The have been five planetary extinction events, the last one was 66 million years ago. Evolutionary biologists have told us that the sixth one has now just started. It will put our very being at risk, this for the second time: the first was the Ice Age. It started 2.6 million years ago and finished 11,000 years ago. Our species arrived in its latter stages; nonetheless, our numbers were reduced to just a few thousand—thus, it was a massive traumatic event.
The second traumatic event is now underway. Our species’ future is threatened by a compound of several problems. There is the crisis of the loss of biodiversity intrinsic to the sixth extinction event. Then, there is the now irreversible condition of climate change. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were globally reduced to zero, their impacts will continue. The International Panel on Climate Change 2023 report projected that one billion people will be displaced by 2050. The expectation is that this number will increase to two or three billion by 2100. This is a quarter of the world’s population and effectively means an enormous project of population redistribution and relocation. The geopolitical destabilisation of these events will be massive—national borders will fail, the economic consequences will be huge, and conflict is almost certain.
Design will be, and is, defined against this background, with all of its risks—this, along with all other practices. It stands at a crossroads. As currently constituted, design as service is dominantly part of the problem. Its existing forms of recognising the crisis are totally inadequate, as are its responses. If the sum of design practices are to gain any real transformative capability, they first have to transform themselves, and this is in a matter of a few decades. This task forms the main content of the presentation.
KEYWORDS: defuturing, futuring, elimination, contrapractice, crossroads, service, medium, time conjuncture, risk, danger, trauma.
Tony Fry, PhD, is the director of the Studio at the Edge of the World, Adjunct Professor School of Architecture and Design, University of Tasmania, and Visiting Professor, University of Ibagué, Colombia. He is the author of numerous books on design, including Design as Politics (2011), Defuturing, A New Design, Philosophy ( 2020), and Writing Design Fiction: Relocation a City in Crisis (2023).
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