San Antonio, Texas Illustration by Parisa Tashakori

A Slice of Life in 2050: A Sci-Fi Documentary Discussion about Possible Solar-Powered Futures

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America in 2020, the Center for Science and Imagination and Center for Energy and Society at Arizona State University convened a collection of artists and scientists at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. They broke into groups, each including a science fiction author, a visual artist, and experts in engineering and social science. Using their unique perspectives and expertise, they imagined future worlds powered by solar energy, and they brought those worlds to life with science fiction short stories, original artworks, and essays considering social, political, and technical dimensions of these possible futures. Their work is collected in the book Cities of Light, which is available to download, read, and share for free across several digital formats.

This podcast, created by Anthony Wallace as part of his Solar Tomorrows Fellowship at ASU, features one of those solar-futures stories: “The Scent of the Freetails,” by Deji Bryce Olukotun, performed by voice actor Anthony Aroya. The story is set in 2050 between Houston and San Antonio, Texas, and it gives us a vivid glimpse at how solar power could create neighborhoods much different than those we have today. In the podcast, you’ll also hear the voices of Lauren Withycombe Keeler and Chris Gearhart, experts on sustainable futures and solar technologies who helped create the world of the story. 

Discussion Questions

  1. In addition to what we see in “The Scent of the Freetails,” what are some other ways you can imagine a shift to solar energy changing the way we live, and how our communities are structured? 
  2. Depending on your age, think back 10 or 30 years into the past. How does our world today differ most importantly from back then? How have our day-to-day lives changed? What were the most important forces that influenced those big changes?
  3. If the future—and especially the shift to solar energy—presents an opportunity to correct some of our society’s biggest problems, which do you think we should be most focused on correcting?
  4. If renewable energy creates a less homogeneous world where different communities live in dramatically different ways, what do you think the cultural effects of that will be?
  5. Would you like to live in La Estrella? Why or why not?
  6. What do you see as the biggest obstacles to making a community like La Estrella a reality? 
  7. Do you know of any La Estrella-type places that exist today?
  8. Why do you think the story’s main character, Raj, is having a hard time embracing La Estrella? How common do you think his attitude would be in this future world? Would people be able to overcome that resistance?
  9. What are the most important values to prioritize when creating the future? How should we define “true wealth”?
  10. How can we ensure that our crafting of the future is guided by our most important values, and not by ulterior motives?
San Antonio, Texas Illustration by Parisa Tashakori

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