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Longing for a low carbon future

Written By: - Date published: 8:27 am, May 18th, 2022 - 48 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags: , , ,

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.

Full essay here

48 comments on “Longing for a low carbon future ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    This is what I profess also.

    My attempt (How to get there) revolved around the hope that envisaging would effect action in anyone reading or contributing to that discussion.

    I've applied the same hope and action to my role in the regional council.

    Turns out, it's tricky to do 🙂

    But I don't give up.

  2. roy cartland 2

    Planning for the future and actually preparing for it was hard enough before social media and hyper-advertising wreaked chaos on our attention; but people managed it. Look at temples and cathedrals which took more than a lifetime to complete.

    Now we want everything so fast that if we can't have it immediately, it's almost like we can't remember how to get it at all. Imagine if we somehow banned advertising > consumerism > wasteful consumption. (I'd start with those infuriating massive screen billboards that have sprung up without me ever being asked.)

    • roy cartland 2.1

      I knew this idea reminded me of something: this Monbiot vid is worth the time.

      Key takeaways:

      • We need a story to believe in, it's the catalyst that has changed the world every time.

      • He calls it the politics of belonging, which it etymologically similar at least.

      • Despair is the trap we fall into when our imagination fails us.

      • Robert Guyton 2.1.1

        Thanks, Roy – that was excellent! Monbiot has made the effort not to be beaten down by seemingly impossible barriers to a better way.

    • Belladonna 2.2

      Imagine if we somehow banned advertising > consumerism > wasteful consumption.

      Sounds like North Korea!

      Banning stuff is rarely the solution. Making people not want the stuff is the challenge.

      And, so many of us (me included) talk the talk, but are reluctant to make highly-disruptive-to-our-lives changes. Those who actually embody the changes they preach are rare birds (and, to me, highly admired), but it's difficult for 'ordinary people' to see ourselves emulating them.

      There needs to be a bridge….. (metaphorically speaking – not raising the AHB!)

      Which is why EVs are potentially a good opening wedge in car-ownership – as a less polluting method of individual transport. You can advocate for public transport and/or cycling – but you're really only preaching to the choir – it's a bridge too far for the majority of Kiwis.

      • roy cartland 2.2.1

        To clarify, I meant banning advertising (starting with the example I mentioned), leading to a reduction in wasteful consumerism. There would be much less demand without advertising right, or it wouldn't exist.

        • DukeEll 2.2.1.1

          Bit hard to ban advertising when this government is addicted to it. What would Incognito and all the other PR / Comms people do for a living in wellington?

          [lprent: Banned permanently for extreme stupidity. It violates site policy about attacking authors, you haven’t even bothered to present any evidence of your claim, and I know it isn’t correct. Which makes you a lazy lying dipshit making up dumb stories about authors. You simply aren’t worth wasting moderation on. Be gone. ]

          • Drowsy M. Kram 2.2.1.1.1

            What would Incognito and all the other PR / Comms people do for a living in wellington?

            There’s advertising, and then there’s ‘advertising’.

            Where is Jason Ede? Chief of Communications & Strategy at PINZ.

            https://www.nbr.co.nz/tags/jason-ede

          • Incognito 2.2.1.1.2

            Is this your attempt at doxxing me? And WTF has it got to do with the Post?

          • Incognito 2.2.1.1.3

            Dukie, I’m afraid you’ve confused me with another Author here who did indeed and rightfully so comment on comms numbers at Waka Kotahi and how the Public Service works, but it wasn’t me. Shame though that you copped a permanent ban for taking a silly swing at the wrong person.

            You could try a genuine apology although you seem keener on digging deeper into the grave.

  3. AB 3

    I share your longing and hope. But I know many people don't. In fact many people absolutely loathe the possibility of the sort of world that this longing might produce.

