Are we in the midst of a failure of the imagination?
So many of the approaches to trying to inspire action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change have been taking a “technocratic” approach. We analyse the situation, talk about costs and benefits, technological solutions, wedge analysis and the list goes ever on. Over the last 20 years during all of this analysis very little if any change has taken place that could be linked to this analysis. The argument could be made that the regional and state carbon pricing that we are seeing (cap and trade or carbon pricing) and much of the technology development and generation around renewable energy mostly solar and wind are steps that can be directly linked to the “technocratic” analytical approach.
However, I talk to people in my family and friends who are living their lives not focussed on climate change and one of the largest feelings is powerlessness – a feeling of lack of there is nothing that I can I do about it. Part of this is what I briefly discussed in an earlier blog post on how the design of our society and cities is designed around a paradigm which does not include any consideration of climate change – This institutional and development momentum has many names and the for along time the technocratic approach has also recognized this where it is called “rounding the baseline” .
I think we need something bigger than an analytical approach which appeals to only a small number of people. We need an approach which lays out a future which people can embrace and engage, which is positive and people can see themselves and their children in, which is equitable and has many other aspects. Feel free to let me know what these other aspects should be in the comments section. I am not espousing for a not realistic utopian vision of the future, but more of a realistic positive vision not haunted by disaster scenarios and fear or anchored to a space opera fantasy of escaping to the stars.
At my day job, I have been involved in some discussions about deep carbon reductions for Canadian cities to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. One fo the points made by one fo the attendees was that we need a vision of the future which is not defined by the need to be low carbon. It needs to be a vision of the future which addresses people’s needs and dreams, is postive and people can see themselves in it.
In my view this also needs to be a realistic vision articulating the needs and wants of people as well as understanding that people are not going to go backwards in their living conditions. To me this means that they will still want to have some form of personal transportation, the IT sector and the communiciations embodied by the smart phone will continue to be a part of our lives and people will continue to want to explore innovation, have fun, be artistic and creative and develop new tools and toys.
The implicit assumption under this vision is that resources and energy will not become excessively expensive as any increase in pricing which could potentially impact quality of life will induce innovation, smart use etc. – really the heart of the modern industrial competitive capitalistic(?) economy. This also assumes that there is no dramatic change in governance in these modern economies either to a socialistic centrally planned economy or to a religious nonscientific governance and economy. Human ingenuity will continue to deliver increased quality of life within the constraints that are dictated by resources and values.
My question is where is this vision being explored? The place where it should be explored is in art, painting. performance, literature, comics, manga etc.
Where is the low carbon economy and our future being explored and teased apart?. Where is the human imagination being used to explore these futures.
One literature area which I know well is science fiction. To large extent extent however science fiction tends to not be sophisticated and mostly either disaster climate science fiction or a technocratic vision where science and technology deliver humanity to space. However, one vision I think is too pessimistic and I think it is time to move beyond fear to motivate change and the other one is too optimistic and escapist.
In the art world, there is some thinking and visioning going on, specifically
Interview with the editor of the graphic comic shown above
Is this lack of imagination holding us back as a group or society from being able to imagine steps and actions that can be taken to address climate change and move us to a future that is positive and low carbon?
I am sure there are lots of other places and domains where this is starting to be imagined and I would love to hear of them.
Thanks for listening!