Ministry of the Future

Putting the future of the environment at the top of your own agenda.

The ministers of the Ministry of the
Future are doing it. ‘We’re done with
doing nothing.’

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Roosmarijn van de Velde

Leiden European

'The time of waiting around for others to act is over.  I hope we can all face the generations after us and honestly say we tried our best'

Header picture: Local assembly on the topic of living. Participants with a kimono are representations of future generations.

Photo credits: Annick Elzenga

LEIDEN – Close your eyes and think about the future. Think about the future of your children, your grandchildren, and all the other people that come after you. Think about the future of your village, city, and country. How do you want life and those places to look in 60 years? In a century? Don’t just imagine a future; imagine the best possible outcome. What do you see?

Dozens of people answered these questions via a listening exercise on The Ministry of the Future’s website. Their answers were pretty unanimous. In the future, we won’t use our cars as much. Instead, we’ll turn to bikes, shared cars, or even a futuristic hyperloop. We won’t live in single-family homes. Instead, we’ll live in intergenerational buildings with people of all ages living alongside each other. We won’t keep fences between gardens and yards. Instead, we’ll share our property and grow some of our food in our shared gardens. We’ll have fewer belongings and spend time together more often. And we’ll be more in tune with nature. Because, above all, the future is green. Green like in a paradise.

Improve the world

The Ministry of the Future may be new, but the concept behind the organisation is simple: if you want to improve the world, you need to start by improving yourself. Think about your actions: Do you really need two cars? While the problems in the world are large, by incorporating small solutions into your life, you can make a difference.

The ministers of the Future – truly, everyone is a minister, but we’ll explain more about this later – are already doing it. Some of them spend two hours a day working on sustainability, while others refuse to gift objects to people and gift memories instead. Another minister launched a local food cooperative, ensuring its members receive exclusively local food with zero packaging.

This is your ancestor speaking
Your predecessor from the 21st century
You’re blaming me for spreading myself
Endlessly around the globe exploiting nature
Leaving no hope for a future driving the Earth
To the verge of exhaustion draining her to the bone
- from ‘Your Ancestor’, Nynke Laverman

Local assembly on the topic of living, September 15th, 2022
Photo credits: Annick Elzenga

Local assembly on the topic of water in Leiden, November 15th, 2022
Photo credits: Annick Elzenga

Climate Walk

The Climate Walk, organised by a group of foreign scientists, fueled the founding of the Ministry of the Future. As part of this walk, scientists would walk from the North Cape to Portugal while drawing attention to climate issues. Leiden was the European City of Science in 2022, a title bestowed on them by EuroScience. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science contacted Leiden European City of Science to assist during the Climate Walk. This sparked the idea for the Ministry of the Future. The idea was ‘Very intriguing’, according to Leiden European City of Science director Meta Knol, ‘and it needed a national approach.’

Klaas Sietse Spoelstra was contacted. He plays an important role within Arcadia Friesland, a 100-day cultural festival centred on our future.

Jasper Visser of the 2030 Foundation, which focuses on achieving sustainable development goals, was also approached. Finally, composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven of The Turn Club was also reached out to. The Turn Club advocates for an ‘artist’s mindset’ to improve the world.

Plans were being discussed and put in motion, but then... the Covid-19 pandemic took over. While the actual walking took a backseat, the Ministry of the Future set out to develop their ambitious online plans. It had to be a movement fronted by real people. It had to create the right conditions, provide support, and above all, it had to put trust in the vigour of people themselves. That’s why every participant would be considered a minister.

Good ancestry

The project’s theme became ‘good ancestry’, inspired by the book The Good Ancestor by prominent Australian-British philosopher Roman Krznaric. He advocates for ‘cathedral thinking’ (the ability to start projects that will be finished after you’ve passed away). Another influence for the project was a song inspired by cathedral thinking: Your Ancestor by singer Nynke Laverman. In 2009, Laverman lived in a tent with a nomadic family in Mongolia. During this month, she learned about the ancient spiritual connection between humans and nature and the unspoken mission to leave nature habitable for future generations.

