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Hope Punk 2022

Written By: - Date published: 12:35 pm, January 1st, 2022 - 11 comments
Categories: climate change, sustainability - Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.

~ Alexandra Rowland

It’s about how the first step to slaying a dragon is for one person to say, probably drunk in a bar somewhere, “I bet it can be done though”

~ Alexandra Rowland

This story is about how the kind of stories we tell matter*.

We’re at the stage with climate change where we are inundated daily with the bad news, yet truthful reality, of the climate and ecological crises. Thanks to the long work of the green movement, indigenous peoples, climate activists, scientists and journalists, and, in recent years especially XR, awareness of climate change as crisis is now part of our everyday landscape.

This is both good and dangerous. Good because the only way forward to some kind of meaningful future is facing the crisis honestly. Dangerous, because if people get overwhelmed and see no way out they will give up, or use denial and cognitive dissonance to cope rather than acting to prevent the worst of the crisis and build resiliency and adaptation.

Fortunately, the counter cultures are full of climate solutions already being practiced. Outside of the COP and governmental processes that are dragging the chain on climate action, there are many sectors of society just getting on with it. Some are cutting edge, some are hands in the earth localised. I’ve written about the Powerdown and regenerative agriculture in particular, posts that show us a way home because they address prevention and adaptation as part of the same picture.

When we let go of rigid ideas about what the future should look like and accept trust that we can have good lives even if they are radically changed, the options for averting the worst of climate change blossom.

In the circles of people leading the way on this, one of the themes regularly repeated is that useful and meaningful responses to this massive, long haul crisis involve proactive pathways. In the face of catastrophe, humans need clear ways to take action that they feel makes a difference. If we don’t have that, people give up. Proactive pathways are life affirming, give meaning, pleasure, and reward as well as saving the earth.

Here’s a kind of map from Transition Towns pioneer Rob Hopkins’ book From What Is to What If, in the chapter What if we became better storytellers?

(if you don’t think of yourself as a storyteller, what is being meant here is how we think about the world and how we talk about solutions)

Signpost one: We have to be able to envision the good future we want. Once we understand the seriousness of the crisis, we have to be able to see a way out.

‘It’s very easy to think of the dystopian ideas,’ McKay told me. ‘It’s almost lazy. Thinking of the good future is actually really hard because you have to envision something that is qualitatively different. Everyone knows what dystopia looks like. It’s also exciting, in a dramatic way.’

‘As soon as you have even just a rough sketch of something that’s optimistic’, he told me, ‘you then have something that people can react to. The visions can be tremendously powerful in terms of motivating people to make some real changes because they can then start to see there are things that are achievable, and it doesn’t have to be the dystopian, lazy thinking that most people have in their minds’.

Signpost two: The problem is the solution is an adage from permaculture, whereby the problems we face often contain the solutions we need. Artist and graphic novelist James McKay again,

sea level rise … of a couple of metres means we’ve got a giant lagoon in the middle of Yorkshire … rather than that being a disaster, people have learnt how to live on the water and use aquaculture and various things that mean they are utilising that new geographical feature. I put a lot of work into trying to see where there were problems, issues that some people might say were a disaster, and what an optimistic society would do to adapt to that.

Signpost three: Bring it home and imagine where we live, our neighbourhood, our rohe, in a climate future where things worked out. Hopkins,

Think about this the next time you are walking around your neighbourhood. Find a place you pass every day, sit down, and imagine it in the future – a future in which things turn out OK. What would it look like? Smell like? Sound like? Feel like? What would stay the same? What would change?

Let’s bring that home for a moment. Think South Dunedin, one of the places in New Zealand already at the sharp end of climate change. We know it’s going to flood more often and eventually be inundated from the sea. What if we started transforming South Dunedin now, not just as a pre-emptive retreat, but we proactively redesigned the area in ways that work with nature instead of against it, and create something most excellent, both a restoration of the landscape suited to the realities of the new world, and as a beacon of what we can do positively in response to climate change.

If the area is going to be a swamp again, can it be recreational? Wetland sports? An opportunity to restore native and other ecosystems that bring intense biodiversity within the city? Local iwi and university collaboration restoring a food basket and developing a new set of processes for salt marsh/wetland food production?

Less major, costly, high GHG emitting infrastructure attempts to hold back the sea, and more meeting humans needs within the natural limits of the systems that exist.

Basically give up trying to assert dominance over the natural systems and learn how to work with them.

