In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned by Zeus to endlessly try to push a large rock to the top of a hill, an activity Zeus had rigged so that as it neared the top, the rock would roll away from Sisyphus. The story captures the ultimate in frustration and activities that take all of our energy but with no end in sight. The whole exercise was rigged against Sisyphus from the outset. The poor sod was never going to beat gravity. Even though it was Zeus’ punishment for Sisyphus’ supposed hubris, you have to feel for the guy. Indeed if you’ve been involved in activism or campaigning or activism on climate change or any of a range of other issues, you’re probably finding yourself identifying with him right now.
A few months ago I was invited to Bruges in Belgium by ‘Visit Flanders’, the region’s tourist organisation. I was asked to present at a conference, along with Andrew Simms, Daniel Wahl and others, on the question of how tourism might adapt to the world we are living in. I took the brief a bit further, asking what if tourism acted as though this were actually a climate emergency? How would it be different? What might it look like? It was a fascinating day, and I am delighted to be able to share the video of my talk here.
I’m just back from a six day speaking tour in France, organised by Sans Transition magazine. It followed on from a similar tour last year, hence this one being dubbed ‘Transition Tour #2’. The first stop was in Lorient in Brittany, in a huge room at the football stadium of Lorient football club. In the afternoon, I did a shorter session for people involved in local organisations and businesses. Then in the evening, a longer, more in depth session with over 400 people. A really engaged, dynamic crowd.
We were invited to go out in groups of 4-6 people, and to put ourselves into a ‘What If’ frame of mind. We were to assume that nothing is impossible. That there are no constraints. That there is no right answer. And we were invited to take a 50 minute walk in the snow, to weave some play into what we were doing, and to come up with ‘What If’ suggestions that would be appropriate to the company’s increased ambition and to the global crisis.
From What Is to What If? is so full of rich examples of how to reach that brighter future that there’s only room for a few of them here. But if you’ve grown tired (as I have) of the posturing, political rhetoric, hatred, and violence that daily captures headlines in our newspapers, magazines, films, and television programs, that spews social media-driven vitriol through our cell phones onto our breakfast tables, Rob Hopkins will inspire you to keep on dreaming, to imagine and create the positive future we all remember and long for.
In the summer of 2019, I invited the audience at my talk in a packed Imaginarium at Shambala (is there a better festival?) to make history. I invited them to join with me in attempting the first act of time travel in the festival’s history. They formed into pairs with someone they didn’t know, and closed their eyes.
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.