Climate change is perhaps the single greatest threat to future generations. To date, humans have failed to take adequate actions to stave off planetary collapse. A UN report issued this week describes a world of food shortages, floods, sea level rise, extreme weather events, wildfires, and massive coral reef die-offs as soon as 2040 if emissions continue at the current rate.
The report concedes that while it is technically possible to change courses, it remains politically unlikely that we will do so. This is largely because climate change has become a deeply politicized topic. I am interested in work that restores our personal narratives about the shared responsibility we have to each other and to the planet. My work seeks to understand what prevents or impedes individuals from sharing a sense of planetary stewardship.
- We design for people and planet. We consider long-term impacts on human and environmental systems, seeking to minimize threats to both. We believe that work that does not support future habitability of Earth undermines all other human efforts on this planet. We believe humans are part of nature, and reject narratives that material human needs cannot be met without destroying the environment.
- We listen with radical humility. We actively listen. We ask respectful questions to understand. We interrogate our own assumptions. We believe everyone is doing the best they can, and seek to understand the choices, beliefs, opinions, and relationships that arise from particular instances of this universal condition.
- We believe the stories we tell today determine the world we create tomorrow. Humans need stories to make sense of themselves, each other, and the natural world. We believe that we create our reality through expectations, intentions and attention. Our designs engage narrative as the key catalyst for social and environmental change.
- Corollary: we believe you cannot dismantle old stories without telling new ones. Many of our old stories focus on individualism, consumption, accumulation. These stories have wreaked havoc on our natural ecosystems and climate. However, we cannot dismantle these stories without putting new ones in place that restore our collective responsibility to each other and the planet.
- We work within a space of ever-widening “us” and an ever larger “now.” Climate change affects all beings on this planet. In this context, there is no room for “us versus them.” Our work honors the diversity of human experience, while situating it against a backdrop of shared planetary responsibility. In addition, we recognize that the actions we take now could affect generations to come. As such, we design for both the present and future.
- We practice play as a powerful antidote to paralysis. We support playful, generative designs that resist the temptation of despair.
My convening seeks to showcase American’s personal narratives about climate change. Having worked on climate negotiations, I understand how easy it can be to forget that not everyone shares a sense of urgency to cut emissions. Thus, this convening would attempt to bridge the personal divide between those working on climate negotiations and policies with everyday Americans struggling to make ends meet. The convening would have two parts: an exchange that would couple two (willing and voluntary) participants. The convening might take place in a town with a traditionally carbon-intensive economy, such as one in West Virginia. For the exchange, a “climate wonk” (researcher, negotiator, policy-maker, NGO employee, etc) would spend two weeks getting to know a member of the community (teacher, student, waiter, nurse, contractor, etc) by visiting their homes, getting to know the community, and engaging in thoughtful dialogue.* The second portion of the experiment would bring all the pairs together in a workshop facilitated to help the pairs articulate a shared narrative of the future. When writing the story of the future, what can they both agree on? What kind of world do both want, for themselves and future generations? What are the bare minimum features of a healthy human population and planet? Each pair would craft their story of the future of Earth, which they would jointly deliver to the group.
*NB: this would only “work” if both agreed on the basic facts that climate change is happening and humans are causing it.