Updated: Jun 14
Imagine a climate crisis free Earth and then work towards it.
The stories we tell about our future matter, from Revelations and Ragnarök to War of the Worlds and Orwell’s 1984. Stories are meant to reflect our history, how we see ourselves, and what we want for ourselves. We use stories to document, romanticize, and envision what was and what could be. But what happens when all the stories we tell about what our world could become depict a future no one wants to live in, or worse, a future where no one survives?
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There seems to be a pattern in the kinds of stories we tell about the future: apocalyptic disaster leads to upheaval and anarchy but gives way to the rise of a saviour. A sole chosen one, gifted and powerful, set out on the hero’s journey to save us when all hope is lost. In these stories, the world we know ceases to exist, a lush paradise becomes a barren wasteland. The worst qualities of humanity dominate. Society collapses. Every person is left to fend for themselves.
While this trope can certainly be entertaining, is it reflective of what happens or what will happen when disaster strikes? An episode of Rethink Talks, a podcast produced by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, discusses this paradigm. Entitled “After COVID-19: imagining a safe and just future for all,” the episode explains what actually happens in communities when disaster strikes. Contextualized in the wake of natural disasters, the hosts discuss how these dramatic and destructive events tend to bring people together rather than tear them apart. They help each other clean up debris and share food, water, and shelter. Surrounding regions send volunteers, resources, and medical teams. People work together to recover and rebuild. There’s no chosen one or gifted saviour, just people helping other people. If this is the pattern that we see time and time again, why do we consistently paint the future lonesome and bleak? Why is the only future we envision for ourselves plagued by destruction?
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In reality, we are facing disaster. We are standing at an inflexion point within the climate crisis where the decisions we make within the next decade will decide the fate of this planet. It’s daunting. But how can we possibly imagine a world where we collaborate and cooperate to make a beautiful, sustainable, equitable, and just future if none of the stories we tell depict that? If we constantly tell ourselves the future is nothing but a wasteland, riddled with conflict and violence, are we dooming ourselves to that fate? Are we manifesting our own demise?
We need to change the narrative. We need to tell stories that motivate and inspire. We need to stop acting like we are doomed to dystopia. A transformed future is possible. A more equitable, just, and collaborative future is possible. If we tell stories that reflect the best qualities in humanity and put them in the future, why shouldn’t we believe that it’s possible?
Stopping, mitigating, and reversing the effects of climate change is going to be the greatest challenge humanity has faced. It’s going to require an unprecedented amount of collaboration and compromise. It’s going to require a quick and dramatic change in many aspects of our societies, economies, and politics. It’s going to require a lot of imagination, and this is where we need to start. If we can imagine a world surviving and thriving beyond the climate crisis, we can create it.
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