    Over the years I have watched them step through the 5 known stages of denialism:

    1. It isn't happening. Scientists are just making a noise because they can get research grants to work in that area
    2. It is happening but it's probably just natural cycles and not caused by humans.
    3. It is happening and it is caused by humans, but scientists are being alarmist and exaggerating. In some ways it might be good – Dunedin could be balmy in July
    4. It is happening, it is caused by humans, it could be serious. But NZ doesn't need to do anything much because our total emissions are comparatively tiny. Let's just watch and wait
    5. It is happening, it is caused by humans, it could be serious and we need to act. The best way to act is to leave it to the market – set up the right incentives and price signals on carbon and methane, and solutions will be flow rationally and efficiently. If governments interfere they'll just get it wrong and indulge in wasteful spending

    Luxon – if you parsed his inane babbling on TVNZ this morning – is at stage 5. It’s the “in order to change we need to keep doing the same thing” argument.

    I can't clearly see what the denialist position after this will be. But signs of one may be emerging:

    6.) It is happening, it is caused by humans, it will be serious and it's too late to act. Maybe it's even good and necessary because the planet is overpopulated with bottom feeders. Take personal responsibility for yourself, move somewhere safe, buy guns and ammunition.

    • roy cartland 3.1
      1. "Would love to save the world, but since I can't I'll just save number one and say 'well, I tried'".
      • pat 3.1.1

        Or

        I am onboard with saving humans future existence(possibly) but I cannot sacrifice my (and my family's) current existence to achieve it.

        • weka 3.1.1.1

          this is important. Where is the line between existing, wellbeing, and excess? If most people atm think that their consumer life under capitalism is essential, how does this make sense if we don't act and climate wipes it all away anyway. I don't know if people don't get the seriousness, or if they feel powerless, or if it's cognitive dissonance or what, but there are many people in NZ who are unwilling to give up things that aren't related to existence.

          • pat 3.1.1.1.1

            I expect that if you are struggling to house and feed your family, never mind any, energy, transport or nice to haves, the line is pretty clear….we are not talking about people who have the wherewithal for mindless consumption.

            Anything that reduces the ability to provide the essentials is a negative….and most carbon reduction proposals fall into that category.

            • weka 3.1.1.1.1.1

              we are not talking about people who have the wherewithal for mindless consumption.

              We should be though. It's time for the middle and upper classes to step up and use that privilege for good.

            • KJT 3.1.1.1.1.2

              In reality, stopping our reliance on imported oil, and the consequent need to find billions in export earnings to pay for it. Replacing oil with home grown, more sustainable energy, will make all of us better off.

              The intention of Muldoon's Think Big. Import substitution. He wasn't wrong there.

              • weka

                Was that in his thinking about the Clyde Dam?

                • KJT

                  Clyde dam, Marsden point, Maui Gas. All intended to slow the heamorrhage of foreign exchange.

                  I doubt if AGW was on their horizons at the time.

                  Cutting energy import costs, which were hugely disproportionate at the time, was.

                  Even without AGW, there are very good economic and social reasons for giving oil companies the finger.

                  • pat

                    And rail electrification…

                    "The 411 km (255 mi) section between Palmerston North and Hamilton was electrified at 25 kV 50 Hz AC, opened on 24 June 1988[46] as one of the Muldoon National Government's "Think Big" energy development projects. An overall cost in excess of $100 million had been projected, with some 40% being for the locomotives, but the final cost was about $250 million. The economics of the project was greatly undermined by the fall of the price of oil in the 1980s and the deregulation of land transport, which removed the long-distance monopoly NZR held when the cost-benefit report was written"

                    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Island_Main_Trunk

                    Curiously that 250 million in 1988 if subjected to the RBNZ inflation calculator (CPI) would cost 569 million today…..I think not.

                    569 million….cash for clunkers?

                  • weka

                    Would be good to have a sense of ratios then and now. How much if society was/is dependent of FF.

                    Clyde was about supporting industry right? Eg the proposed Aramoana smelter

                    • Poission

                      At the time of think big,we had energy shocks, a collapse in the wool price,and Britain joining the common market,significantly limiting our export earnings and decreasing our foreign exchange.

                      Aramoana was only part of the use for clyde,there was also the need for more low cost electricity in the SI,Due to limitations on gas.

