An Assignment in Imagination: What’s your 2040?

Sophia Cheng / 7 min read / Big Ideas, Newbie Activist Life
18 November 2019
Musings after watching latest environmental documentary

We are lacking in imagination.

That’s (part of) the problem.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard the sentiment around the climate and ecological crisis.

Tonight I schlepped into Central London to watch 2040 at the cinema. I rarely go to the cinema and even less so on my own. I picked a solo one-way evening over socialising with a bunch of probably very lovely people. I wanted an evening to be talked at, that demanded very little from me. Sometimes, conversations are hard aren’t they?

I crept into the cinema and in the darkness hid in the anonymity, released from social convention of popcorn and small talk.

The basic premise is a father and filmmaker Damon Gameau, looking into a near-term future when his daughter, Velvet, will be 24.

Yet another environmental documentary trying to twist our elbow into action.

But wait, this one is decidedly positive. Exploring the solutions to the climate and ecological crisis that exist in some shape or form today. We then shoot into the year 2040 when Velvet is in her prime and peer into her world; she decides to share her surplus energy to recent coastal flood victims when she’s away for the weekend for instance.

We yoyo between the present and a possible future.

It certainly makes a novel change to the dystopia being churned out of Hollywood.

A story that explores the nicer ‘what-if’ outcomes.

Sounds almost revolutionary after years hooked to disaster headlines to sell stories and boost ad revenue.

It’s like the Positive News equivalent of Black Mirror.

Aside: I have Black Mirror accessible from my Netflix account and yet I still haven’t managed to bring myself to watch any of season 3. Tonight I took a train and a bus alone to watch something hopeful. Make of that what you will.

There are cutesy animations and a bit of cheesy Aussie humour [read: dad jokes] thrown in to keep your spirits lifted and lubricate between segments.

Poignancy was interwoven with children sharing their vision of the future, straight down the barrel of the camera. Close up. Their youth and innocence undeniable. Their clarity of our current times crystal clear.

Just be respectful to earth​.

Gameau argues that the solutions are out there.

They include:

  1. Community solar power
  2. Regenerative farming
  3. Seaweed farms
  4. Driverless shared cars
  5. Empowering women and girls through education

And we follow the entrepreneurs and experts rising to the challenge.

The film ends inviting us to take part in building this future.

What’s in a story?

My hunch is parents of young children will be drawn to this film, in much the same way that compelled Damon Gameau to make it.

This is a film highlighting what we can fight for rather than fight against. Determination and passion are the most important renewable energy resources we have.​

That’s a nice sentiment isn’t it?

It makes me wonder, do the stories we tell ourselves become a self-fulfilling prophecy? If all we believe we are capable of is self aggrandising and self consumption – is that the future we will create for ourselves? In the personal growth literature there’s a lot of talk of ‘rewriting our stories’, Brene Brown in her wisdom suggests that, “You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness.”

Does this translate at a societal level? At the civilisational level?

Owning our story, truly owning it means we’ll need to wrestle with the part of it we don’t like and feel shame around. We might need to go back, before we really go forward.

Gulp. But this is a post about the future. A positive one. So I’ll continue.

I’ve been getting more and more selective of the stories I absorb. I avoid the mainstream news these days and pay ££ for constructive journalism that are solutions-orientated.

So why does a positive environmental film feel ‘hippie’? Have we skewed the zeitgeist so much that positive what-ifs are now fringe? Gameau does a good job of keeping us on the ground and even making a gentle loving poke of acro-yoga hippies.

I went in search of the Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word ‘hippie’ and instead find that today’s word of the day is

apocalyptician, n

A person who believes in, promulgates, or interprets the prophecies of the Apocalypse. Also: a person who foresees imminent disaster, esp. on a global scale

That says it all really.

This is me and my echo chamber almost every day.

F*** it’s exhausting.

Can I imagine 2040?

There are a few different years being bandied around in the climate crisis; 2025 (impossible), 2050 (too far away). Is 2040 the goldilocks year? Near enough in time that we can all do the math and picture ourselves in 2040?

For quite a while now I’ve knowingly and unknowingly curtailed my long-term planning. A mixture of fear of commitment and more recently, deep uncertainty on where our civilisation is heading has crippled my ability to think more than 1-2 years ahead.

I try and give it a go (be gentle with me)

“I’ll be 52 in 2040. After dedicating the “roaring 20s” to supporting the Green New Deal that was eventually pushed through government; restoring community, facilitating workshops on fairness and respectful conversations, I pulled off the gas a little bit (to coin an old fashioned phrase).

The generation after me have the baton firmly in their grip these days so I’m giving planting a go in a little shared veg patch in a tiny house community on the edge of Bristol. We were lucky, Jayme and I were able to adopt a few years ago and now I’m a mum – that is keeping me busy, as I suspected back in 2019 when I went on birthstrike. With extended paid adoption leave though, I have the time and energy to plough into establishing a secure and loving environment for XX. I admit, I am an old mum; it can be exhausting at times – but this close knit community means we’re taking on child rearing together. We are embodying the old phrase; “it takes a village to raise a child.” It means I can have a rest and look after myself, it means I can also check in with and support my cohorts of facilitators by teleconferencing who are doing great work up and down the country.”

Writing that made me feel kinda squirmish, cringy.

But when I allowed myself to get in the flow, circumventing my inner critic, I noticed a few emotions creep up.

My mind looks down on such activities as childish (and hippie) – my heart yearns for it.

I think I need to do this more often.

Permission to fact-based dream

When’s the last time you imagined? What could your future look like in 2040?

Is your imagination muscle as out of practice as mine?

I even struggled with the game Storycubes yesterday! sigh

When we stay in the tangible world we limit our parameters but imagining bigger is also a scary and vulnerable act:

“We can be whatever we have the courage to see.”

Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez

For those cautiously and newly imaginative, a blank page can be scary. So here are some expansive parameters for you to create from:

  1. We cannot escape a worsening climate in the next decade or so due to temperature increases already locked-in – things will get worse before it gets better
  2. Simply replacing our consumption with ‘greener’ alternatives will not be sufficient, we will have to reduce our consumption in nearly every facet of life
  3. Our future will be less carbon intensive; that means less cars, less flights, no flown-in food etc
  4. We’ll likely need a lot of people to help us transition to renewable energies on a mass scale
  5. We’ll need a new economic model that is no longer built on growth for the sake of growth
  6. We’ll need to think more locally, in terms of food, energy, work, travel etc
  7. What other ills of modernity could we address at the same time as addressing the climate and ecological crisis?

And here are two more prompts for you if you’re still struggling:

1. Teaser for 2040

2. From the wonderful Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

So readers get out all your best stationery because, to use Director Damon’s words, here is your permission to fact-based dream.

Avatar photo Sophia Cheng With a decade of communications experience across the for profit and nonprofit sectors, agency and in-house, Sophia has made a habit of making ‘the hard stuff’ more accessible. Since 2018, she has reorientated her life around the climate crisis. She has forged her decade of communications experience into offering workshops, mentoring, blogging, and more, on the biggest issues of our time. View all posts
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