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The Future Design Movement & Cathedral Building in Climate Action: 7 Steps to Embrace Longterm Thinking to Help Build a Positive Climate Future

During this season of rebirth, renewal, and spring, it's time to think deeply about our legacy and the world we are creating for the next generation. We can be awesome ancestors and it's time to starting thinking of ourselves as architects of the future. The people who are contributing the least amount of carbon pollution are suffering the most. This is true racially, economically, internationally, and across generations.

It's time for use to embrace the Future Design Movement and lean into "cathedral thinking." It's also a powerful way to address eco-anxiety, the chronic unease about the future because of the climate crisis.

The Future Design Movement. Green Background with an image of cathedral behind it.

The fact is that environmentalists like me have done a good job of painting a future apocalypse. Given the recent climate disasters, we all get that. We can see the disruption of life as we know it on a warming planet. We have all the technological solutions to the climate crisis. What's missing is the political will. We CAN do this.

And what if we solved the climate crisis? What if we created a greener, healthier, more just planet? A planet with green design as the norm, with equity at the center of solutions, with clean and clean water for all, swimmable rivers, walkable cities, and roof top gardens everywhere. As poet Maggie Smith says "we could make this place beautiful." We could.

Embracing long-term thinking is key to this paradigm shift to envisioning and then creating a greener, healthier, more just future.

Here's an overview:

  1. Understand Cathedral Thinking

This concept reflects an ethic of “long-termism.” We begin to think of ourselves as ancestors and ask what are we building for the next generation. A cathedral usually took two centuries to build in the Middle Ages.

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, for example, began construction in 1882 and was completed in 2023.  Past generations thought of us - the expansion of rights, advancements in medicine, and technological changes to help us connect and communicate. That begs, the question - What future are WE creating?

2. Learn about the Future Design Movement

Japan’s  “future design movement” takes a cathedral building approach to strategic planning.  Local government officials role play AS IF they were from future generations. This means that obligations and duties to future must balance short-term interests in government planning decisions. 

3. Put Cathedral Thinking Into Practice

This comes from an exercise in my recent book, 60 Days to a Greener Life (out next week!), See Day 5. Imagine What 2030 would look like if we created a greener, healthier, more just future. Green design. Roof top gardens. Clean air, clean water, access to nature. Get out some crayons or colored pencils. Draw it. Feel it. See it. Download the OneGreenThing 2030 visualization exercise for help with this process.

4. Reflect on YOUR legacy

Get out a journal and take a few minutes and reflect:

  • What do you want to be known for? 

  • What is your purpose? 

  • What do you want your loved ones to remember about you and your life on this planet? 

  • What are you building for future generations?

5. Create Your Future Design

Let's put your future design into practice. Now imagine it’s 2050. You’re talking with a relative who is a teenager. YOU are the ancestor. 

  • What will they thank you for? 

  • What will they wish you had known? 

  • How can you make YOUR positive vision for a reality? 

  • How can you act in your future loved ones best interests today? 

6. Apply Cathedral Thinking in Future Design 

We can start thinking like awesome ancestors right now. Here's how:

  • Carry this longterm view with you as you embrace your daily practice of sustainability. 

  • Your daily  #onegreenthing shifts the culture so global policy solutions can work.

  • We need your creativity, your imagination, and your passion in this movement. 

  • Your daily actions can help build the greener, healthier, future our loved ones deserve.

7. Now What?



Founder & CEO Heather White is an author, environmentalist, lawyer, and nonprofit executive with more than 20 years experience in environmental law, policy, and advocacy. She's a frequent spokesperson in the national media on environmental issues and has appeared on Good Morning America, ABC, NBC, MSBNC, and quoted in numerous national media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Teen Vogue. Her next book 60 Days to a Greener Life: Ease Eco-anxiety Through Joyful Daily Action will be published by Harper Collins on April 9, 2024.


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