June 23, 2024


Illustration of pencil with flower sprouting from above

The spotlight

Hello there, look out fam. In honor of our 100th newsletter last month we had a drabble competition, which asks you to imagine the evolution of a single climate solution that excites you 100 years from now. We are honored, and inspired, by the creative visions so many of you have sent in – the joyful, the poetic and the slightly spooky. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Today I am very excited to share our five winners with you. Each of these drabbles offers a glimpse of a better future, based on real solutions being developed and implemented today.

Envisioning a future worth living in – even a picture as small as one can cover in 100 words – is a big part of what keeps us energized and engaged in climate work in the present, and we often hear the same from you all. (And, let’s face it, right now we could all use a bright spot in the storm of world news.)

So without further ado, here are five doses of hope for our future, in no particular order. We’ve also gathered some resources for you to continue exploring the modern day foundations of these solutions, if they inspire you too.

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The massive airship sways slowly in the sweep, its hull white against the acid iron gray of the oncoming storm clouds.

It landed on the small island just as a sudden storm stirred up from the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. All around, sturdy seawalls, floating solar panels and kelp farming scaffolds break the waves and wind.

All that infrastructure, and the hydrogen fueling station, were funded decades ago by the global loss and damage fund. They reduce the devastating impact of typhoons and provide economic support to this island. It will never replace the coastlines, towns and islands that have passed. But it’s a start.

— Betsy Ruckman

Betsy’s drabble was inspired by many climate solutions — but she wanted the focus to be one she sees as a top priority: loss and damage financing.

The term “loss and damage” dominated the climate mind after COP27, the 2022 UN climate conference where delegates first agreed to establish a fund to provide financial assistance to the countries most affected by climate impacts, which contributed the least has to greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, countries have formalized some details about the fund, but are still negotiating much more – including how the money will be disbursed (in the trouble, Betsy specifically chose grants, not loans) and how to raise enough to offset the climate impacts meaningfully addressed.

Betsy attended COP27 as a student, and while there she met Willy Missack, an activist from Vanuatu. “I was so blessed to speak with him for a few hours at the conference, even though he was a party delegate and had much more official business to attend to,” Betsy said. “Willy has been striving for clean water and resilient community building on Vanuatu for years, and his work directly inspired me to write about what success in loss and damage can look like on small island nations.”

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Illustration of peeled yellow wallpaper revealing a wavy mushroom texture underneath

“Mom?”

Gia waited a while as she peeled back a corner of the wallpaper her rabbit had nibbled on.

“Mom!”

She heard nimble feet walking quickly up the stairs. Her mother peered down at her from the doorway, her brows furrowed.

“What is this stuff in the walls, Mom? It’s moving!”

Gia presses her fingertips into the textured beige surface peeking through pastel yellow. It gives slightly, then springs back.

Her mother snores.

“They’re fungal roots, Gia.”

“Mushrooms? From the farm next door?”

“That’s right.”

For years afterward, Gia would dream of pale, trembling tendrils reaching across the floor and into her bed.

– Anika Hazra

“I was inspired to write a piece about fungi because they can transform our built areas to function more like a self-sustaining forest ecosystem,” Anika said of her mildly terrifying submission. “My drabble is intended to demonstrate a very real possibility in the near future where fungi will be used to decompose our current building materials and rebuild them into materials that are better for people, the environment and climate.”

She was inspired by Mycocycle, a company that uses fungi to break down construction materials, then turns the resulting concoction into mycelium-based composites that can be used in new building materials. The process mimics the cycle of waste that would occur naturally in forests – mushrooms help decompose dead trees and other organisms and return them to the building blocks of new life.

“Mycocycle is an example of biomimicry, which is the practice of developing solutions based on the structure or behavior of non-human organisms,” Anika shared, noting that she used to be a freelance writer for The Biomimicry Institute. “My passion for biomimicry runs deep!”

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Grandma says they called it “upcycling” or “downcycling” or something. I think they shortened it because Naomi rides her too small pj’s for new ones that still smell right, I ride worn out running shoes, and even the chairs are driven in what Willa wants. Real plastic is now up to 10 percent of everything. I look around: the basketball backboard, the clear bag, the detergent cup — my grandchildren will never know the word “biodegradable” because there won’t be anything that isn’t. Willa and Naomi gather around me, our breath moves in new air every moment, new breath, new love.

