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Hot Future: Imagining our way out of trouble

We can't spontaneously start making good decisions about climate action after generations of damage. Imagination is all we have, argues Andrew Wood.

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg

Anders Hellberg (Wikimedia Commons)

What will the world be like in 28 years' time, in 2047? Your imagination may take you to different destinations, depending on how old you are now. This may help explain why younger people tend to see climate action as more urgent.

If, like Greta Thunberg, you were born in 2003, then by the time you remember anything the 2008 banking crash had happened. When you were 13, the USA and the UK were taken over by monsters with silly haircuts, who have casually evaded every attempt to topple or shame them ever since. With these idiots at the helm, there's a good chance everything will be screwed by 2047.

If you were born in 1962, the year Rachel Carson's Silent Spring launched the modern environmental movement, you've lived 57 years with the threat of imminent catastrophe. When you were born the Berlin Wall had just gone up, but it was down again before your 28th birthday. Bad things and bad people come and go. In 2047, you reckon, the Doomsday Clock will still stubbornly hover around three minutes to midnight and we'll still be worrying. But it's never too late.

My own environmentalism dates back to 1991. Beautiful seabirds were choked and crippled when Saddam Hussein deliberately spilled hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf. I wept and raged at an evil deed beyond the scope of my imagination.

Really, imagination is all we have. We can't spontaneously start making good decisions about climate action after generations of damage. First of all, we have to figure out how to make good decisions full stop, despite those who wish to prevent us doing so. Reactionary nationalism disguised as pride, ugly sexism masquerading as malevolently misconstrued religious piety, and needless punishment of the poor dressed up as fiscal prudence are all vicious traps laid down to block progress. We have to imagine our way out of trouble.

I've just read about the oil companies who've been deliberately slowing de-carbonisation since the sixties. Can you imagine the size of the bill we could send to those companies and what the world could do with that money?

In Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman says our imagination is stifled and we've resigned ourselves to eye-watering inequalities because, for most of us, life is good enough. But we still hope and we still invent. In Human Universe, Brian Cox points out that human progress, our health and our wellbeing depend on the availability of energy, so we can't simply assume that using less energy is a good thing. Instead we have to re-imagine how to get energy and how to use it wisely.

I admire Greta Thunberg. I predict she will be the catalyst for lowering the voting age to 16 across many countries. That, it seems to me, is an idea whose time has come. Kids doing GCSEs are well-informed and they care. They've figured out that they have a right to shape their future.

2047. My daughter will be 37 and I might be a grandparent. Where does my imagination take me?

On the downside, we may have been through a war. On the upside, we should be most of the way to net zero carbon emissions. Hopefully my home doesn't need heating, I haven't driven a car for years, most of the main roads in the city have been transformed into linear woodlands where the trees are now beginning to mature, and my diet is mainly locally-grown.

But I can't just sit here and dream up the future. I have to figure out how to make it. Where do I fit in? I want to harness the urgency that Greta instils, but I want the future to be a place worth going to – a fun, fulfilling place, where it's OK to be a human. I'm setting off there now. Would you like to come too?

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