Subtitle: Imagination taking power

Review of ‘From What Is to What If’ from Friends Journal

I’ve been involved with the Transition Movement since about 2008 and had the opportunity to meet and interview Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the movement and author of this book, his fifth, in 2011 at the fifth Transition Movement International Conference in Liverpool, England. I was initially drawn to the movement because of its focus on working locally, inviting everyone to the table, its focus on climate change and climate justice, and a deep caring for Earth, soil, water, air, and all that lives.

This book is not a “how to” book, but an invitation to break out of our feeling stuck by “what is” to unleash our imaginations by asking “What if?” I was inspired by a story in the book of some young people who, after attending one of Rob’s workshops, marched to a climate strike event, carrying a banner with the large words “What If?”. They then passed out cards asking people to complete the sentence that began with “What if?”

So, recently when I had agreed to attend back-to-back day-long conferences, I passed out stamped self-addressed cards with big red letters of “What if?” on the back, asking people to share their visions. They are beginning to trickle back to me and they are filled with joyful, playful, and poignant words that are full of hope. One person asked, “What if everyone in our communities felt safe, welcomed, valued, respected, included? What if our community centers were beautiful, vibrant, safe hubs for civic engagement and discourse?”

Rob writes, “We need to master the art, it seems to me, of asking questions which address the gravity of our situation, yet which also create longing (author emphasis), which evoke a deep and rich sense of the wonders we can still create, rather than shutting it down or putting it into a deep sleep of complacency.” And he shares stories from all over the globe of the transformations occurring in communities when the residents imagined what could be, without first worrying about what might prevent them from acting.

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.

What if we revived our collective imagination, and asked “What If” in great abundance—starting now?

Rob Hopkins

Ruah Swennerfelt is a member of Middlebury Friends Meeting in Vermont, where she serves on the Earthcare Committee. She is on the Steering Committee of Transition Town Charlotte and serves on the Transition US conference planning team.


  1. Ian Graham
    January 10, 2020

    Hello Ruah, remember me from Hamilton Friends? I too read Hopkins latest, cocooned away over the solstice, along with David Fleming’s How to Survive the Future. They go together nicely, Fleming addresses the seriousness and Hopkins the capacity to respond. We’re doing Extinction Rebellion’s approach here to imagine the future. And remember Duane Elgin (Voluntary Simplicity author etc)? He’s on the circuit too: what stories do we tell about our time: Humanity grow up (great turning), heroes journey, biocosmic beings (not just biology), homo sapiens sapiens in practice, and likely others.

  2. Ian Graham
    January 10, 2020

    ps, the book inspired me to invite an eclectic group of friends and acquaintances over to celebrate New Years 2030. We asked all sorts of what if questions, imagined the future the way we wish it would be, etc.

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© Rob Hopkins 2017-2024