Good ancestry was represented by children’s shoes: the symbol of the next generation. These shoes continue to pop up in different locations; on village squares, by the entrances of city halls, and amidst debates during congresses. It’s one of the ways in which the Ministry of the Future aims to create awareness.

The Ministry also formulated an assignment: schedule the future into your own environment. ‘You can already do so by talking about it, during family dinner, for example. Ask your family members how they imagine the future of the youngest family member, of the child in those shoes,’ says Meta.

'The time for doing nothing is over,’ says Roosmarijn van de Velde of Leiden European City Science. ‘I want to be able to face the people that come after me and tell them that I tried my best.’ That’s why she uses a bicycle instead of a car, buys secondhand clothing, and celebrates Sinterklaas without presents: ‘I don’t want to burden people with even more stuff.’

On Valentine's Day 2022, children's shoes were sent to all ministers and state secretaries. Education minister Dennis Wiersma accepted the first pair from the hands of some ministers of the future. Photo credits: Monique Shaw.
Local Assemblies

With the Ministry of the Future in mind, Roosmarijn set up a project that sought to hold local assemblies in Leiden. During these assemblies, citizens discuss their village’s and city’s future. In this way, local assemblies, an integral part of the Ministry, seamlessly fit in with this bottom-up movement and the trend of citizen assemblies.

Everyone is encouraged to organise a local assembly. Those who want to know how can use a special ‘toolkit’ filled with ideas, practical tips, and inspiring examples, which is found on the website of the Ministry.

The first local assembly took place in June 2021 at the Burcht in Leiden — and it worked! It inspired more local assemblies to pop up throughout the Netherlands. For example: in the northern part of the Netherlands, local assemblies were held in several different forms. One of those ways was the Waddenmars (discussing the future of the Wadden Sea). Yet another assembly took place in the Fries Museum (on the future of the peat meadows), and a local assembly for all 18-year-olds in the municipalities of Sud West Fryslan is currently in the works.

During the local assemblies in Leiden, dozens of people talked about water and living in the city in 2060. Inspired by this, several ministers organised dozens of local assemblies throughout the entirety of the Netherlands. For example, there were local assemblies in Roden, Almere, Eindhoven, and Haarlem. On top of that, people also started organising themed assemblies covering topics that transcended the need for locality, such as the energy transition.

Local assembly about the future of Leiden at the Burcht, June 30th 2022. Photo credits: Evita Hinneman
In politics

Other countries have already implemented the idea of a Ministry of the Future: for example, Wales has a ‘commissioner for future generations’. With the Dakota in the United States and the Maori in New Zealand, intergenerational responsibility has been a given for centuries. While the Netherlands doesn’t have an official commissioner for future generations yet, there is an ‘acting mediator for future generations’, Jan van de Venis, with whom the Ministry of the Future has a close working relationship.

In several municipal councils, people have also been thinking about how to ‘put the future of your own environment on the agenda.’ In Leiden, PvdA municipal council member, Marc Newsome, took the lead. In 2022, together with the Partij voor de Dieren and Studenten voor Leiden, he put forward a motion for a yearly meeting about the future. He requested the council to ‘put themselves in the shoes of future generations more often.’

‘Politicians are often only thinking about the short term, like a dangerous intersection or the functionality of the recycling centre,’ said Newsome. ‘But are we thinking enough about the long term? About the generation that hasn’t been born yet?’

The motion passed; from now on, there will be a meeting each year in which the municipal council will explicitly discuss the future. Additionally, the children’s shoes will become a permanent asset of Leiden’s municipal council – to remind the council members that their decisions have consequences for the future, maybe up until 2060.

Because that’s the future. The future of the people who come after you, your children, your grandchildren even. From the village where you live to the land on which you walk. Close your eyes and think about 2060. What do you see?

The Ministry of the Future was a project within the New European Bauhaus programme of Leiden2022

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