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‘Words Make Worlds’: Holthaus Issues Call to Imagine, Create a Radically Positive Future

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As the climate crisis deepens, we must be “radically imaginative,” telling ourselves and each other stories of fiercely visionary, loving, and productive collective actions that will help end the climate emergency, veteran meteorologist and climate hawk Eric Holthaus writes [1] in The Correspondent. 

That line of thinking, he adds, is a gateway to a safer, more just, much happier world for all by 2030.

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“If words make worlds, then we urgently need to tell a new story about the climate crisis,” Holthaus says. Urging his readers to recognize their own storytelling powers, and use them to combat the widening sense of despair and helplessness the climate crisis is creating, he invokes the work and thought of American activist author adrienne maree brown: “Once the imagination is unshackled,” she wrote, “liberation is limitless.”

Holthaus offers a vision—his own, he notes, but one “gathered with the help of friends from around the world”—of a path forward that sees 2030 dawning far more brightly than did 2020.

“Our story of the 2020s is yet to be written, but we can decide today whether or not it will be revolutionary,” he says. “The power to change reality starts with changing what we consider to be possible.”

Citing progressive actions already under way in New Zealand, Holthaus dares his audience to imagine that 2020 “is the year we acknowledge that the most urgent thing we can do in an emergency is to passionately tell others that it exists.” The participation of 3.5% of New Zealand’s population in last year’s global climate strike led “almost immediately” [3] to that country “adopting one of the boldest climate goals in the world: to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050,” he says. As more countries take up the call for rapid decarbonization, “it will become a rallying cry as climate strikes around the world continue to escalate. More people will begin to demand a better world that works for everyone. This climate movement will catalyze urgent, revolutionary policy to tackle the crisis.” 

Beyond that immediate focus, he adds, the shifts that result will let humanity “redefine happiness.” 

Kicking off a year-by-year projection of the changes the decade could hold, Holthaus envisions 2021 as a moment of accelerating climate ambition, with “mounting social pressure for climate laws far more ambitious than New Zealand’s.” Demanding, and receiving, accountability from political leaders, regardless of their ideology, citizens will renovate their own ethical relation to the world and to each other, and “begin to listen again and exert moral leadership in all the positions of power we hold in our lives.”

By 2022, “we will begin the process of climate reparations—partially repairing the loss and damage of colonialism and decentralizing political power on a global scale.” As countries “begin the process of returning land to Indigenous control,” humanity will “finally stop accelerating towards our own destruction.” 

A hard reckoning for the fossils will follow, with the industry thoroughly delegitimized and its leadership on trial for crimes against humanity, and against the planet. Holthaus imagines that, in 2023, the term “ecocide” will have its day in court, and win.

Year by year, Holthaus lays out his imagined future: a “moral and cultural infrastructure” for rapid decarbonization, the end of cars and the victory of pedestrians and human interaction, free public transit, and a redefinition of technology with people choosing “connection and empathy over gadgets and entertainment.” He foresees a 2027 where ancient, sustainable agricultural practices return, a 2028 that ends the “runaway cycle of production for profit at all costs”, and a 2029 with global emissions cut in half, and the emergence of a world in which “we will have remade what it looks and feels like to be alive.” 

Encouraging his readers to “dream unashamedly big dreams, dreams that reimagine the more just and loving world we want to live in,” Holthaus concludes by imagining that, by 2030, “perhaps the most radical change” to occur over the previous decade “will be our newfound ability to tell a story—a positive story—about the future, and mean it.”