What If …

What if we lived in a time when the human imagination flourished and anything felt possible.

It was back in 2008 when I first came across Rob Hopkins through his Transition Handbook. This helped shape a lot of my sustainability thinking at the time, (Time for built environment transition?) and in turn participation in Transition Town activities here in the North West. Writing in 2008, from a future 2030, Rob looked back over transition achievements, to when “in 2011, the Government initiated the concept of the Great Reskilling in the training of construction industry workers” with skills and mindset to address a sustainable future.

Of course that reskilling is still to happen within the built environment sector, and is ever important as we look to circular economy, toxic free and nature based construction techniques and materials. Fast forward to Rob’s latest book, What If …From What Is To What If … What if we had undertaken that construction re-skilling back then?.

What If does have a sprinkling of the climate doom gloom we face (and read in many climate change texts at the present) but the focus is on our capability to reimagine a better future and in asking the question how can we unleash the power of our imagination to create the future we want.

This resonates well with me, and with many of the messages I have used over recent years, in FutuREstorative in 2016 and in the series of #imaginebetter keynotes for Specifi and others through 2018 into 2019. And it is indeed core to the Living Building Challenge call to “imagine if every act of construction made the world a better place”

What If takes us on a deeper exploration of ‘imagination’ in an inspiring and urgent call for us to look deeper, to reconnect, with place, with nature, with ourselves and to reimagine a better future with a renewed sense of possibility.

Within sustainable design we focus on topics such as biophilia, that FutuREstorative described as the secret sauce for sustainability behaviour, to rekindle our believe that we can achieve a restorative future. Yet, spending 90% of our time in buildings we increasingly suffer solastalgia – a distress and yearning for earlier times, of better childhood memories, of a cleaner, more natural environment, that ebbs away our power to imagine a better environment, or reclaiming the one we have lost

Worringly, What If details how we are losing our capacity for imagination through dependency on technology, through loss of biodiversity, disconnection with nature and a degradation of of our environment, pushing us further into a spiral of being unable to imagine, and then achieve, a better future.

What is the impact on our imaginations of freefalling biodiversity and abundance? And, the corollary, is a diminished imagination to blame for the tolerance of such abject (biodiversity) tragedy?

What If revisits the power of our imagination, with stories, research and case studies, in play, as a vital element of our health, as a core element of connectivity with nature, of our ability to ask better questions and then importantly explores what if our imagination and desire for a better future came to pass.

On the dustcover, What If is described as a passionate call to action, to revive and to replenish not only our individual imaginations but a collective imagination, and once achieved there could be no end to what we may accomplish.

Rob Hopkins is the co-founder of Transition Totnes and the Transition Network

Advertisements

books about a planet in peril

“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and even imagine some real grounds for hope.”

Ursula Le Guin, 2014

FutuREstorative included a list of books that have inspired me along my sustainability journey. However since its publication in 2016, the world of sustainability has moved on, we now have recognition of a climate and biodiversity emergency, we are asking how, not why, we have IPCC, UN and UKCC reports, we have extinction rebellion, we have school-strike activists and record breaking protests demanding climate change action. We need and we have, an updated library of climate change sustainability texts and novels. Below is the wonderful text that appeared in the Guardian Review on the 5th of October, that promotes great writing on a planet in peril. Where, In Life Stories, Amitav Ghosh asks the question “How do we make sense of the Earth when it seems to be turning against us in revenge for its despoliation?”

Image result for fairsnape books
Companion books for a sustainability journey …

The very act of writing about the devastation can sometimes create a kind of coherence. Elizabeth Kolbert shows us how with The Sixth Extinction, where she focuses on a few of the million or so species that are dying out in what is now known to be one of the greatest extinction events in the history of the Earth. The closeness of the focus creates a powerful sense of empathy, not just with the vanishing creatures but also with the writer as she struggles to account for the horrors to which she is bearing witness.

MB: Elizabeth Kolbert Field Notes from a Catastrophe 2006 was part travel, part reporting and for me an early eyeopener to climate change, which. in 2006 was not recognised outside of the science community

Dahr Jamail’s The End of Ice is another unflinching attempt to grapple with almost incomprehensible realities. Jamail travels widely and listens closely to scientists, and to people whose ways of life are threatened by ecological breakdown. “The grief for the planet does not get easier,” he writes. “Returning to this again and again is, I think, the greatest service I can offer in these times.”

Our current predicament is both overwhelming and elusive, manifesting itself not in big events but in what the Princeton professor Rob Nixon calls a kind of “slow violence”, revealed in small but telling details. Such details abound in Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud, a memoir of her experience of building a house in a very challenging location in Wyoming. Proulx has always paid close attention to landscape and this is no exception: it is the terrain that awakens the writer to the effects of planetary changes.

MB on my reading list …

A memoir of a completely different kind is Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene. Scranton served in Iraq as a private in the US army and he draws on that experience in trying to understand the implications of climate crisis for himself and his loved ones: the result is a book that is fiercely urgent and deeply poignant.

In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing goes in search of the much-prized matsutake mushroom, found only in certain damaged forests. The matsutake serves as both vehicle and metaphor for a giddying exploration of capitalism, networks of trade and the hidden lives of forests, ultimately opening up the possibility of salvaging meaning from an increasingly disordered reality.

The disrupted migration of monarch butterflies underpins a powerful human story in Barbara Kingsolver’s luminous novel Flight Behaviour.

MB Choosing the Monarch Butterfly as the symbol for FutuREstorative led me to reading and research, including a scan read (the sample kindle chapter I must admit) from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, it has remained on my ‘to finish’ reading since

Published 2016

We need stories that can accommodate other kinds of protagonists, and there is no better example of this than Richard Powers’s marvellous The Overstory, a novel that gives trees a wonderfully vivid fictional life.

MB Currently half way through and its changing the way I think of trees, in particular the huge difference in time frames between us & trees, and how our stories are linked & eclipsed by the arboreal overstory

Many people have always known that emotions are not exclusive to humans. But what does it mean when someone says they can understand the inner lives of animals, trees, or even forests? Bruce Albert and Davi Kopenawa provide a vivid sense of this in The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman. The Yanomami of the Amazon, like all the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia, have experienced the end of what was once their world.

To this list I would add:

Climate Justice, Mary Robinson A Man-Made Problem With a Feminist Solution. An urgent call to arms by one of the most important voices in the international fight against climate change, sharing inspiring stories and offering vital lessons for the path forward, I picked up a signed copy after listening to Mary talk at Living Futures in Seattle back in May. Mary also has a wonderful podcast, Mothers of Invention with Maeve Higgins

This is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook. Extinction Rebellion are inspiring a whole generation to take action on climate breakdown. By the time you finish this book you will have become an Extinction Rebellion activist.

“It is worse, far worse than you think” the opening sentence to Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace Wells, is perhaps one of the best openers for a while. David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await–food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.

No one is too small to make a difference. The history-making, ground-breaking speeches of Greta Thunberg, the young activist who has become the voice of a generation. With the cost of this being les than 1/2 pint of beer – its one to gift.

And, its not all doom and gloom, we can indeed imagine better. Recently received two read and review is Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement … What If, Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want