I’ve been at this climate thing for a while now, and I’ve never been more fired up about the possibility for change.
I’m still winding down from a trip to New York City, which played host to the hullabaloo that was Climate Week (yes, I have flight shame, thanks for asking). The heads of state who gathered at the U.N. didn’t make much progress, but the excitement in the streets more than made up for it: Hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks, many of them ditching school on behalf of a better future, came out to show us the way forward.
Something like 7.6 million people took part in the climate strikes worldwide, according to organizers. (Humblebrag: My 13-year-old daughter joined in, and followed up with a scathing letter to our president that was far better than anything I could have penned. Daughter to Trump: “I’m speaking for my generation when I say, what happened to you?”)
Until recently, I would have had to squint hard to imagine a time when this many people knew and cared about climate change. Thankfully, we’ve only gotten better at imagining since I founded Grist in 1999.
In that spirit, I thought I’d spend this edition of Shift Happens challenging us to rethink what’s possible. Read on to learn about a museum exhibit from the future, some lessons from the past, and a whole lot of “impossible” things happening right here, right now.
As always, feel free to send thoughts about Shift Happens, and get your chums in on the fun, too.
— Chip, Grist Founder
1. Your new hero
What, exactly, might a better, brighter future look like?
Johannes Stripple, political science professor at Sweden’s Lund University, and a team of researchers called Climaginaries are here to help us — uh, climagine it — through art, fiction, and a bunch of other wacky projects that stretch the limits of what we might think is possible.
Case in point: “Carbon Ruins,” a traveling museum exhibit from the future, complete with descriptions of historic events, like the Milk Riots of 2025, and relics of “the fossil age,” like frequent flyer cards and the last fast-food hamburger (which you can see for yourself here in our article on the exhibit).
“We provide a space where people can start imagining what could happen, and who could lead it,” Stripple said. “We use the idea that you are someone who has agency in the world, and what you’re doing matters.”
2. Your reading list
Dreaming of a better tomorrow is fun and all, but we’re busy people, and there are a hundred distractions that prevent us from taking steps today that might actually get us there. That’s why Bina Venkataraman wrote her new book, The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in A Reckless Age.
Venkataraman is smart about these things. She was a senior adviser for climate change innovation in the Obama White House, and now works as the director of Global Policy Initiatives at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. (Harvard and MIT! Really!)
Her book explores all sorts of ways that businesses, governments, and communities have learned to be better planners-ahead. She tells stories about cooperatives that manage fisheries in sustainable ways, farmers who are planting crops that replenish the soil, and investment firms that take the long view rather than obsessing about short-term profits.
She also writes beautifully about how we can all “be better ancestors.” Check out the essay we published about a gift from her grandmother and how that has changed the way she thinks about the past, present, and future.
3. Your pick-me-up
- PEOPLE POWER: No one’s denying the greatness of Greta Thunberg. But there are a ton of other youth activists out there, too. Want a whole bunch of inspiration? Check out Vice’s great roundup of indigenous activists and activists of color under 30.
- GEOENGI-NEAR FUTURE: Geoengineering is the Hail Mary of climate change solutions. Can’t cut carbon? Just block out the sun! Except it’s a lot more complicated than that. Thankfully, Grist’s video team breaks it down, with the help of some hairspray and lemonade.
- FLAMEOUT: Natural gas is so 2019! Wind and solar are expected to beat out gas-fired power plants for economic feasibility by 2035, according to a recent study from the Rocky Mountain Institute. (Call it karma: Gas plants have been putting coal plants out of business for years.)
- SO INKLEINED: Does it feel like everyone suddenly cares about climate change? Author Naomi Klein has noticed, too — and she’s optimistic that now’s the time we can do something about it.
- TREESON: It’s time to support our “comrade[s]-in-arms against climate change,” says Germany’s agriculture minister, Julia Klöckner. She’s talking about trees: At Berlin’s national forest summit last week, Germany’s federal and regional governments pledged to replant 440,000 acres of trees, enlisting the country’s army to revitalize climate-healing woodlands.
4. Your next move
- KEEP GOING: Don’t let the momentum of Climate Week die down. Take this time to get involved with a climate group in your area, like 350.org or the Sunrise Movement.
- KEEP DREAMING: Explore a world that’s not limited to bleakness by reading, watching, or listening to some optimistic sci-fi (it’s a thing!).
- KEEP TALKING: It might seem as if everyone cares about climate change all of a sudden, but there are still plenty of people who remain in the dark (or just need some encouragement to take action). Check out Umbra’s advice for how to talk to strangers about the crisis — you might get a new marching buddy.
5. Your Sunday plans
MAKE A CLIMATE FUTURE VISION BOARD
Vision boards aren’t just for Pinterest-savvy college students. If you’re going to push for a better world, it’s helpful to have an idea of what you’re aiming for.
Get out your scissors and glue, and slap together a collage of your happy future self. Maybe you’re laughing your way through the sky on a solar-powered jet pack, or taking your family on a speed-of-sound bullet train to a carbon-neutral city, or farming a field of huge, carbon-sucking veggies while windmills turn in the background. Whatever floats your algae-powered boat!
Just answer this question: What kind of a world do I want to live in 50 years from now?
- A big piece of paper or poster board
- Magazines and other materials, like stickers, glitter, macaroni — you get the idea
- Glue stick or double-sided tape
- Some time with your thoughts 🙂
Set your imagination loose! Paste together a world you’d want to live in. Then get out there and fight for it! (And email a picture of your vision board to us, if you’re so inclined — we may share a few in the next edition of Shift Happens.)