If the main barrier to climate action isn’t technological, but social and political, we need new tools for change. Transition Towns pioneer Rob Hopkins is now pioneering the methodology of deep imagination as a way to attract people to the inevitable low carbon future and make it bloody brilliant.
From a recent post,
On my podcast, and in public talks that I give, I invite people to step into my Time Machine and to travel in their imagination to a 2030 that’s not Utopia, nor dystopia, but that is rather the result of our having done everything we possibly could have done in the intervening years. I suggest that those eight years were a time of remarkable and rapid transition which, admittedly, didn’t look too likely in 2022, but which built in cascades of change. I invite them to take a walk around in that world, and then describe it to me.
The responses are universal. “The birdsong is so much louder”. “The air smells amazing”. “There’s a real sense of shared purpose”. “There are far less cars”. They describe streets lined with fruit and nut trees, people working less, faces showing less stress and more smiles, streets full of children playing. No-one ever says “we’ve got this amazing new Ikea, it’s four times bigger than the one in 2022”. The more I’ve done that exercise, the more I’ve come to see it as being a powerful and deeply important thing to do.
But why? The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in March 2022 stated in its closing paragraph, “any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future”.
It is clear though that the idea that logic and rational reports will get us there is delusional. If that was all that was required, we’d have done it years ago. My own sense is that what stands a far better chance is that we all need to get an awful lot better at the cultivation of longing.
My own work on social imagination increasingly focuses on the concept, started by Cassie Robinson and others, of an ‘imagination infrastructure’. For me that term is about asking what would it look like to put in place the ideal set of conditions to enable the collective imagination to flourish. To create the perfect conditions for everyone to be able to see things as if they could be otherwise? I’ve started researching a book about imagination infrastructure because it feels like one of the most important things I could be doing right now. I am immensely curious about it.
The poet Rilke once wrote that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens”. I wonder how different our activism would be if nurturing the social imagination took the form of giving people tastes of ‘pop-up tomorrows’, immersive, sensory tastes of what we could still create, and what it would taste like, smell like, feel like? What if we presented ourselves as if we were time travellers from a future that had made it? What would we say? What would we bring? What new words would we need for things we didn’t have a word for in 2022?
A low-carbon future could be bloody amazing. Don’t you ever forget it. And I know because I’ve been there. And yes, we won.