In late 2019 Transition Network sent out an invitation for people to gather in their communities to create a ‘Pop Up Tomorrow’, offering a range of ideas that could be used to bring people together to generate ‘memories of the future’. Designed and facilitated by Lucy Neal and Ruth Ben Tovim, almost 200 people came to the Pop Up Tomorrow event at Battersea Arts Centre, and in this blog, we hear their reflections on the day and on their experiences of being part of it, in their own voices.
Just before Christmas, I spent three days at Froidfontaine Farm, about an hour away from Brussels teaching, for the first time, a course based on my book ‘From What is to What If’. The course was organised by Schumacher Sprouts, a group of fantastic young people who are all former students of Schumacher College who are working to create a Belgian version. Froidfontaine Farm is a beautiful old farmstead being revitalised through becoming a centre for small enterprises, sustainable agriculture, tourism and education (their stated aim is to create “a farm full of life”).
The chapters are as playful as the question, like “What If We Took Play Seriously?” or “What If We Followed Nature’s Lead?” or “What If We Became Better Storytellers?” Rob says he wants to “put the imagination back at the heart of how we think about the future, the future that is still possible to create.” He includes stories about organizations that use art as therapy or some that help folks reclaim their attention. The stories throughout the book inspired me to think in a “What if?” mode and dream of what a wonderful future we can all bring into reality.
“Oh wow! Everyone needs to read this book! Rather than letting us focus on despair and anxiety, Rob Hopkins encourages us to be imaginative and to envisage the future we want, as the best way to make change happen. He explains that, if people look ahead and dream of how they would like things to change, they will feel more inspired to work towards that change than if they read depressing facts and figures.
I spent most of this festive break on the Moon. I wandered amongst its vast craters, scaled its gently curving hills to get better views, sat on top of Moon boulders, left my footprints upon its fine grey dust. I sat and watched the Earth rise from behind the horizon, a green and blue marble some 250,000 miles away. I sketched, I wrote, I dreamed. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and hauntingly lonely.
As you may have noticed, as a committed non-flyer, I regularly travel by Eurostar. I love Eurostar. For me it is the low carbon option for getting to Europe, and I use it for that reason, as a conscious alternative to flying. As do many people. I found myself increasingly horrified by seeing, at their St Panchras terminal, video adverts on their large screens in the waiting area, advertising both Exxon and BP. The BP ads were especially galling, with their presenting of BP as the great bearers of the imagination of our times, portraying them as innovators of the low carbon economy (in spite of around 97% of their business still being fossil fuel extraction), under the slogan “we see possibilities everywhere” and some guff about how at some point in the future we might be able to run aeroplanes on apple cores (spoiler alert: we won’t).
He asks us: “What if school nurtured young imaginations?” Of course, we’d all love to believe that imagination is fostered within the classroom, yet, as Hopkins highlights, “26 percent [of children] feel as though they do not need to use their imagination for their study or schoolwork”. He then provides numerous examples of where imagination is being fostered and nurtured, such as in The Green School in Copenhagen or the School of the Possible in France. By the end of the book, the “utopian ideal” that was set out in Hopkins’ introduction seems somewhat less distant, somewhat more achievable, and all it really takes is a bit of imagination.
‘2040’ is a remarkably brave film. It tells the story of Damon Gameau, an Australian actor who also produced ‘That Sugar Film’, who sets out to create a vision of the future he hopes might lie ahead for his young daughter, Velvet. It is a film that unashamedly focuses on solutions, but he sets himself the condition that the solutions he proposes must already exist today in some form. He calls it “an exercise in fact-based dreaming”. It is, as you might imagine, an exercise very close to my own heart.
Elon Musk recently unveiled, at a Blade Runner-themed launch in Hawthorne, California, the new Tesla ‘Cyber Truck’. While much of the press coverage focused on the fact that its supposedly unsmashable windows smashed not once but twice during the launch, I want to focus on a question I haven’t heard asked yet. To what extent could the Cyber Truck undermine our ability to imagine a low carbon future in such a way that we can create a deep longing for it?
Here is a section from the audiobook of ‘From What Is to What If’ which tells the story of the ‘Tooting Twirl’ and of the art of asking good ‘What If’ questions.
The night before ‘Pop Up Tomorrow’ felt a bit like being a parent on the night before Christmas. A group of us were gathered at Lucy Neal’s (one of the facilitators) house, doing final preparations. We were sticking labels onto blackboards, tearing up rags and finalising plans. Like Yuletide parents, we were tired, ready for bed, but excited about the thrill and the joy our actions tonight were going to create the following day. We raised a glass to Pop Up Tomorrow, and to everything that was going to happen.