4 min read

To Dream of Success

To Dream of Success

My mood was glum when I started the first page, but Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures by Andrew Dana Hudson was just the medicine I needed.

This book takes five different looks at one specific plotline, the COP 60 (Conference for the Parties) meeting for global climate negotiations in 2054. This meeting takes place in Buenos Aires as a dangerous, unexpected storm approaches the city. The characters are generally the same in each story, but their roles and experiences are very different from one story to another. Each story is based on one of the climate modeling scenarios that were developed for the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They range from a sustainable outcome to a worst-case outcome. This makes it a very intriguing climate science fiction.

The stories also focus on challenging climate themes, such as inequality and economic growth, as well as individual versus community priorities. The middle story, A Storm for Some, contrasts the me mindset in one character with the us mindset in another. One character is from the diplomatic team and the other is a leader in the slum that sits right outside the protected area of the city. When the storm hits, the diplomat is concerned with individual survival while the slum leader is concerned for the survival of others. This story speaks to me as I struggle to navigate my own personal choices I make each day.

Most of us focus on ourselves as individuals. It’s about our singular pathway through life—our job, our friends, our activities, our problems. We work to optimize our own experience, and we keep ourselves so busy doing that—with what we buy and do and strive for—that it can be hard to find time for building community, healing the climate, changing our ways. It’s a bit like living in a tunnel, yet the looming climate emergency will require us to step outside that tunnel if we are to solve this problem.

Day to day, I find myself in this narrower mindset. Things bother me, obsess me, comfort me, excite me, but it is all about my own challenges, my own triumphs, and the small world of people I know. Most of us fall into this, and some never step out of it. It’s a big barrier to making the changes needed in our lifestyles that may be difficult but essential to reversing the damage we’ve done.

The choices before us might at first seem like great sacrifices but can be viewed instead as opportunities when we change our mental lens from what benefits “me” to what benefits “us.” As we broaden our sense of what is essential to include more than our narrow selves, there’s a feeling of expansion that is rewarding. And stories, at times, can help us make that transition from the small self to the larger one. Fiction can help us walk in someone else’s shoes, try on different attitudes, and inspire us to make decisions that we might not have done before.

Toward the end of the book, I was hungry for the final story. I knew it would be the transformative story, the one based on sustainable outcomes. I had been glum because I was feeling stuck as I wrestled with my frustrations because of the choices we, including myself, aren’t making for a better future. At times, it seems we will never succeed because we aren’t getting it done. When I read that last story, though, it gave me an immediate boost.

This story, If We Can Do This, We Can Do Asteroids, lets you dream of success. We need that to keep going—some vision of what might be. Stories can give us glimpses of different scenarios that might be helpful, possible, and successful. Stories can’t give us all the answers we crave but can lead us, through our imaginations, to discovering those as we walk the pathway of this challenge together.

For me this final story was like stepping into a painting I had been trying to paint in my mind but didn’t know how—not even a painting, more like a sketch, instead of a completed masterpiece—but for those moments as I walked that story landscape, I could imagine being in a world that had begun to work for us, all of us.

Note: April is the month to think of Earth Day, which is why I am posting more than normal. Take some time to think about what you will be doing for Earth Day and beyond.