The following essay was written by Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry in March of 2020 and appears in the collection of short stories and essays, Cities of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures, Edited By Joey Eschrich and Clark A. Miller and released today by Arizona State University. The project is the outcome of a multi-day workshop held at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado at the end of February, 2020 just before the start of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

We hope that you will find this vision from two decades into the future to be inspiring and a reminder that we have it within our collective power to do right by all people and the planet if we choose through policy to implement technology in ways that are socially and environmentally just.

Visit the Cities of Light website today and download your own copy of the complete book! It’s available as PDF, e-book (all kinds), and print-on-demand.

Remarks by the President on Opening Day of Expo 2043, the Chicago World’s Fair

Yellow Eye Pier
Chicago, Illinois

May 2, 2043
9:02 A.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT: Hello my dear Chicagoans! (Applause.) I always love coming home! (Applause.) Thank you. Today we acknowledge—under this beautiful Chicago sky—all the nations of the Great Lakes Region—the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations—and the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac and Fox, Kickapoo, and Illinois Nations. These nations are the traditional custodians of the landscape within which we are standing. We recognize their continuing connection to land, waters, nature, and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging.

Today, alongside these amazing leaders, I am extremely pleased to place this electrical contact to the interconnected surfaces of solar paint, completing the webbed circuit and bringing power to Expo 2043, the Chicago World’s Fair. [Upon connecting the final contact, the kinetics of the civic engagement mechanisms begin to come alive with movement.] (Applause.)

We stand, here, under the entry arches of Yellow Eye Pier and the Expo’s most important work of Solar Mural art, Elder Earth—an Acknowledgement of Country. It will generate a megawatt of electric power, but, even more importantly, it symbolizes the great civic power of democracy to right the wrongs of the past and to imagine and create a new future that truly includes everyone.

It was this time last year that I had the privilege and the honor to sign into law the United States Truth, Reparations, and Reconciliations Act. In twelve months, it has already placed into motion a fundamental redesign of money, wealth, and common systems, and has begun a path towards ending homelessness and the very idea of poverty and debt.

Yes, we have come a long way since I was a young girl and my mom, Sandra, was organizing for basic tenant’s rights in this great city of Chicago!

While it is right and good to celebrate our recent successes, we should also take this bright occasion to reflect back upon the progress made by the generations on whose shoulders we stand since the Chicago World’s Fair took place in this very city in 1893.

Our progress today comes 150 years too late for the Native American people whose culture was stereotyped and misrepresented by anthropologist Frederic Ward Putnam, just a thousand feet from where we stand today. Representations, according to David R.M. Beck that, “foreshadowed the imagery of Indians that the American public would accept for decades to come,” and which, I would add, that we still have much work remaining to re-learn.

Our celebration here today has a long and storied history—a history of battles hard fought, some lost and yet many won, right here in Chicago, and around the world.

Decades ago, Black Chicagoans came together to stand proudly behind folks like Cheryl Johnson, who fought to bring solar to Altgeld Gardens, a neighborhood that rose literally from the ashes—from the cyanide-laced sewage, from the industrial sludge and landfills upon which World War II heroes were housed because their skin was not white enough for the National Housing Agency to care. We know this neighborhood best today as the birthplace of the environmental justice movement, but Cheryl Johnson calls it home. She has refused to abide by the statistics of her neighborhood and turns 81 years young this week. Pioneers like Cheryl set into motion a renewable energy revolution throughout the city of Chicago that continues today.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act that Cheryl helped draft more than twenty years ago has changed the landscape of Illinois and set a standard for the nation. With what seemed at the time to be an ambitious goal of 40 million new solar panels, the CEJA proved to be a turning point. Coinciding with the 2020 pandemic recovery, the plan quickly surpassed its initial benchmarks and led to the elimination of all coal-fired power plants in Illinois with zero job losses, an accomplishment that took place five years ago already, and one that we are on track to complete as a nation by the end of my term.

The United States of America was founded on the highest ideals of freedom, social justice, and equity in order to safeguard the inalienable rights for all people to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Applause.) Over the past 267 years we have struggled together, arm-in-arm with the civil rights leaders of every movement, to expand the inclusive definition of freedom, to bring people in from the margins, to remove the barriers to suffrage, enfranchisement, enjoyment, self-fulfillment, and spiritual freedom. We have witnessed how true was Theodore Parker’s vision of the arc of progress bending toward justice, and we are so close to reaching the mountaintop so gloriously proclaimed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But there is so much more to do!

The news out of Mauna Loa last week—we’ve now reached 500 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere—is a reminder that while we have made great progress on our greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity and transportation sectors, we continue to pollute the air through heavy industry and shipping, and we have much progress to make on our circular economy, waste elimination, and re-wilding goals.

Today—as we stand here at the 2043 Chicago World’s Fair celebrating social and technological achievements that we could have only dreamed of in 1893—we are reaping the rewards of the hard work of so many dedicated visionaries. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections show that we will limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius as long as we continue to work over the next decade to eliminate the final few billion tons of carbon pollution. We have come a long way since our peak of 40 billion tons per year in 2022, but until we hit zero, we gotta keep working!

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and join me as we enter this glorious garden of solar delights through the Elder Earth Solar Mural artwork.

As we make our way into the fair, I would like to call your attention to another installation of importance. The renewable energy power plant at the botanical garden entrance features a sculpture titled An Homage to Woman of Liberty, Progress, and Light, designed by Solidarity Winner. It’s made of dye-sensitized solar cells that generate carbon-free energy. More importantly, it recalls a stained-glass art piece from the 1893 World’s Fair—Massachusetts Mothering the Coming Woman of Liberty, Progress, and Light by Elizabeth Parson, Edith Blake Brown, and Ethel Isadore Brown—a seminal statement on women’s rights. In its time, the piece represented a woman of the future who walked with liberty, wisdom, and knowledge. In this audience I see that woman.

An Homage to Woman of Liberty, Progress, and Light not only generates a peak capacity of two megawatts with its exquisite palette of colorful solar panels, but it also represents the women of the future—the women who will boldly walk into a 22nd century world without pollution, without scarcity, without hunger or disease—a world that is made possible by the environmental justice and social justice movements that we celebrate and accelerate here today.

Beyond the sculpture, as we pass into the park, you will see a weaving array of kinetic storage sculptures and hyper-energy augmentations set in motion by our movements as we walk. They beckon us to be a part of the solution and add our own energy to the future of our nation. I invite you all to experience these and more innovations—and to bring your ideas to the rest of the world.
Welcome and come with purpose.

9:20 A.M. CST

Massachusetts Mothering, the Coming Woman of Liberty, Progress, and Light. Stained Glass from 1893, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago. Designed, signed and dated by Elizabeth Parson, Edith Blake Brown, and Ethel Isadore Brown. Fabricated by Ford and Brooks of Boston, Massachusetts, 1893. Photograph of artwork by Jyoti