Illustration of flower growing from pencil

The spotlight

As you probably know, one of the ways we love to tackle the question of how we can contribute to building a better world is by imagining that world first — then working our way backward. For the new year, we asked you to share in that exercise with us, crafting drabbles centered around your hopes or goals for the coming year.

Whether or not you’re into the idea of New Year’s resolutions (and the ethos of #NewYearNewMe), I think there’s a lot to be said for the power of a fresh start, even a somewhat artificial one like the turning over of the calendar. Climate change is big and scary, and action taken to mitigate it, whether personal or societal, can often seem like too little, too late. But I’m reminded of a quote I’ve heard often working in the climate world: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

In other words, rather than lamenting the fact we’re not standing in a metaphorical forest of sustainability and climate solutions, we may as well pick up the shovel.

In November of 2023, a survey by the nonprofit marketing firm Potential Energy found that 78 percent of respondents from around the world support doing “whatever it takes” to mitigate climate change — and the messaging that motivated people the most was simple: “Later is too late.”

One reader who responded to our end-of-year prompt spoke to this idea of acting now for the sake of future generations. “I won’t be alive in 2050, but my grandchildren will,” Tony Carter shared with me. “I care passionately about climate change and want to contribute to a world where people can enjoy good health, a safe environment, and freedom from the disasters caused by global warming.”

In 2024, Tony is working on building an online library of the latest climate information. “It will be available to nonprofit organizations and educational establishments, at no cost, to help people stay current with the progress we are making,” he said, and also added that the outcomes of COP28 left him feeling more optimistic than he did before. “‘Transition’ is not as powerful as ‘phaseout,’ but I saw it as a major step forward,” he said. “Hopefully, I will still feel that way at the end of 2024.”

Other readers found different sources of hope and resolve for where they want to be at the end of this year. Read on for drabbles of New Year’s inspiration from the Looking Forward community.

— Claire Elise Thompson

. . .

Publishers declare 2024 the year of climate fiction.

You’re skeptical at first — how much more doom and gloom can you take? — but then you try one and bam! Just like that, you’re hooked.

By December, your Kindle library is an ode to the genre. You don’t know which was your favorite: the tightly paced thriller set in the buried halls of the Svalbard Seed Vault or the solarpunk fantasy about a girl who discovers she’s a descendant of Afro-Cuban deity of the ocean, Yemaya, and the inheritor of the rising seas.

All you know is that you want more.

— Danielle Arostegui

. . .

The sight of the stars from mile 105 of the Benton MacKaye Trail takes my breath away, just as it has at every other campsite during our monthly backpacking hikes this year. Yet compared to that first excursion in January, everything else feels different.

The forest’s healing powers leveled up my relationships with loved ones — including myself.

The bodies of water kept my thirst for alcohol at bay for a second year.

The mountains strengthened my legs, lungs, and resolve.

The hiker community’s embrace warmed my heart.

The planet intensified my love for it.

The wildlife made my life wild.

— Becca Godwin

. . .

I’m returning home from my walk and it’s barely dawn. I couldn’t tolerate the scorching temperatures again this summer, so I adopted new habits. I’m not alone, something far bigger changed this year. In addition to climate tipping points, there’s another transformation underway, finally! Mainstream and social media, and personal conversations are decisively acknowledging the climate crisis. People, many people, are talking about it openly and with urgency. They’re shocked, angry, but at least they’re awake, no longer in bliss denial. Citizens worldwide are demanding their governments take corrective action, and some are. There’s hope. I pray the momentum lasts!

— Kathy Posey

. . .

A big thank-you again to everybody who shared their thoughts, resolutions, and drabbles. And if you didn’t get around to it, there is never a wrong time to send us a drabble! One of our resolutions for 2024 is to do more stories inspired by your interests, questions, and ideas about the future. Feel free to share drabbles anytime exploring solutions you’re passionate or curious about, and we’ll look into the work being done on them today, for potential future newsletters.

A parting shot

A relaxing view of Big Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park — near the endpoint of the roughly 300-mile long Benton MacKaye Trail that Becca referenced in her drabble.

A small waterfall flows in between large, moss-covered rocks, with trees in the background.