concrete testament to humanity's struggle against a warming planet. People scurry through the streets, their masks a shield against the relentless heat. Amid this infantry of survival, a young girl Miko daydreams about the ocean's blue waves, now carrying warm current. She remembers the colorful fish species she admired in picture books, now losing their homes to warmer waters. The hills, once green with vegetation, now echo with the mourning of displaced wildlife. Meanwhile, her father, a salaryman, grapples with economic uncertainties and the societal strain. Yet, amidst this turbulence, Tokyo's spirit remains unwavering. The city diligently forges ahead, with slow steps towards a new reality. As her bedtime story, Miko hears about the resilience of her people and dreams of a future where her city embraces both progress and the planet.
SSP2-4.5, +2C, 2053
On a sprawling vineyard in the heart of France, a vintner wakes to yet another unnaturally warm morning. Her landscape, once profoundly in sync with the seasons, trembles under the yoke of an abnormal temperature increase. As the searing sun blazes overhead, the grapevines struggle to fruit . Seasons of irregular precipitation have taken a toll, with winters deluging once peacefully glazed terrains. The vineyard, once a beacon of agrarian prosperity, teeters on the brink of survival, trapped in a tug-of-war between flooding and droughts.
Life, however, clings stubbornly. The vintner experiments with newer, resilient grape varieties that can withstand the climate’s cruel tricks. Wines taste different; the nostalgia of traditional flavors is a luxury of the past. Innovation becomes a pathway to survival. As the wine world wrestles with the implications of climate change, life goes on in the vineyard, bittersweet as a half-empty glass of wine.
SSP1-2.6, +1.5C, 2033
Bangkok clamors beneath a relentless sun. The high temperature is climbing up beyond the hot summer days, beating down on a thriving city now, more than ever, aware of its environmental role. Buildings, once just concrete towers, are cloaked in a second skin, retrofitted for a new era of energy efficiency. Schoolchildren learn in cool classrooms while rooftop gardens bustle with life, each an oasis in the urban desert. Meanwhile, the Chao Phraya River teems with activity as new hydropower turbines are being installed - a testament to Thailand's pivot to renewable energy. In the heart of the city, new technology hums, silently sipping power from the sun and wind. But as night falls and the heat lingers, not everyone in the city reaps the benefits of the technological breakthroughs. Many are left wondering how they will make it through this relentless summer heat. Bangkok adapts, fights, survives: a testament to a world in flux, blazoned by climate change.
SSP1-1.9, +1.5C, 2035
In the heart of Africa, 2033 arrives with sweltering heat. Shadows shorten under the intense midday sun, and rivers, once raging, trickle into dusty beds. People wrestle with the heat, the air heavy like a woolen blanket on a summer's day. Yet, there's an air of hope, resilient like the Baobab standing tall in the savannah.
The village teacher, now runs her lessons in the cool dawn light. Energy efficiency is not just a promise now, it is a necessity. Newly retrofitted clay huts offer soothing respite, resembling giant termite mounds, designed by nature to weather such scorching climes.
The world around is changing. An enormous solar array hums softly at the outskirts of the village. It's not a rival to the sun's fury, but a harness of its energy to light, to cook, and to communicate with the world beyond. Farmers discuss carbon sequestration as they sow, as comfortable with the concept as with their ploughs.
In a world heating up, they adapt and seize each opportunity to turn the desert greener, to breathe cleaner and to live better.
SSP1-1.9, +1.5C, 2071, decreasing
In the shadow of towering steel giants painted with the brilliance of solar cells, a young girl, Lin, soars on borrowed wings. Her hands tightly gripping the throttle of her electric bicycle – a reliable steed in the bustling metropolis blanketed beneath clean cobalt skies. Time has been kind to her city. Taught by the humbling lessons of its past, it now breathes in harmony with the earth.
Solar-powered skyscrapers reach for the heavens, their metallic hide gleaming under the gentle, unrelenting kiss of sunlight. Vast seas of concrete and steel are now intertwined with lavish green arteries, turning once lifeless urban plains into thriving oases. Streets hum softly beneath her tires, echoing with the symphony of sustainable lives - no grumbling gas-guzzlers, no choking fumes.
The city is alive, its pulse, a testament to mankind's collective victory over their greatest adversary yet – their old selves. The storms that once chased her kind indoors are now whispers of a turbulent past. It's a fresh dawn, a world reshaped. As she rides, she revels in its tranquility, in resilience, in rebirth.