Our thinking is all too often on a short-term basis, without visions of the wider future.
Think creatively to consider future generations
Even if we do not have far-reaching visions of the future, just believing in sustainable development requires thinking long-term, in multiple generations. Sustainability and climate justice involve considering the needs of the generations to come, so that they will have a world to inhabit, a world that is not too hot or polluted to live in.
Humans crave for a purpose to make their lives meaningful. We want to engage in aspirational projects like developing AI to benefit all of humanity. These creative projects will not happen overnight, though. We need the patience of good ancestors, which is perfectly expressed in the Greek proverb where “old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit”. Being a good ancestor is thinking about the wellbeing of the future generations, people we will never even meet in our lifetime (Krznaric 2020).
Cathedral thinking is a similar concept, where people leave a legacy by being part of the chain of masters constructing a cathedral, not expecting to see the finished creation themselves. They give their best to build something for the entire human race. Today’s cathedral thinkers do what they love and are passionate about. They are even willing to do it for free, e.g., create and write articles for Wikipedia, for the benefit of the global society.
Similarly, the Finnish tourism scholar Johan Edelheim (2020) calls for the concept of “worldmaking” to be taken seriously. It means that every time we make decisions, we should consider how they will affect the world around us. Teachers should equip students with the tools and competences – such as digital skills and empathy – with which they can transform and shape the world.
Think creatively to restore and regenerate
Our livable future on the planet is now under threat and we need a system change. Dasgupta (2021) highlighted that the loss of biodiversity is affecting our economies as well as the planet and the people. At the same time, the global community is still struggling to overcome the impacts of the pandemic and has entered a very unstable geopolitical climate.
Some economists and tourism planners (e.g., Pollock 2019; Visser 2022; Dredge 2022) are calling for regeneration to come to the rescue. It is time for planetary thinking, setting limits to consumption and growth.
According to Circulab, in the regenerative and restorative economy, all capital is used for the wellbeing of nature, and people are part of nature. The purpose of a regenerative economic system, be it circular economy or regenerative tourism, is to have a positive impact, e.g., to restore an ecosystem and regenerate a community.
Oxford University scholar Kate Raworth (2022) has become famous for her Doughnut Economics theory that balances planetary boundaries and human needs. Cities like Amsterdam are putting her ideas into practice. Her planetary thinking model takes the shape of a doughnut: the outer ring represents the ecological limits and the inner ring the social foundations. For humanity, economy and environment to thrive, all activity should take place inside the ring of the doughnut. It cannot fall into the empty middle where basic needs are not met or shoot over the outer ring.
Educating students to think creatively and long term
We need to respect the planetary boundaries, and not use more resources than the planet can regenerate. Constant growth cannot be the way forward. After all, we need to keep our planet functional. Currently we need more than 1.7 planets, as the global overshoot day was already in early August and the Finnish one in March (Global Footprint Network 2023).
The human race is overusing resources as if there was no tomorrow. Very short-sighted, and definitely not acting like good ancestors!
To survive in the future of work and to thrive with the universe, our students need to invest time and effort in learning about big ideas and purpose, being creative and thinking long-term. As teachers, we work to give our students these skills and competences of being creative and cultivating a mindset for strategic long-term thinking.
Dasgupta, P. 2021. The Economics of Biodiversity. The Dasgupta Review.
Dredge, D. 2022. Regenerative tourism: transforming mindsets, systems and practices. Journal of Tourism Futures, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 269-281.
Edelheim, J. 2020. How should tourism education values be transformed after 2020? Tourism Geographies, 22(3), 547–554.
Global Footprint Network. 2023. Earth Overshoot Day.
Krznaric, R. 2020. Six Ways to Think Long-term: A Cognitive Toolkit for Good Ancestors. Medium.
Pollock, A. 2019. Regenerative Tourism: The Natural Maturation of Sustainability. Medium.
Raworth, K. 2022. Doughnut Economics: Think like a 21st Century Economist. Random House UK.
Visser, W. 2022. Thriving: The Breakthrough Movement to Regenerate Nature, Society, and the Economy. Fast Company Press.