                      In the NI ,there was both CNG ( with loans for vehicle conversions from the local regional savings banks.

                      There was also the Motunui Synthetic fuel plant (methanol) and the urea plant at Kapuni for fertilizers.

                      In the SI there was also the pumped hydro plan for Pukaki/Tekapo which the MOW and department of electricity had already designed into the systems.( It has around half the potential of Onslow with around 20% of the cost)

                    • pat

                      Ratios in what sense….oil consumption?

                      Am not sure that the reasoning for Clyde was Aromoana though it was publicly used as a justification….energy for energy's sake was probably the rational and the potential future options it provided.

                    • Poission

                      Electricity was 90% renewable.

                    • pat

                      @Poission

                      No doxing but am curious, are /were you involved in electricity generation …NZED perhaps?

                    • Poission

                      I was on secondment from another department,to NZED (following think big) as a research advisor for a short time, ( reading lots of project files)

                    • pat

                      A little more than a hobby.

                    • weka

                      Ratios in what sense….oil consumption?

                      If Muldoon was thinking we were too energy dependent on imports (oil), I assume there must have been some way to measure that. What was the measurement then, and what is it now. I don't know how that would be measured, but I assume it would take into account oil and electricity and how each factors into different parts of the economy. eg transport or manufacturing or people's homes.

                    • KJT

                      Mostly about import substitution. Of both energy and other imports. To improve the balance of payments.

                      Supporting local industry was, of course, part of that.

                    • KJT

                      Mostly about import substitution. Of both energy and other imports. To improve the balance of payments.

                      Supporting local industry was, of course, part of that.

                      I don't know the energy ratios of fossil fuels to electricity then and now. It is likely on the Stats NZ site, but will take a little digging.

                    • pat

                      The measure is relatively straightforward….imports.

                      In Muldoons time we imported virtually all oil used, 85-90,000 bpd.

                      What percentage of GDP that was or its ratio to export earnings I dont know off the top of my head .

                      Today we import about 170,000 bpd but that is offset a little by exports….last numbers I recall were an annual cost of around 6 billion per annum against export receipts of around 40 billion

          • Belladonna 3.1.1.1.2

            I'd guess because they're looking at many of the leaders in this area, who are asking for sacrifices from others, but not willing to give up their own quality of life.

            How many MPs have the latest i-whatever phone (or the Samsung equivalent)? [Talking about consumerism and excess, the planned obsolescence of phones is right up there]

            How many MPs travel by train to parliament (rather than flying)? [If it's OK for them to fly, because their time is too precious to be spent on the train – then it's OK for me to do so, too]

            How many local body leaders use public transport exclusively to get to work or to council meetings, or to events?

            How many MPs jet off on overseas holidays? [I think every party except TPM – and there's only 2 of them – would have to put their hands up here]

            Yes. We should all take individual responsibility. And there are some leaders out there walking the talk – but all too few.

            And, when people see the disconnect between rhetoric and personal action – then they're much more inclined to think this is political hot air – rather than requiring urgent action today.

        • Robert Guyton 3.1.1.2

          No one is being asked to sacrifice their (and their family's) current existence to achieve it, are they?

          Current life-style, maybe, but not "existence", surely?

          • pat 3.1.1.2.1

            Hi Robert

          • Populuxe1 3.1.1.2.2

            I suspect a respectable chunk of the South Island would pretty much cease to be habitable in the winter months if we ramped back on electricity production. We also need to take into account that our geography is quite gnarly, a big chunk of our economy is rural, and we're at the arse end of the world and far away from our nearest neighbour yet painfully dependent on import/export. There are many essential things in medicine and technology that we can't realistically manufacture here, and life would quickly become hellish if we had to rely on seasonal agriculture for food.

            • weka 3.1.1.2.2.1

              I suspect a respectable chunk of the South Island would pretty much cease to be habitable in the winter months if we ramped back on electricity production.

