Jamie Henn, a co-founder of the climate organization 350.org wrote a thought-provoking piece for Common Dreams in May, in which he urged environmentalists to do a better job describing – concretely – what a “greener, climate-friendly” future looks like. “[If] Fox News says [The Green New Deal] means no more hamburgers,” he asked pointedly, “what are we offering in return?”
Here is my offering.
A greener and climate-friendly world is a cleaner world, where we live, learn, work, and play in thoughtfully designed, safe, and comfortable spaces powered by green energy, which nature already generously creates every single day, and a world where everyone has access to green spaces and time to connect with the nature that surrounds us.
It’s a free-er world, in which we get where we need to go on foot, on bike, on speedy electric scooters, on free public transit, or on shiny zero-emission vehicles (if one so chooses). A world where we aren’t trapped in car culture because driving is the only way to get places.
It’s also a healthier world, where we (but especially the frontline communities) don’t suffer from smog, exhaust, acid rain, and contaminated drinking water simply because pollution is a “necessary evil of all development.”
It’s a more fun and connected world, where we love and cherish our every possession and know where they come from: a loved one, a neighbor, a local artist, or a maker across the globe that was economically empowered – not exploited – by our purchase. A world where things are made to last, and where consumers and producers both take responsibility in a circular economy.
It’s a delicious world, where an abundance of nutritious food is accessible to all, and where an ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, and humane dinner does not cost an entire paycheck and take hours of research.
It’s a fairer world built on a people > profit mentality, an equitable governance structure, smart regulations, and systems thinking, instead of one that relies on individuals’ privileges and good will.
If this all sounds incredibly optimistic – it is. But a future that seemingly operates on restraint and deprivation (no car! no burger!) doesn’t exactly get more people on board, and a future that environmentalists say “everyone wants” frankly should be exciting, enticing, and enriching. A clear vision for the future needs not be built on willful ignorance of the past and present injustices and suffering. All the wrong in the world – which we all love to post and repost online – should create a stronger sense of urgency to do right, not trap us in a paralysis of powerlessness and guilt. And as uncertain and gloomy as today and tomorrow is, a vision of the future we are building towards doesn’t have to be.
I’m not the creative type, but I do think it’s healthy to re-imagine society every once in a while. Many of us have been doing a version of this exercise during the pandemic – recalibrating what “normal” should look like, having woken up to the fact that normal is not working. So – what does this reimagined new normal look like for you? How should be governed and managed? And what will you do to get us closer to that future?