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What I think about when I think about the future
We'll never solve climate change unless we build a new relationship with nature
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
– R. Buckminster Fuller.
What will it take to make our past relationship with nature obsolete?
Let’s answer this together. Subscribe to whose mountain to figure it out with me
The blood-red reminder of our repeated attempts to conquer nature distracts me from this moment. My son’s toothy grin – he’s missing 3 teeth, but it’s hard to find the gaps behind his too-large front teeth – peeks out from under the T-rex hood of his pajamas. My daughter’s brown curls threaten to cover everything except her hair tie. In their beds, they giggle uncontrollably as they whisper the word fart. Outside, the sky warns us of what the future will hold, tinted from the smoke that has filtered sunlight down to a maroon bath that Alfred Hitchcock would be scared of.
I feel like Kassandra, cursed to see the future but unable to convince anyone.
I don’t know how to stop looking, so instead, I feel comically overwhelmed. I’m lost, confused why we’re all missing the point. I’m sure there is more to the answer than we’re told.
Yet I also don’t know how to make a difference. I’m no expert. I don’t work on nation-state macroeconomic policy or climate science. I can’t move the needle on our societal OKR of reducing global parts per million of CO2.
I’m an amateur. I only know that what I’m being told doesn’t feel like enough. I know we’re not discussing the costs.
I don’t know how to bend the future towards the beauty that still may be possible.
My children will inherit the sins of mine and my elder’s generation. We’ll leave them with the remnants of our dependence on fossil fuels, our inability to figure out when enough is enough, and our insistence that our precious financial return matters more than the lives sacrificed to achieve it. As parents, we’re stuck between the sins of yesterday and the optimism of the future, and it can feel like our only job is to shepherd a transition of power before it’s too late.
I refuse to lie down any longer. I don’t trust that companies and experts will usher in a better world. I’m smart enough to know better, weathered enough to trust my spidey sense that something is off, and optimistic enough to believe we can do something.
I see climate marketing for what it is: a way to score brand points while improving shareholder returns.
I see the policy experts for what they are, doing their best within a reductionist framework that won’t solve the first principle problems of our future.
We won’t change things by fighting the current model. As Buckminster Fuller said, we need to create a new model that makes today’s model obsolete. I don’t have the answers, but I’m really good at asking questions.
I set out to write an essay. Instead, I started a series. It was too much for me to tackle at once. I asked myself questions and needed to share them with you. Questions like:
How do we find enough as a society in the Amazon® economy?
How do we want to value things that won’t earn us a return? Public goods, land, relationships, biodiversity, and health will never fit into a purely capital mindset. Do we really want to bend our earth to fit our current religion?
How do we save my morning french press from going extinct?
How can we encourage a spiritual relationship with land? Our rational understanding of land and systems hasn’t taught us to live in harmony with it, so what other tools do we need?
How can we protect societies which steward the land in ways other than trying to give them money?
What other ways of knowing can help us expand beyond the limits of our scientific understanding?
How can we regain our intuition about ecosystems, health, and relationships when the current societal climate pushes us to ever more partisan positions?
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The hardest part about these questions is that they’re all really the same question. When we reduce our concerns to emissions, biodiversity, or health, we miss the interconnected nature of all of our challenges, the first principle of our relationship to nature. We can’t find an answer if we don’t tackle the whole beast. And we only win by creating an entirely new model.
In this series, we’ll ask really hard questions even though we don’t have an answer. We’re going to talk about it all. Every essay will be a starting point, but I need you to bring thoughts, comments, experiences, and reactions to the conversation. If we do, we may break through the noise.
The sun’s maroon bath finally sets, releasing my thoughts to return to this room. My children have each buried themselves under their respective blankets. My daughter stretches her arms to hold on to every fleeting moment while my son’s eyes poke out under his constellation blanket like two shining stars.
I can't prepare to greet them in a few hours if I don’t hold a light to a better standard than what we have now. They’re going to face enough in their future. I have to believe it will still be better than today, which is better than yesterday. The alternative is a meaningless life. And I can’t bring them into a world stripped of meaning as it’s been stripped of its resources. They deserve better.
That’s what I think about when I think about the future.