– Rani Jayakumar

Rani titled this drabble “Pretty Cyced.” In addition to playing with the evolution of language, she was inspired to write about the future of reuse, reduction and recycling, partly because she grew up in a family that saved and reused “every last bit of plastic” even before the three R’s have taken hold in the mainstream. But she is also partly inspired by science fiction. “I grew up watching Star Trekwhere any item you want is replicated from atoms,” she said.

Rather than jumping ahead to a vision of a fully plastic-free future, she was interested in how technology can help us use the stuff better as we gradually replace it with more sustainable materials.

“I’ve often wondered – even if we stopped making plastic right now, what would we do with everything we already have?” she said. “The best solution, it seems to me, is to turn it into other things that we need, or else to return it to the hydrocarbons and the earth where it was formed, to remind us that we are all together forever connected on this planet.”

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The six of us stared at the long faded swirls – blue, green and yellow that graced Jacksonville’s last asphalt parking lot. Sarah, straight in her wheelchair at 103, waved her huge old paintbrush at us.

“What are you waiting for?” she called. “I’m getting old here!”

We hesitated. It was a piece of history: one of seven public art projects that went viral and unexpectedly attracted thousands. Jacksonville became the Climate Rights Movement’s epicenter almost overnight.

“Take a piece home, if you’re so worried,” our grandmother said, her tone impatient with unplanted wildflower seeds.

I smiled and swung my sledgehammer.

– Kayla Benjamin

“The cli-fi drabble contest itself got me thinking about art and creativity as climate solutions,” Kayla told me. “I spent time in Philadelphia a few weeks earlier, and I saw a lot of beautiful murals that address ideas about social justice.”

She was struck by the question of what “success” would look like for activist art projects that aim to convey a particular message. If that message were taken to heart, the meaning of the artworks would change. They would become relics of history – or objects to be destroyed, to make way for the type of changes they helped combat.

And, she added, “I walk around constantly fantasizing about tearing up all the parking lots and building housing, green space, community centers, or literally anything else besides asphalt.”

Those warm asphalt surfaces became both canvases for the artwork and ultimately the targets of the local rewilding she envisioned in her drabble. “It’s an art project that aims to make its own message obsolete,” she said, “and this scene is about that goal finally being achieved.”

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Illustration of open window with its curtain blowing in the wind

What we did on the fifth day:

Slept in with the windows open. Keep our loved ones close, like commas. Watched lights drip and pool in the glass. Said hallelujah, thank you for everything we got back. Watch tadpoles twirl in the shallow silt of a city stream, in a city garden, in the city green slumber of a fifth afternoon. Said, “Do they know what almost happened?” The tadpoles went on, not knowing the day of the week, or year, or the miracle of a tadpole and his little mouth, or how near we came, or whence we came back.

—Ro Rose

As the lead-up to this rubbish suggests, its subject is the four-day work week – or rather, the rewarding time not spent working. In Ro’s vision, the unstressed inhabitants of a peaceful, green city are shown enjoying their time and their surroundings.

The climate benefits of less work range from the daily emissions saved by reducing commuting routes to the wider implications of reducing production and consumption – part of the philosophy of degrowth. And proponents of the four-day work week also talk about the benefits for mental health and community well-being.

“I believe that a critical and underutilized climate solution is reclaiming rest, simple pleasure, space and time without making or spending money,” Ro said. “If we were more willing to lie fallow and find empty space critical, we might be more comfortable allowing our land and bodies to re-will.”

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See for yourself

If these cans get your gears turning, try your hand at envisioning a clean, green, just future! Put it in drabble form (a 100-word piece of fiction) and send it to the Looking Forward team absolutely anytime, at lookingforward@grist.org

Nothing makes us happier than hearing from you – especially when drabbles are involved. Although we don’t always hold such contests, we do written newsletters inspired by drabbles and questions from readersand we love to know what makes you curious, excited and hopeful about our climate future.






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