I was apple-cheeked and pink-lipped, weaving through meadows and tumbling down rolling grass slopes. Not tentative, but trusting, because nature was stable and I was only insignificant. The winds were thunderous, the oceans boundless, the trees towering with steel limbs that could hold my weight effortlessly. It was this youthful faith in the strength of nature which has been eroded over time. Where once I saw power, now I see fragility. The joy of discovery and freedom is now tinged with fear and regret. Each landscape we must now drink in hungrily, with relish and reverence, not knowing how altered it will be when we return. Or if it will even be...
I say this now as a 17 year old environmental activist. One who has become increasingly uneasy with the approach of many environmentalists. Although I hate what we are doing to our planet, I also recognise that nothing will be won by hate and yet in the environmental movement dogmatism is thriving and differences of opinion are embittered and challenged by hostility. We are all so eager to be virtuous and right that we act like cornered wolves when our belief system is challenged. We denounce the system in scathing social media posts and spend our time castigating and pointing fingers. The ‘vegan’ who admits to making a mistake is ‘cancelled’ and the environmentalist who owns a car is chastised and shot down by media. YES, we should act upon our words and remain consistent in those actions, but our salvation from this environmental apocalypse will not come from blame and silo culture, it will come from unity, community and visionaries who dare to dream up a different world.
Humans are biological creatures. We are driven by biological instincts, urges and desires. We’re fundamentally wild and primitive at our core, and I oppose any attempts at placing us on a pedestal, or any suggestions that we’re superior to other species. However, I do think there’s one quality which is the essence of humanity, something almost unique to you and I and our kind. It is our imagination. Imagination is the root of what makes us… us.
We are the only species who believe in and abide by subjective realities and fictional stories. Religion, money, corporations and countries are all concepts and stories which exist in our collective imagination. They’re not physical entities like mountains or trees or rivers. They’re successful only because of the striking potency of our imagination. As far as we know, no other species, even other primates, live such fanciful lives.
Why is this relevant to environmentalism? A flower will grow and flourish towards a light source. Without this source to move towards, the growth stagnates and eventually the flower dies. This analogy can be applied to the chaos of human nature. Like flowers, we too rely on constant movement towards a goal… growth is an intrinsic part of our nature. Life on earth has always been dynamic, as expressed through the process of evolution. Right now, we are moving and progressing, but it’s manifesting in harmful ways. We are growing our economies beyond the capacity of our planet. We are expanding the amount of belongings we each possess beyond what is necessary or sustainable. We ARE moving, but moving in the wrong direction. We need to allow our imagination to re-emerge and create a new story… The Master Narrative. The Story Of Humanity. Our story.
This doesn’t have to be some elusive dream of an unobtainable future. We just need to reclaim the public discourse and create a story which will not leave future generations with a poisoned planet and a pillaged existence.
Law, politics and economics need to change. Communities and culture need to change. Individual mindsets to change.
So what could this future look like?
What if we had an ecocentric political system?
What if we had a circular economy rather than a linear one?
What if we had strengthened local communities with local currencies and community schemes rather than atomising society?
What if our legal system didn’t allow companies and politicians to act with impunity and ravage nature?
What if our legal system actually recognised ecocide as a crime in the International Criminal Court?
What if we changed our hierarchy of values and redefined success not as materialism or money, but fulfillment and impact?
Have a watch of Rob Hopkins envisioning what a day in 2030 could look like.
Once you’ve watched it, don’t stop there. Put aside the factors suppressing your imagination. Allow yourself to be a visionary and harness that fundamental part of being human. Then I want to leave you with a question to consider... what will your role be in the master narrative of humanity?
If we create a captivating, inclusive vision, people will flow into the movement and flood the sparse plains of inaction with life. A movement built on exclusivism, absolutism, and intolerance will become paralysed and the fossil fuel companies will benefit.
As Charles Darwin said ‘"In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." If we’re going to prevail, we must do it together...