Telling a New Story to Create a New Future

Blog 1: Leslie MacKenzie, MDST 485

What if the greatest challenge facing our planet today is not a global pandemic, or creeping global fascism, or a fast-rolling climate catastrophe, but is instead the misuse and impoverishment of our collective imagination?

Could it be that our stunted political imagination is responsible for hundreds of thousands of COVID deaths because we failed to imagine how a universal basic income could have allowed every American to isolate for 2-3 months? This would have deprived the virus of new hosts long enough to die away, allowing our economy to safely reopen.

Could it be that our failure to imagine how facing difficult truths really could set us free has allowed our nation to fall into the cesspool of disinformation and outright lies upon which facism thrives?

  • As we face a world on fire – Australia, California, the Canadian arctic, Siberia …
  • As we face a world under water – island nations, Bangladesh, a million acres of U.S. farmland …

Could it be that it is our impoverished cultural imagination, rather than our lack of technological solutions, that has prevented us from taking action to save our lives and our planetary future? A cultural imagination that feeds us endlessly recycled images of material success or violent apocalypse and yet utterly fails to provide examples of caring, cooperation, and successful low-carbon ways of living.

Revitalizing Our Cultural Imagination

Rob Hopkins is the founder of the Transition Town movement, a global grassroots groundswell of people taking personal and collective action to solve pressing global problems. He’s spent the last 15 years observing the small and large solutions that arise when everyday people gather together to ask “what if” … to re-imagine what is possible and what they can do.

In Rob’s new book, “From What Is to What If” he asks all of us – especially those in the climate and environmental movements – to give some serious thought to the health of our persona and cultural imagination. We need to rebuild it.

For several decades now, we’ve fed our cultural psyche on a steady diet of cop shows and murder podcasts, celebrity fashion blogs, and home decorating Instagrams. Now, when it’s “all hands on deck” for an unfolding climate crisis, do we have the imaginative capacity we need?

In his book, Rob asks: “What if today was the tipping point? What if we looked back in time and saw that TODAY was the day when things changed?”

Those questions are big enough for our time. Those questions require imaginative power from individuals, from businesses, from our media, and our creative culture-builders. They are an example of the work we need to do.

Living Our Stories Out Loud

Right now our future looks uncertain, even scary. But many of the challenges ahead have been faced by those who came before, people with far less information and technology than we have today, but perhaps more resilience and resourcefulness. Those people have a story to tell if we will look for it. It could spark creativity.

There are people and places in the world today facing significant change, if not outright crises, as a result of our addiction to fossil fuels. They also have a story to tell – a story of community emergency response, of mutual aid, of salvage and recovery, or destruction and removal.

Our response to these stories is often empathy and charity. We need another response, as well. We need to understand that as the climate crisis deepens, this will also be our experience. What can we learn from their story that will inspire us and our community to take action now to prepare and adapt?

There are people close to you who have taken the climate crisis to heart and made significant changes in their lives. They chose not to own a car. They choose to buy used. They committed to buy and invest local. They decided not to fly. They decided not to have biological children. They became caretakers of a piece of land or stewards of a community garden.

There are people close to you who have decided to devote their careers to taking action. They work in corporate sustainability, material management, architecture, renewable energy, in land and water conservation, in local government.

Behind each of these decisions is a story. Thousands of stories that can feed the imagination and inspire others to act. Transition US, the national counterpart of the global Transition movement, has begun a storytelling series called Stories to Action. Each month they feature two stories of community action that can be replicated by other communities.

Stories like these expand our vision of what’s possible. It has never been more important to live out Gandhi’s maxim to BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.

You can begin by telling your own story of change.

About thinkofitasanadventure

My husband Peter and I attended a sustainability conference with Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute in 2010. We learned some hard truths about climate change that shook us to our core. We knew we needed to transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible, for the sake of our children. We initiated a neighborhood Transition group (Transition Longfellow). It became the center of our lives. In 2019, we downsized and moved to a tiny rural village. It's a whole new way of life and we've got a lot more learning to do. We're choosing to continue to "think of it as an adventure."

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