Evil robots. Zombies. Powerful and cruel elitists. These are the common fictional characters brought to life in apocalyptic books and films. The robots take over the world, the zombies kill off humanity, and the wealthy elitists cruelly punish the poor. These terrifying dystopian futures appear distant and outlandish, but they speak to very current and very real social and political issues.

Technological and biological advances are making artificial intelligence a reality. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise. Deadly viruses are killing people around the world. Unfair advantages are helping the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.   

If the world doesn’t carefully plan for a more peaceful, equal, and sustainable future, it just might look like the imaginary worlds depicted on the big screen.

But before you start building that underground bunker, remember that this careful planning is already underway. In September, world leaders agreed on a set of objectives—the Global Goals—that seek to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change by 2030.

With the right support, these Global Goals will help the world avoid some very scary future scenarios. Here are a few dystopian futures my colleagues and I think we'll never have to worry about thanks to the Global Goals. 

Joe McCarthy:

Mad Max: Fury Road | Film |

Warlords dominate the arid wasteland of Earth. They control the flow of water, keep the masses in destitute poverty and battle for oil. Imperator Furiosa, once a refugee, is the most vaunted general of a vicious ruler. But when she gets her chance, she destroys the rigid patriarchy that oppresses not just women but everyone outside the inner circle.  

Global Goal 5: Gender Equality can prevent this post-apocalyptic future. It’s simple—when women are granted equality, the world becomes less dysfunctional.

I Robot | Film |

Robots do everything that humans once did: policing, driving, cooking, etc. As humans lose their autonomy, robots begin to gain autonomy. Soon, a rift occurs and robots begin questioning their subservience to humans. Why should their lives revolve around these weak creatures? What follows is everyone’s worst robot nightmare. 

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure will promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization. Robots can potentially benefit everyone, but deploying them improperly could result in the marginalization of huge swaths of the world.

Snowpiercer | Film |

A self-sustaining train holding the last humans barrels endlessly around Earth. If anyone leaves the train, they would instantly freeze to death. But the train is a strange distillation of class hierarchies, with the poor, hungry masses stuck in grimy cars toward the rear, while the rich gorge themselves on gourmet food and endlessly party. If resources were more fairly shared, then the uprising that follows would not be so violent.

When the richest in the world horde all of the resources, then not only does poverty worsen, but so does the stability of society. Goal 10: Reducing Inequalities will ensure all people have access to the same rights and resources. And Goal 13: Climate Action will prevent the planet from becoming uninhabitable.

1984 | Book | George Orwell

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." Perhaps no line better captures the grim world described by Orwell, a world where oppression in every moment is all a person can expect. A manufactured war is the background to everything that happens in this society. Winston tries to rebel by carving out a morsel of freedom for himself, but soon finds even this in jeopardy.

A country that is always at war is a miserable place. Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions will reduce internal conflicts and destructive wars.

Gattaca | Film |

Genes are everything. They dictate what you can do for work, where you live and who you can socialize with. One man heroically games the system by pursuing a job reserved for only the most physically and psychologically fit. He excels at the job, but if his true genes were ever discovered he’d be immediately fired and possibly worse.

Genetic discrimination should never be institutionalized and a person’s work should not be determined by the genes she was born with. Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth will ensure that everyone has the chance to be successful.

The Road | Book & Film | Cormac McCarthy

A  nuclear explosion caused the collapse of civilization. Now, a man tries to protect his son from a violent, nasty world. In this sparsely written book, a fearful tension pulses through every scene and the protagonist’s guiding mission is to find a clean, safe source of water for his son to grow around.

Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions will reduce the threat of nuclear war, while Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy will prevent accidents at nuclear power plants from destroying the planet.

Meghan Werft:

Brave New World | Book | Aldous Huxley

The premise of Brave New World, written in 1931 and set in London AD 2540, is that humans are created in a lab and assigned a function for life. In this world, individual thinking is tossed out the window. There’s a strong scene in the beginning of the book where a horrible noise pierces the ears of infants as they crawl toward roses. It’s a tactic used to instill an aversion to nature in people who are born in the lower class. In this world, men are dominant and humans are designed to be sexually promiscuous. This combination leads to a situation where men commonly “have” whichever women they want.

Goal 10: Reducing Inequalities and Goal 3: Achieving Gender Equality will ensure that humanity never lives in a world where “alphas” purposefully create less intelligent humans and condition them to enjoy menial labor.  

WALL-E | Film |

WALL-E is the only robot left on Earth, and his eternal task is to crunch trash and work tirelessly to clean up Earth after humans destroyed the planet. All humans now live on a spaceship where they have become too obese to walk. Humans in WALL-E’s world spend all day riding around on “hoverbeds,” consuming food, and watching trashy-tv.