(for the engineering/high tech bods in the room, there is a great need for innovation as well as making best use of current knowledge and technology, and doing that within a regenerative and sustainability frame)

We can do this for every problem we face. What is the problem, how does it already contain the solution? Permaculture is particularly adept at this, but many other parts of human society hold these skills.

I’d like to end with an excerpt from An Unbroken Grace, by poet, essayist, and permaculturist Fred Bahnson. Talking about the life and work of the late nature writer Barry Lopez, he describes Lopez’s vision of the stories we tell providing the templates for our way forward to a future that works out.

In Horizon, Barry suggested that the culture hero—Prometheus or Siddhartha Gautama or Odysseus—is no longer relevant in an age when humanity is exceeding ecological limits. The scale of the problems we face in the Anthropocene, the era in which humans have altered the very bone structure of the planet, are simply beyond the lone hero’s ability to fix. I asked him what stories should replace the lone-hero story.

“They haven’t been written yet,” Barry said. “We need new narratives, at the center of which is a concern for the fate of all people. The story can’t be about the heroism of one person. It has to be about the heroism of communities.”

It’s a profound idea—that our world is changing too quickly for the lone-hero story to be of much use any longer—and yet how to tell a story that puts community at the center? “A story is merely a pattern that signifies,” Barry told me. “The blueprint for our story is before us all the time.” Like a murmuration of starlings, for example. Barry recalled driving beneath the ample skies of California’s Central Valley and being witness to starlings by the hundreds “carving up open space into the most complex geometrical volumes, and you have to ask yourself, how do they do that?” Each bird looks to the four or five birds immediately around them to coordinate its movements, he explained. “To behold starlings is to take in something beautiful, a coordinated effort to do something in which there’s no leader, no hero.”

Starlings show us a way around the dilemma of scale, a model for human cooperation and deference toward others. A murmuration shuns the idea of genius residing in one individual, and recognizes that genius is actually possessed by the community. Human genius “might rise up and become reified in a single person in a group,” Barry said, “but it doesn’t belong solely to that person.”

Wishing us all the best for 2022.

*everything here also applies to the covid-19 pandemic.

Front page photo by Stephen Jaquiery via the ODT: starlings gathering at Shiel Hill, Dunedin, before murmuration.

11 comments on “Hope Punk 2022 ”

  1. miravox 1

    Thanks for this beautifully written post weka. Just the content I needed at the start of what seems to be a nervously unpredictable year.

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    Hope as precursor to attitude, and attitude as energiser of activity. Necessity being the mother of invention, we need to invent nonlocal community. I put up a website for that purpose in 2011 but folks are slow to catch on.

    I've been brainstorming three presentations for a permaculture hui since I attended the one at Waihi Beach three years ago where discussion pointed to social/political permaculture as the next trend. I was actually scheduled to deliver the first at the Whanganui hui but it got cancelled in spring due to the pandemic. Title of that is Recycling Ancient Wisdom – how useful stuff from the past can provide resilience nowadays. I realised that a lifetime investigating it ought to be put behind me – via a switch to provision.

    So whereas permaculture focused on land usage, then branched out into habitat, it ought to shift up a gear again. We need mental tech to regenerate community. We know that because our default to inherited culture combined with sociobiological internal programming is producing a toxic stew. Social media makes this obvious.

    Since permaculture is design-based, we need to identify relevant design principles. I took a look at Holmgren's list from 20 years ago, found several that were convertible, converted those into language appropriate for social & political contexts, and decided that the next best place to look was the past and what worked there.

    However a lateral thinker can also spot useful patterns of behaviour that pull folks together in common cause in contemporary society. So my other two presentations (almost worked out) head down that path. Contemplate, for instance, the confluence of psychodynamics that make a rock band into a social organism. Notice the role of context (audience as community). Then the intellectual challenge becomes one of abstracting the operative principles, and then articulating those as design principles.

    • Robert Guyton 2.1

      Hi Dennis – at Waihi, did you meet/hear Robyn, from Riverton? She pitched for the following hui in Riverton, which "happened" here in our forest-garden. I wonder if you 2 spoke together?

      • Dennis Frank 2.1.1

        Not that I recall Robert. I recall an excellent talk on the building of earth ships by a young kiwi woman who had been building them both here & various places overseas. I met Robina & Lillee & Fiona & they crashed overnight at my place on their subsequent tour. Had a good catch-up with Nandor Tanczos too.

