Imagining positive post-fossil futures
July 18, 2019 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Climaginaries is a three-year research project exploring innovative and creative ways of envisioning what a post-fossil world might look like, and the means through which it can transpire. Through different techniques of imagination, from modeling and scenario techniques to experimentations, visions of societal transformation and cultural representations (e.g. literature, film, art), Climaginaries explores (1) the transformative capacity of imaginaries; (2) how compelling narratives are told; and (3) how they can shape and enable efforts to confront climate change.

The Climaginaries team is currently hosting Anthropo-Scenes, a climate fiction competition to curate a small collection of works depecting and exploring climate-changed worlds. They are also currently on tour in Sweden with Carbon Ruins, an art exhibition that aims to transport visitors to 2053 and to a future where transitions to post-fossil society have already happened.
posted by sockermom (14 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I was hoping they'd talk about some of the World's Fair and Exposition-type exhibits promoting car-centric visions of the city, and they did (in this link); it's sort of unfortunate that we don't have a forum/venue with the same sort of reach that the World's Fairs and other big exhibitions did in the early to mid 20th century.

Because I do think it's important that we get visions out into the public imagination of what a post-fossil-carbon (which is not necessarily post-carbon) future looks like.

It's too easy right now for the oil/coal companies to just throw their hands up and say "well sure it would be nice to not use fossil fuels but it's impossible! We're just a necessary evil!" — this is the tactic you see BP and other oil companies taking all the time. They're trying to position themselves as 'part of the solution' etc. etc. (which in some cases may be true, there are some energy companies going long on renewables, but often it's just a foot-in-the-door to justifying their continued carbon extraction projects, or bullshit stuff like carbon capture) because there's no coherent vision of a future without them in it.

People also like to catastrophize, and it's important to promote a vision of the future post-fossil-carbon that doesn't look like a totally awful un-air-conditioned eco-Protestant hell, where we must suffer for our past enjoyment. There are a fair number of (putative) environmentalists who seem to enjoy this sort of thing, and they need to sit down and shut the fuck up; if we don't give people a vision of the future that includes air conditioning and personal transportation, they're going to burn the planet up rather than adopt it. The challenge is not just to show how we could live without fossil carbon (because people did, and it sucked, which is presumably why they started burning fossil carbon by the megaton when the opportunity presented itself) but how we can live without fossil carbon and still have a life that's within spitting distance of current first world standards, such that it doesn't seem like a fate worse than global warming.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:02 AM on July 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

My wife got a Tesla last year, fulfilling ambitions held for years. It hit me earlier this week that I could actually get real trade-in money on my car for the first time in my life, and if I went for the basic affordable Tesla, I could get one, too. Yes, Elon Musk is gross and there's no ethical consumption under capitalism, but here we are: I could get an electric car and stop feeling awful about burning fossil fuels with every drive.

I also feel like being a two-Tesla family would be the most bourgeois thing possible. Now I am caught between my oppressive existential environmental dread (no really, seeking therapy) and my class issues and I don't know what to do with that.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:16 AM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Buy the Tesla. EVs need the push from early adopters to help get them mainstream. But also vote for and support public transportation like the dickens.
posted by gwint at 10:00 AM on July 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you own your home, don't live in a state that punishes residential PV solar installations, and have an unobstructed southern exposure, put as many solar panels on your roof as will fit. Buy them, don't lease them. They will pay for themselves, even if you live in New England, like I do. If you do live in one of those solar-hostile states, your legislators are idiots. Do what you can about that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:55 AM on July 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Buy the Tesla. The most promising strategy for advancing widespread EV adoption is "convince society that only poor people drive fossil cars".

(The original Tesla master plan phrased this in somewhat more diplomatic terms.)

It would be great to capture that uber-optimistic World's Fair futurism as a complement to climate activism. It's easy for people to fall into denialism or despair if their only mental model of a post-carbon society involves mud huts and oxcarts.
posted by allegedly at 12:08 PM on July 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

I believe one of the major goals of solarpunk is to provide exactly that kind of optimistic "World's Fair" vision of a post-fossil world. And I think you pretty much have to do it like that in the current cultural moment. Science fiction is where people get their visions of the future, not World's Fairs, which is actually kind of ironic given that those early 20th century World's Fairs are almost certainly the reason why science fiction became such a huge genre to begin with.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:50 PM on July 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ooh they are holding a climate fiction competition. And have a list of 10 recommended climate fiction books
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:10 PM on July 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'd buy a Tesla in a flash, but even the base model Tesla 3 (not even released here yet) has a projected cost that is unaffordable for the majority of Australians.

This is of course by government design, as we have welded our nation's future to fossil fuels, and have nothing else in the bag.