              Why would we ramp back on electricity production? We can of course build much better energy efficient housing, and retrofit. Some places wood burners are a good option (again, we could be doing way more efficient tech). Local solar and wind generation. Some of that requires behaviour change, you don't just leave everything running.

              We also need to take into account that our geography is quite gnarly, a big chunk of our economy is rural, and we're at the arse end of the world and far away from our nearest neighbour yet painfully dependent on import/export. There are many essential things in medicine and technology that we can't realistically manufacture here, and life would quickly become hellish if we had to rely on seasonal agriculture for food.

              Lots of people eat seasonally and have great diets and yummy food.

              Did anyone suggest we would stop importing?

              • Populuxe1

                Why would we ramp back on electricity production?

                Perhaps less ramp back than fail to keep up with inevitable increasing demand, particularly if you factor in public transport, population growth, EVs, and the inevitable increase in power usage to keep things cooler and warmer as climate becomes more dramatic.

                We can of course build much better energy efficient housing, and retrofit.

                Which is easier said than done as we've seen with Labour's attempts. There are other issues with our inability to benefit from economy of scale, extant issues with supply chains, and the fact that our building industry is at least a decade or more behind current EU or even US spec. Can it be done? Sure, but the timeframe telescopes out dauntingly into decades.

                Some places wood burners are a good option (again, we could be doing way more efficient tech).

                Burning of any sort still produces carbon, and even the most efficient wood burners contribute to air pollution where atmospheric inversion layers are an issue Woodburner pros and cons – Consumer NZ
                It's all very cozy and cottagecore, but not really compatible with healthy air, healthy lungs, and a zero carbon end goal.

                Local solar and wind generation. Some of that requires behaviour change, you don't just leave everything running.

                The problem with solar and wind generation is that you need an affordable, safe, and efficient way to store electricity for when the sun isn't shining and wind isn't blowing – and we're definitely not there yet. Tesla power walls aren't cheap, and as for battery farms Blaze at giant Tesla battery farm takes firefighters four days to put out | The Independent
                Given electricity prices at the moment I don't imagine many people are just leaving everything running even now – that just sounds a little patronising. Not that only heating one or two rooms is terribly healthy.

                Lots of people eat seasonally and have great diets and yummy food.

                And some of my best friends are xyz. What you're going to be able to eat seasonally in the Mediterranean climate of Auckland or Nelson, or subtropical Northland, does not translate well to Southland or the West Coast. Also a multicultural country has to accommodate a broader variety of foodstuffs than can necessarily be supported locally.

                Did anyone suggest we would stop importing?

                You're not going to make much of a dent in carbon without drastically curtailing shipping unless we go back to the glorious age of sail.

  4. weston 4

    Like most significant changes noone wants to make them till they are literally looking into the abyss .Change the world by changing your world .

    • Robert Guyton 4.1

      Indeed. I do feel your, "noone" isn't quite accurate 🙂

      • weston 4.1.1

        Generalization i guess robert tho was meaning us all in a sense because in our lives we probably all more or less resist change and the biggest ones like for example changes in relationships we resist the most for most of us we simply wont budge until we absolutely have to hence looking into the abyss .Seems very often a wasted exercise trying to get others to change and ive often admired some of the old wisdoms which suggested the smartest thing to do was to change yourself and the world would follow along ,Makes sense to me anyway .

        • Robert Guyton 4.1.1.1

          I certainly agree with, "Change one's self"

          Probably the most powerful thing anyone can do, especially if it's an on-going behaviour. I remember, as a lad, thinking: I could try to change these "imperfect" things around me, or, I could change the way I think about those things. It made my head swim a bit.

          • weston 4.1.1.1.1

            K was always on about the observer and the observed and how if you were gonna change something you first had to know what it was you were changing which led on to observing yourself in a totally uncritical fashion over time so that you knew yourself actually an then i think change came by itself .He would always start in his talks with " what is "……and when you'd peeled away everything it wasnt you were left with ' what is '

            what made my head swim was his question "what is fear of need but need itself "? i would think an think and think id solved it and then forget it again !!

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