  3. Blazer 3

    'hopepunk'…how very simple…let's hope it goes…viral!indecision

  4. Robert Guyton 4

    I like this, weka. Despite the detail, I see it as a finger-post to … something, somewhere…

    And that's a good thing: as good as it can be, imo.

    I found a bit of grit though, in your quote from Barry Lopez on murmuration and the behaviour of birds in swarms –

    " Each bird looks to the four or five birds immediately around them to coordinate its movements".

    Rupert Sheldrake addresses the same issue, but provides a "morphic resonance" explanation, which I favour: no matter, your post is in the stream that's flowing in the direction we need to be launching our thoughts. I'm ruminating on it now and hope to comment after my meal is had.

    • weka 4.1

      cheers Robert. Writing in the stream that's flowing in the direction we need to be launching our thoughts, a good beginning. Appreciate the encouragement.

  5. Starlings are a scourge to the native environment in New Zealand. Why would you consider them as a hope symbol when all they do is tear down our conservation efforts?

  6. Dennis Frank 6

    The Hidden Tribes of America is a year-long project launched by More in Common in late 2018 to better understand the forces that drive political polarization and tribalism in the United States today, and to galvanize efforts to address them. The Hidden Tribes of America study forms the initial phase of the project.

    More in Common works on strengthening societies against the increasing threats of polarization and social division. We aim to build more united, inclusive and resilient societies in which people believe that what they have in common is greater than what divides them.

    We work in partnership with a wide range of civil society groups, as well as philanthropy, business, faith, education, media and government to connect people across the lines of division. Our work includes research into public attitudes, communications initiatives that resonate with a majority who are currently being targeted by populist narratives, and projects that bring people together in ways that counter the forces of fracturing and fragmentation.

    Stephen Hawkins is the Director of Research for More in Common. Since 2016, Stephen has led More in Common’s studies on polarization and division in the United States and across Europe. With a training in polling and public opinion research, he has advised partners and clients on five continents. His clients have included political candidates and movements, Fortune 100 companies such as Ford and Microsoft, and United Nations agencies. He received his Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    Daniel Yudkin is the Associate Director of Research at More in Common and a postdoctoral researcher in the Psychology Department at Yale. His research focuses on how people assess and influence their surroundings, including how they decide between right and wrong, compare themselves to others, and explore new spaces. He received his PhD in social psychology at New York University, was a Fellow at Harvard University, and has been a contributing writer to the New York Times, The Guardian, and Scientific American.

    I cite the above to demonstrate that this is serious social science research by academics with relevant expertise.

    Why seven groups or tribes?

    America is a complex and diverse society of 325 million people… In reviewing the groupings that emerged from multiple iterations of the hierarchical cluster analysis process, we found that seven groups were distinct enough from each other to be worthy of presentation as separate groups. If we had presented more than seven groups, some of the groups would be so similar to each other as to be hard to distinguish.

    Presenting fewer than seven groups would have resulted in members of some tribes being too different from each other to be accurately placed under the same label.

    Here's a quick snapshot of each group:

    Progressive Activists (8 percent of the population) are deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America's direction today. They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media.

    Traditional Liberals (11 percent of the population) tend to be cautious, rational, and idealistic. They value tolerance and compromise. They place great faith in institutions.

    Passive Liberals (15 percent of the population) tend to feel isolated from their communities. They are insecure in their beliefs and try to avoid political conversations. They have a fatalistic view of politics and feel that the circumstances of their lives are beyond their control.

    The Politically Disengaged (26 percent of the population) are untrusting, suspicious about external threats, conspiratorially minded, and pessimistic about progress. They tend to be patriotic yet detached from politics.

    Moderates (15 percent of the population) are engaged in their communities, well informed, and civic-minded. Their faith is often an important part of their lives. They shy away from extremism of any sort.

    Traditional Conservatives (19 percent of the population) tend to be religious, patriotic, and highly moralistic. They believe deeply in personal responsibility and self-reliance.

    Devoted Conservatives (6 percent of the population) are deeply engaged with politics and hold strident, uncompromising views. They feel that America is embattled, and they perceive themselves as the last defenders of traditional values that are under threat.

    Democracy imposes a banal binary framing on society, inherited from the 18th century. Better to discover what is actually happening.

    Seven is the magic number. The fact that it emerged empirically from the science ought to be considered along with the possibility that the framing was tacitly prompted by the number seven archetype doing its thing in the group mind…

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