Be Present and Imagine the Future You Want
Yesterday morning I spoke with Cyril Dion, a French filmmaker, writer, and activist. Dion co-produced the documentary Tomorrow with actress, director, screenwriter, and musician Melanie Laurent.
Tomorrow won the 2016 French César for Best Documentary. After successful release in more than 20 countries, the film made its U.S. debut in the Bay Area this weekend. A tired yet determined-looking Dion told said he was encouraged by the overwhelming enthusiasm for the film’s message of solutions and empowerment.
The road to Tomorrow
Shortly after Laurent gave birth to her first child, she learned of the 2012 Nature article, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Co-authored by Anthony Barnosky, a paleobiologist, professor emeritus of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and currently executive director of the Stanford Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve, the paper’s stark warning of a rapidly approaching biological tipping point was an alarming awakening for a new mother in the 21st century.
There is still time to avoid a severely — and suddenly — altered world that may await Laurent’s child and the two billion other children expected on the planet by 2050. But the time to act, the article warned, is now. Waiting until after an ecological collapse to find viable solutions will be too late.
Fighting catastrophe fatigue
With that dire message, Laurent, Dion and a crew of four set out to tell a different story. We can imagine a better future for our children, because people all over the world are doing it right now.
The film acknowledges the urgent message from Barnosky’s work, and that of many others, but doesn’t dwell on the darkness. Instead it focuses on active solutions.
“People feel helpless… that they are too small to do anything about it,” Dion says.
“I really wanted to make a tool to empower people. To show them that we can start where we are and we can also build a movement.”
A better world, the film posits, can rest on four pillars, looking at each one in turn:
- Agriculture: For anyone living in the industrialized world and born after 1950, the idea of anything other than industrial farming is an esoteric “niche.” It’s hard to imagine that the exact opposite might be true.
- Energy: A low carbon energy economy is the right side of history. A continued “business-as-usual” reliance on high-carbon, extractive energy sources is the wrong side of history. Everybody know that. Well, almost everybody.
- Education: The chances of success for a single individual, and thus an entire society, rests on a good education.
- Democracy: How we choose our leaders demands an informed and engaged citizenry (see above). Oligarchy is what happens when people don’t know or don’t care, allowing fear and emotion to dictate their decisions.
There are innovative solutions for each; solution not only “being tried,” but working and expanding.
A world reimagined
In another interview yesterday, Barnosky told me he remains optimistic. Messages like the one in Tomorrow are important, he says. It demonstrates the groundswell of community action globally, suggesting a different narrative for a “global economy.” One that starts with people and communities, connected through a shared belief in their own power to effect change. Not by “saving the world,” but by working in their own communities, their own little plot of land. Think globally, act locally.
But it’s also about being present, here and now, and imagining the kind of future we want.
“if we can imagine the world differently,” says Dion, “it’s going to have an impact on economic and political structure.”
“We are human beings, so we imagine first. We first need to change the vision, the narrative of the world.”
Tomorrow shows a world reimagined, but real.