DO YOU DARE DREAM? - Peterson Toscano

DO YOU DARE DREAM? - Peterson Toscano

These are days in which nightmares come easier than dreams. Many people are struggling to embrace and pursue their best dreams when thinking of the future In fact, with the current political uncertainty, for some of us, the dreams that we dare to dream may seem as if they have been put on hold. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision a dysfunctional and dystopian future. That’s easy, particularly when it comes to issues like climate change and social justice. The real challenge is to imagine success. 

If we consider what the people of the future might have to say about us, we can immediately conjure up a futuristic host in rags on a burning planet wagging their fingers at us in condemnation.

But can we imagine another outcome? Can we get past all of the cynicism, anger, fears, and doubt we have towards our governments and fellow citizens to dream of a different future? And if we do, is it possible that the act of dreaming will not only give us hope but also help move us to action? 

For the past four years I have been deep in the world of climate change—a dire, soupy mess of fear, blame, shame, future dystopian catastrophizing, oh, and desperate eyed polar bears. I am optimistic by nature and have recoiled at the steady stream of gloom and doom. I’m learning to force my brain to think differently in order to actively consider success in addressing the wonky issues of carbon pollution and its effects on the planet and earthlings. To do so requires drawing on my imagination. I must dare to dream. 

So I created a character, a historian researching and teaching in the year 2166, 150 years from now. His name is Dr. Timothy Meadows. Instead of giving him a laundry list of all of the failures, abuses, and really stupid steps his dysfunctional and ineffectual ancestors took, I provide him a vibrant past of climate action, with ancestors who took on the crisis with gusto and enacted real and lasting solutions. Dr. Timothy’s job then is to highlight the stunning accomplishments of the climate generation—you and me today—and to celebrate our successes. I have written fifty monologues for this climate historian (you can hear many of them on my Climate Stew podcast). 

Our brains expect business as usual until we tell them otherwise. The climate crisis, and the opportunity for humans to flourish and take reparative action together, requires us to rewire our brains. They are already overburdened with the fog of propaganda and the noise of an over-connected world. Rewiring might be just what they need...

So, let's imagine we are in a lecture hall a century and a half from now, on the annual day that commemorates the climate generation, when the eminent climate historian, Dr. Timothy Meadows, comes to the podium: 

Good evening. As a climate historian I look back in time to consider the amazing people of the climate generation, our great-great grandparents. I have dug into history as early as the 2010’s up through the 2030’s and focused my attention on people, institutions, and movements that contributed to the peace and stability we enjoy today in the 22nd Century. 

What have I learned about our ancestors and their responses to global warming? 

Initially they were relatively slow to act. In part, the emotional shock paralyzed many people into what became known as CDS, Climate Dismissal Syndrome. 

But as we have often seen throughout history, once humans understand the threats they face, they respond robustly leading to bold action, inspired innovation, personal and collective sacrifices, and stronger communities. That is exactly what our ancestors did.

To understand this, we first need to put into focus the problems they faced. We must remember, the rapid changes to weather endangered every aspect of their lives. It affected our ancestor’s food production, water security, and coastal cities. It magnified existing political conflicts leading to mass migrations, war, and suffering. And it touched everything including simple pleasures like a day in the park, playing in the snow, or enjoying a cup of coffee. 

The problems loomed so large they nearly crushed our ancestors, but they discovered inner resources, and together they stood up to myriad challenges. In short, they agreed to be responsible and clean up after themselves. This took on many forms

including systemic changes to how they got their energy moving away from pollutants toward healthy energy sources. The Great Transition came about through citizens who pressured leaders to change energy policy. The public collectively demanded that

polluters must pay a steep fee if they polluted the skies and oceans. This gave investors the incentive to fund renewables resulting in a rapid shift away from dirty sources of

energy to healthy, clean sources. No longer locked into dirty fuel sources, they saw an immediate decrease in respiratory diseases including a dramatic improvement in health for urban dwellers, particularly people of color who had experienced disproportionately high levels of air pollution in their neighborhoods.  

The Great Transition resulted in a period of innovation and challenges. People had to live new lives on a new planet. They worked together to look after each other during the Great Transition and during the many extreme weather events that grew in frequency and intensity. Places of worship opened their doors to provide short-term sanctuary

during extreme heat waves and long-term sanctuary to climate migrants. 

Neighborhoods formed Friendly Collectives where they worked together to grow food, conserve water, and look after each other during extreme weather events. Engineers and architects used their skills to adapt to the changing planet, protecting people and land while also creating spaces that fostered community. 

Not only did our ancestors take on the risks that came with global warming, they

relentlessly sought to make the world a better place for everyone, not just for some but with sensitivity to the ways people who had lived on the margins were more negatively impacted by climate change, including LGBTQ seniors and youth and people without homes. They also improved policing practices at a time when more and more places regularly declared states of emergency where everyday rules did not always apply. 

We can name groups and many individual players. But so many of the efforts were done quietly, out of view, by people who often felt inadequate and overwhelmed. How can we catalog the relentless willingness to find hope and pursue solutions? How can we say thank you to the many unsung heroes of the climate generation who faced an uncertain future and refused to be defeated? Perhaps the greatest way of showing our gratitude is to live our lives in full knowledge that the stability and peace we have in the world today is due to their many efforts long ago. 

On this day in the year 2166, we remember those climate action heroes and all they did to safeguard civilization and all we hold dear.

Read Peterson Toscano’s reflections in the second issue of The Porch magazine, available here.