You Cannot Go Where You Cannot Imagine Going

By Leslie MacKenzie

In 2019, a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 76% of respondents would describe climate change as a crisis or a major problem. Despite that large number, 62% said tackling climate change would require little or no sacrifice on their part.

More than half of respondents said they wouldn’t pay anything out of their pocket to fix the problem. Fewer than half of respondents were willing to pay $2/month as a tax on their electric bill; about 25% said they would pay $10 a month.

Someone else should pay … companies that burn fossil fuels and the wealthy. Those with the least incentive and the most to lose should take the lead, Americans have decided.

Not surprisingly, that hasn’t happened.

It hasn’t happened since 1979 when ExxonMobil and other oil companies, business leaders, military leaders, and Present Carter first understood – decisively – the causes and dangers of climate change. For a moment, our nation could have staved off catastrophe. Then the moment was gone with the election of Reagan.

“Climate change” was downgraded to “global warming,” and those “leaders” went about the business of accumulating wealth.

While we – the 7 billion residents of this planet – wait, the calamity ahead has been bubbling up in our collective subconscious. Expressed through works of art – novels and film – fixed upon an increasingly grim projection of our future: from “Mad Max” to “Hunger Games,” “Virus” to “Melancholia.”

Apocalyptic movies per decade chart

Filmmakers have fed our collective imagination an increasingly unbalanced diet of violence and tribalism, a future to fear and possibly, temporarily, bare survival. Is it any surprise, then, to find so many people so disengaged from taking action on a crisis that quite literally threatens their lives?

Who wants this future?

We Must Inhabit a New Cultural Imagination

Rob Hopkins, the founder of the global Transition movement, was interviewed about his most recent book “What Is to What If,” about the power of imagination. He said: “I kept reading books by people like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and George Monbiot saying climate change is a failure of the imagination. I was really intrigued by that, but they just moved on and started talking about something else. I felt there was something important there.

“Climate change is the gruesome conclusion of when Margaret Thatcher said there was no alternative. We’re stuck in this position of not being able to imagine anything other than where things are going at the moment, and that’s driving us off a cliff.

“We need to be able to imagine another world before we can build it.”

Image of Rob Hopkins, author of What Is to What If
Watch the video

In truth, we have to create such a strong, clear, felt vision of that future that it pulls us insistently, incessantly toward it.

Hopkins has provided us with a glimpse of what his community would look like after it reached net-zero carbon. In this video, “A Walk Through a Day in 2030” he shows us the sounds, the smells, the look and feel of a future that most people would find both livable and attractive.

  • Comfortable, affordable, energy efficient apartments
  • Practical water-saving technologies
  • Quiet, safe cities full of food and fresh air
  • Vibrant small businesses
  • Residents with the skills they need to live productively and children eager to learn
  • Citizens engaged in local government to create possibilities for all

We need to tell our children, we need to tell ourselves, a better story. We must consciously choose to refocus our attention, to turn away from the circus of violence and distress we’re being fed by the “entertainment” industry.  

The essential task, then, for the artists and writers, for the thinkers and preachers, for the painters and the parents of our time, is no less than to help us envision our way back to life. A life we’re willing to invest in.

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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