We hear a lot of questions and debate about how to solve climate change. But let's forget about solving climate change for a moment.
Climate change isn't actually a problem. It often gets treated that way in our mainstream discourse, as if it's merely a troubling negative side-effect of a drug that we all agree is beneficial, but not only is climate change a symptom of a much deeper problem, it's also a symptom of a way of life that few of us are really happy with anyway. This becomes especially apparent once we have glimpsed the possibility of a world that could be so much more.
If we really want to go to the root of climate change, we need to start asking ourselves some very deep questions. Questions like: Who am I? What kind of future do we want to create together? And what story will help us get there? These are the questions we need to focus on. Because if there is one thing I have learned, it is that our stories have an immense power to shape the world.
No one man can cut down a whole forest or enslave a whole people. It takes a story that is believed by many other people to accomplish those feats. Every problem in the world is a result of the stories we tell ourselves. They provide roles and context in which our behavior makes sense. For example, the story of “progress” sees the conversion of forests into tar sand oil developments as something positive for society.
Stories affect the world because they are stories we are enacting. And in enacting the present story of the modern world, we are undermining the life-support systems upon which we depend.
In discussing solutions, it is also clear that the stories we have been telling about the crises we face are not working. The way we have been framing climate change, species extinction, deforestation, inequality, crime, poverty, and war isn't getting to the root of the problem. So what is it? At the heart of it I believe is the idea that human society is somehow separate from the natural world. If the world is an “other” that is not “me,” then what I do to the world does not affect me. Today, this story is being exposed as the root of these problems. And unless we change the way we think - all our solutions will remain limited in ways that make real change impossible.
More and more people recently have been talking about this - pointing out how our narratives about these problems take for granted certain assumptions about the value of economic development and our human-centered, materialistic notions of progress.
Climate change is often framed as a problem in itself, while the true cause remains unaddressed. We want to 'solve' climate change while leaving intact the globalized infinite-growth economic paradigm that is causing it.
This is one reason why many people have a gut-level resistance to the notion of 'sustainable development'. Implicit in the phrase is that we want to go on as before - commodifying the natural world, turning the living biosphere into profitable units for sale in our imaginary human economy. The push by business and government leaders caught within the old story is to find a way to sustain a way of life that more and more people are realizing is not sustainable.
And therein lies the problem. It can't be done! You can't sustain a system that is unsustainable!
So long as our solutions remain tied up in sustaining the unsustainable, our efforts will take us further off the cliff.
That is why we urgently need new narratives that break the spell of the old story.
These new stories must expose the invisible assumptions of our old narratives. But most of all, these new stories must capture our imagination - they must awaken in us our collective dreams of the more beautiful world that we know is possible.
The future does not belong to those who want to make the bad problems less bad. It doesn't belong to those who say that sustainability means giving things up or 'living with less.' It belongs to those who know that this transformation of the world is about saving all that we cherish and love. It belongs to those who see that this transition into a new way of being will offer our lives a meaning and joy that the old story could never have imagined.
This revolutionary shift in our culture will be brought about by those who can articulate the most meaningful story that we can be a part of.
It isn't about giving up things we want. It's about attaining things we never thought were possible to have - joy, meaning and experiences that make life unbelievably worth living.
The new story is about giving some things up, things like insecurity, stress, violence, poverty, loneliness, disconnection, a lack of community and meaning - all those things that make life miserable for so many in the world. All of that we are ready to give up.
So what is the alternative story? What are the new narratives? Such a question cannot be answered in a single statement. But over the years I have come across many excellent films, articles and books that articulate this story in their own way.
Following then, is a collection of some of the best alternative narratives about our world. Taken together, they articulate the more beautiful world that, deep in our child-like hearts, I believe we know is possible.
Articulated above is a new and powerful story that personally inspires me. It draws from the wisdom and knowledge of cultures both ancient and new. It is a story worth belonging too.
I believe it is a story so compelling that, as the world hears this new story, will begin enacting it. And as we begin to enact the new story in our every day lives, all those problems that stem from the old story will begin to lose their sway over the world.
From changed hearts and minds will spring forth enumerable actions, solving our myriad crisis at its root, through billions of tiny different ways of being.
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Tim Hjersted is the director of Films For Action and can be reached on Facebook. Hat tip to Chris Agnos at Sustainable Man for contributions to this article.