Recent global discussions of humanity’s future have been preoccupied with the immediate challenges we face. The environmentalist’s attention has been trained mostly on negative visualization. Conversations about the environment orbit around one prospective catastrophe or another. We don’t have a positive vision for our future, but we can picture a lot of different ways in which things may go badly for us and for the planet.
This lack of a positive vision seems particularly dangerous to me because we so often realize what we visualize, and right now a lot of people are visualizing disaster.
The scale of humanity’s immediate challenges is daunting, to be sure. It’s difficult and counterintuitive to look past the immediate problems. Considering the scale of those problems, this discussion of positive visions might strike some people as a trivial distraction. But right now our obstacles – resource depletion, population expansion and economic malaise – effectively block our view forward. We’re making very little progress against species loss, deforestation, desertification or global warming. The human population continues to grow with astonishing speed. And when we stabilize our population, as we inevitably must, economic growth will stall.
With these big obstacles in our way, we collectively find it difficult to picture a beautiful, abundant world for our grandchildren to live in. To visualize that future, we need a new perspective. To gain that perspective we need to move forward. It’s time to engage, to move forward not just against the phenomena damaging our habitat, but also toward a sustainable and prosperous way of life.
We need to engage the passionate human imagination, that great engine of creativity, and challenge it to go beyond its anxious contemplation of environmental disaster to envision the world we desire – vigorous, verdant and enduring. Once the human imagination visualizes a brilliant future, the human intellect can achieve what previously seemed impossible. The human imagination and the human intellect have, together, achieved countless astonishing things in the past. I believe they can do so again and again.
Human beings invented flying machines because we were entranced by the idea of flight. We didn’t need to fly but we were thrilled by the prospect. We’ve joyfully tinkered with wheeled machines, making automobiles and motorcycles faster and more comfortable, generation after generation. We didn’t need to propel ourselves around at 70 miles per hour, but once we had the idea in our head we couldn’t wait to press that accelerator pedal. We assembled the Internet in a spirit of giddy discovery with a collective vision of global knowledge made ubiquitous and free. Our collective enthusiasm for fairness has, in the past 30 years, redefined civil rights in our global society.
We don’t need a disaster to motivate change. A great, contagious idea or two can create all the motivation we need.
Every major human realization was assembled from the discoveries of lots of different people, each pursuing an individual vision and building on each other’s work. Our collective visions are always constructed from a bunch of individual visions. Our achievements are shared achievements.
The biggest and most successful component in my business is the magazine Mother Earth News. Since 1970 the principal source of energy at Mother Earth News has been the contagious idea – organic gardening ideas, homemade renewable energy ideas, ideas for homesteading and natural health and self-reliance. The magazine has prospered because these ideas have kindled millions of imaginations and engaged them in a spirit of mutual exploration. With our readers we have explored many, many different optimistic visions for humanity’s future on earth. That’s our passion, and our business.
How do you feel when you throw a glass bottle away, knowing that it could be recycled into new bottles infinitely? What about when you throw it in a recycling bin? Even small steps bring us closer to a brighter future.
Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on Google+.
For further optimistic discussion about our future, read Beautiful and Abundant by Bryan Welch.