Last week I went to an excellent, and packed, event in the Alumni Auditorium at the University of Exeter, hosted by the Global Systems Institute, called ‘So you’ve declared a Climate Emergency, now what?’ It featured a panel of ‘provocateurs’ who gave short presentations and then a very lively Q&A discussion with the audience. The event was also connected online to the University’s Penryn campus, who joined in with presentations and questions.
We need to tell the stories that create a deep longing for a future that looks very different to the present. A future of cleaner air, children playing in the street, cities with food growing everywhere, louder birdsong, thriving local economies, an age of connection, conversation and community, schools and hospitals fed by local food, a sense of collective purpose. A future of renewable energy, rewilded landscapes, imaginative and playful architecture. It’s going to be amazing. As Elliot Murphy wrote in his sleeve notes for ‘Velvet Underground Live 1969’, “I wish it was a hundred years from today (I can’t stand the suspense)”
This week, Caroline Lucas and other MPs argued that all new laws should need to pass a ‘compassion threshold’ before being enacted to ensure that they make society a more compassionate place, not less. It would ensure that legislation acts in the interests of future generations as well as present ones. It is a powerful and inspired idea. But I would like to propose something I believe could be even more impactful, a ‘National Imagination Act’.
I’ve written this so that when my grandchildren ask me where I was when the great rebellion began, when the great Transition began its inevitable momentum, I can show them this blog post capturing a remarkable week in France. I set off for France on what came to be known as the ‘Transition Tour de France’ the day before the Extinction Rebellion fortnight started, in London and elsewhere. I headed to France, my wife to London. I think both of us have shared the experience this week that something remarkable is, finally, starting to shift, that XR’s big, bold, beautiful ‘No’ is being accompanied by a big, bold and beautiful ‘Yes’.
Dearly Beloved. We are gathered here this evening not to mourn the passing of the Totnes Pound, but to celebrate its life and times and all that it meant to us, to this town, and to people around the world. The Totnes Pound was, in my life certainly, something bright and bold and brilliant and brave, something unusual and precious in our risk-averse times. It is only with hindsight that I can see what a brave thing it was to do, to just print our own money.
Whereas, if a child is basically given a twig and a pile of leaves, a child can transform a twig and a pile of leaves into absolutely anything. That’s imaginative power. And it’s also a really important way for children to learn that they don’t have a scarcity within them, they have a fullness within them of imagination. That also ties in with a sense of imaginative self-sufficiency that is profoundly able to disobey when necessary.
“The imaginary helps us, transform and renew the real. That’s why it’s so profoundly important. Some time back I got really annoyed and wondered to myself where did we learn that to be positive about things was to be unrealistic? And to be negative about things was to be realistic? And every cell in my body rebels against that”.
In Bologna, a new approach to engagement and civic action is emerging, rooted in the imagination. One driver for this shift is the realisation we are living in what Michele calls “a distrust era”, where people don’t trust public administrations, NGOs, or private businesses. The Civic Imagination Office’s approach is towards what Michele calls ‘proximity’ working. As he puts it, “we need people to stay on the ground, to stay with the people”. And the story that Bologna has to share with the world is, I think, vitally important.
A small celebratory moment to share with you all today. For anyone who has been following progress on this project for the past 2 years and has got slightly bored with hearing me talking about “my journey towards writing a book about imagination”, here is a short announcement on a significant milestone I’ve reached. Enjoy…
We recently spoke to Andrew Brewerton, Principal at Plymouth College of Art, about the fascinating tale of how Plymouth School of Creative Arts came to be. PSCA is a remarkable new school which puts the cultivation of the imagination at its heart, even down to how its striking new building was conceived and designed. Before Christmas I visited the school and sat down to chat with then-Head Teacher Dave Strudwick to find out more about the place, how it came into existence, how it works, and what the thinking is that underpins it. I started out by asking him to tell me its story…
I loved ‘The Moth Snowstorm’. Its portrait of a world rich with diversity, and the subsequent erosion of that, moved me deeply. It was therefore a delight to be able to talk to Michael about the book, and the first thing I wanted to know was in what way living in the kind of diversity-rich world he portrays in the book impacts on the human imagination?