I do my best at every local, state and federal election, but otherwise can only apologise for Australia being one of the greatest contributors to our burning world.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2019

That list of climate fiction books was cool, but I was disappointed not to see Octavia Butler on it--her work has really transformed my thinking about post-fossil futures, especially the two Parables. And N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy and Ursula K. Le Guin's work, like "The New Atlantis," hold promise of post-fossil utopia, I think. Although these stories all have quite dystopian elements, the utopian message is that people can/should/will gather in collectives and work toward utopia despite dystopian surroundings.

When I think about positive post-fossil futures, my mind often goes straight to community organizing and community gardening as a vital important component of that project; I was glad to see a few links on neighborhoods and places of hope on the Urban Futures pages.
posted by sockermom at 4:10 PM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Post-fossil? Like as in beyond a time when any fossils exist? Oh, post-fossil-fuels. Eliding words does not make for greater understanding. We should include the 'fuel' part of the word equation because 'fuel' is the most relevant part of the phrase. Fossils, in and of themselves, are not the problem. The problem is the carbon released when we use the fossilised elements of past living things as our majority fuel source.

It's like the phrase 'global warming'. It doesn't sound too bad especially to the rich cold north, and therein hides the deep changes required to actually forestall it.

Buy the Tesla, but only if the power source is from a renewable resource like hydro, wind, geothermal or solar. But if your power comes from coal, natural gas, or worse, diesel, what are you really saving? Especially considering the carbon-cost of new car purchases.
posted by Thella at 5:54 PM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

But if your power comes from coal, natural gas, or worse, diesel, what are you really saving?

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Based on data on power plant emissions released in February 2018, driving on electricity is cleaner than gasoline for most drivers in the US. Seventy-five percent of people now live in places where driving on electricity is cleaner than a 50 MPG gasoline car.
The grid in the US is a lot cleaner than even four years ago. Coal power retirements are picking up. Gas is being pressured by low cost renewables. We need EV adoption for personal transportation, but China's electric buses are actually making a bigger dent in oil demand. EV buses are something we can also pressure local governments to adopt. Higher upfront costs, but lower maintenance and fuel costs.
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:54 PM on July 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this. My work goal is to contribute to a 100% renewable electric system, but as with anything to do with the electric grid, there is no compelling vision (notwithstanding the 6 year-old video linked here) and nobody can justify paying for it.

What can help convince people that solar panels on every roof are desirable, wind turbines in their view are a symbol of a better future, and how to accommodate reducing demand to meet supply 0.0001% of the time? 0.001%? 0.01%?

It sure ain't going to be the engineers who can't come up with a better catchphrase than "smart ______".
posted by anthill at 12:06 AM on July 19, 2019

50 MPG equivalency is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it's not really that much better than a decent hybrid, and it's actually less than you could get out of a Chevy Cruze Diesel (which is currently the only manual-transmission diesel passenger car being sold in the US).

The Tesla is neat, but I think plug-in hybrids are a pretty good solution as well, and worth considering. Depending on the length of your commute (assuming you commute -- finding ways not to commute is surely one of the highest-environmental-ROI things one can do) you might be basically driving an electric car anyway.

But I think the focus on "what can I buy?" is really the wrong question; what you, individually, do or buy is irrelevant to the big picture. It doesn't matter except to your own ability to sleep at night. Global warming / carbon pollution is a collective-action problem, which won't be solved by a bunch of bourgeois Americans going out and buying electric cars; the oil is still being pumped out of the ground, still being burned, and a slight amount of demand destruction because you bought an electric car isn't going to materially change the amount of carbon extracted and released into the atmosphere.

The most important thing you can do is vote, and if you have the money to do so, contribute to political candidates in a meaningful way. I suspect quite strongly that you can do more good for the climate by buying a Chevy Cruz (or Honda Civic or Nissan Versa or whatever), and then taking the money saved vs. buying a Tesla, and donating it strategically to political campaigns, rather than going out and buying one of Mr. Musk's luxury machines. Particularly in state-level primaries, ten thousand dollars could actually have an impact, and the policy of a single US state is going to be immeasurably greater in its impact than your individual consumption choices are ever going to be.

I'm always suspicious of people who focus on individual consumptive choices, because it's a great way to derail a policy discussion (not saying anyone is doing that here, but you see it a lot); it seems on the surface like a legitimate question -- "well, what are you driving, if you care about the environment so much, hippie?" -- but of course the answer doesn't matter. You could be driving a VW Vanagon powered by brown coal and still be a mosquito's fart compared to the overall consumption of fossil fuel in the world. We shouldn't get hung up on individual "paper or plastic" type choices; it's a distraction.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:17 AM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Wow, what a great initiative. I had never imagined an organization working to foster and spread narratives about the post-fossil-fuel future - it seems like such an abstract idea to me, but they're creating so many concrete projects. What a wonderful thing.

I agree with Kadin2048 - we need visions of the future that suggest some ways forward.

I'm glad to learn about this - thank you, sockermom!
posted by kristi at 8:21 PM on July 23, 2019

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