Global Goal 12: Responsible Consumption can help us avoid a planet where one sad robot has to pick up our trash.

The Happening | Film |

Ok, maybe M. Night Shyamalan’s the Happening wasn’t “all that happening” in the box office, but it does bring up a good point about respecting the environment. In this movie, an unexplainable neurotoxin causes people to kill themselves. While society believes that this dangerous toxin was the doing of a bio-terrorist, it is actually coming from the plants! It’s the environment’s way of destroying humans before they create a WALL-E like world.

So respect your trees, plants, and forests aka Goal 15: Life on Land because they might just get angry and make you go insane. Plus, the world also needs plants to sustain life of all forms.

Book of Eli | Film |

In a post-apocalyptic world after nuclear war, one man carries the only thing that can save humanity across a desert wasteland. It’s an epic journey in a world no human would want to live in. Gangs fight to the death for shade and water, and they quickly destroy the last few items of value left on Earth.

This scenario could be avoided with Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Brandon Blackburn-Dwyer:

Fahrenheit 451 | Book & Film | Ray Bradbury

While the book is more famous than the movie, the story is impressive and important either way. The film is based around a futuristic “fireman” whose job is not to save burning buildings but rather to light books on fire. The dystopia based around the restriction of knowledge has become a touchstone for debate over intellectual freedom, and it’s dire warnings remain salient today.

Global Goal 4: Quality Education should keep this frightful future at bay, but it can be argued that the entire spirit of the Goals is about fighting off this type of future. Any world where books and knowledge are destroyed to keep the population ignorant is a world rife with exploitative behaviors to people and the environment. Embracing the Global Goals is a great way to keep books on shelves (or in computers) and accessible to all.

Children of Men | Film |

A future where humanity has mysteriously lost the ability to procreate creates a downward spiral of economic collapse. The hero of this story ends up focusing on saving humanity’s last hope for the future, while surviving a world of battling “haves” and “have nots.” In this film the have nots are largely poor refugees fleeing the collapsing world for the relative economic safety of the United Kingdom.

Staring at the modern day reality of the refugee crisis in Europe, this film feels almost prescient. The Global Goals can avoid this fate for us by delivering on Goal 16: Peace and Justice as well as Goal 8: Good Jobs and Economic Growth. Oh, and hopefully Goal 3: Good Health makes sure humanity can still reproduce.

Code 46 | Film |

This lesser known futuristic world has humanity divided by those who live “inside” megalopolises and those “outside” in rural, poor, badlands. The movement between the two conditions is regulated through having access to health insurance or “cover.” Code 46 is probably better remembered for its mood and human bioengineering related final twist, but the idea that the future of humanity could be controlled by health insurance feels frighteningly too plausible.

If the Global Goals can deliver sustainable cities of the future, peace and justice and particularly Goal 3: Good Health, then this future can be avoided. As for the bioengineering twist, well that’s a more of a science and research issue for another list.

Hans Glick:

The Hunger Games | Book & Film | Suzanne Collins

This wildly popular series of books and Hollywood adaptations envisions a world in which North America as we know it has collapsed into dystopian ruin, power is concentrated in the hands of the few, and access to critical resources like food is used as a tool to subjugate the masses. The hero, Katniss Everdeen, is tasked with representing her district in the annual Hunger Games, a macabre spectacle in which “tributes” from all twelve districts fight to the death in an elaborate arena while their overlords applaud their suffering. Though the series involves more injustices than just hunger, food and hunger are key elements throughout, and the citizens of this glum universe must go to great lengths to avoid starvation.

The same could be said of the nearly 800 million real-world people who face undernourishment today. It’s that stark reality that Global Goal 2: Zero Hunger is designed to fix.

Caryn Carver:

Contagion | Film |

Soon after her return from a business trip to Hong Kong, a woman dies from an unidentified sickness. She passes the sickness to her young son, and he dies later the same day. Thus begins the spread of a deadly infection. Several days pass before anyone realizes the extent or gravity of this new infection. As the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization begin researching the virus, the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide. If no solution is found, humanity will cease to exist.

The threat of a deadly epidemic is always looming. Goal 3: Good Health will ensure that deadly viruses are contained before they can kill entire populations.

Make sure none of these horrific plots ever become a reality. Save the following generations from a scary dystopian future by supporting the Global Goals as part of your New Year's resolution. Add the Goals to your list of 2016 resolutions in TAKE ACTION NOW.


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15 Fictional Dystopian Futures the Global Goals Can Help Us Avoid

Par Caryn Carver