Recently I was in my home town visiting family, and after responding to a question about my work including community-based conversations about envisioning a world without weapons (Elise Boulding) or a world without hunger (Donella Meadows), a friend of the family said “that seems unrealistic and idealistic”. The word ‘unrealistic’ is often attached to ‘idealist’ or ‘idealistic’, in my experience, as a way of dismissing visionary ideas or actions. But has anything really spectacular or meaningful ever been done without envisioning it first? (Well, okay… babies).
And yet, discussions about sustainability rarely include visions of what communities or individuals want their ecological futures to be. The majority of discussions of ecological or community futures are based on an extrapolation of present trends, they are predictions of the future, usually of situations of loss (species, community, jobs) or hardship (food or water shortages) — not preferred futures or visions that we could work towards that would allow us to avoid projecting harmful present-day trends into the future.
Perhaps we do not see many examples of preferred ecological futures because creating a positive vision of the future might be considered foolhardy when the chance of success is not guaranteed. Or it may seem too risky for us to create our own vision of a sustainable and just world because others might label it as idealistic or unrealistic. But Donella Meadows urges us to “occasionally take the social risk of displaying not our skepticism but our deepest desire. We could declare ourselves in favor of a sustainable, just, secure, efficient, sufficient world… even at the expense of being called idealistic”.
We could create ecological visions that will inspire and motivate action.
Once we identify a detailed image of what a sustainable and just community would look like, we can more actively begin to address the hard reality, through critical analysis, of exploring what is not working or the barriers to reaching our vision, identify what is working, and then create strategies and plans for action, including where each individual can contribute their talents and experience.