What If…


Millions of North Americans worry a little bit about climate change. But they don’t recognize the urgent crisis, and they don’t think they can do anything. So the hope it won’t be so bad, or someone will figure something out.

We are running out of time. We see some optimistic trends, but nothing that can scale quickly enough to keep us from going well over the 2° Celsius goal set by the world’s nations.

We support the diversity of climate-related efforts going on, but we see a big missing piece. We can tell we’re missing important emotional and communications opportunities because the climate campaign has almost no culture: no stories, no songs, few movies, a handful of novels.

In the past, books have changed the world. It’s not too late to aim for visionary thunderbolts. We can’t be content with singles and doubles: we need home runs, This is an attempt at being as ambitious as possible.

What If … We Could Get Home Runs in Climate Awareness?

Climate hawks have a hard time persuading and energizing audiences. Facts and science don’t help enough. Hope and inspiration are in short supply.

What if a new project could nurture, develop, launch and distribute artistic creations that could reach people profoundly — breaking through the expectation that we will continue business as usual? What if people read and viewed stories that were so riveting and powerful that made them feel like they were about to fall over? And what if when they recovered they immediately passed them along to everyone they knew, saying “You gotta see this.” And, because they were so affected by it and they want to make sure their friends and colleagues didn’t just put the message aside, followed up the next day with “Did you see it? What do you think?”

What if more and more people start to say, “I finally realize: this isn’t about scientific disputes, or the weather, or the economy, or some concern of interest groups. This is about MY future, and the future of everyone I care about, everyone I know, everyone I don’t know. It’s about our world: every beautiful natural place and creature, and everything humans have ever made. I and every human on earth face the ultimate challenge.”

What if top creative artists — writers, illustrators, animators, musicians — all are inspired to produce their versions of these stories? We envision a multi-track effort, aimed at producing a 1500-word written piece, a 5-10 minute animation, and a storyboard for a video. We see a low-budget effort, but we don’t rule out incentives and contests. (Obviously, going back to the Medicis and Michelangelo, it is possible to “buy creativity.”)

We Propose Two Fables (scenarios)

We aren’t committed to these if something more persuasive comes along:

First: “What Happened” is a vivid scenario of what happens globally in 2015-2050. Milestones show the most disastrous turning points, moments of inaction or bad decisions, ignored warnings, interventions by powerful interests, and human and natural catastrophes. The scope goes from an individual or family to a community to nations and continents. It ends bleakly, “That’s how it happened.” But then: “Or did it?” What if people woke up in time? Watch for Part 2.”

Second: “What If” takes all the masses of proposals, technologies, and timetables and turns it into a plausible narrative of bold leadership, heroic action, surprising developments. For example:

  • In 2017, North America’s 100 largest foundations announced that because climate change threatened every area of their work, they were immediately moving to allocate *% of their grants and staff to address climate issues for the foreseeable future. They said they had been talking about it since the 2012 Gates Foundation Letter warning that the billions the Foundation has spent on food and health could be dwarfed by climate change.
  • The first defection of the CEO of an oil and gas company: * said, “I finally realized what my wife and children have been saying to me for years was true. We need to find a way to change everything as quickly as possible… without bringing down the world economy.”

Style & Tone

We aim to drop into the mostly noxious cocktails that mainstream and online sources serve up an outpouring of creative activity that jolts the global system — starting in one of the most retrograde locations in the world for action on climate change: North America. The world can’t move forward without cooperation and leadership from the U.S. and Canada.

Brilliant, visceral, gutsy writing — one example is “Gonzo” by Hunter Thompson and others, most recently by Matt Taibbi, who has been covering politics, economics and society for Rolling Stone. In 2009, describing Goldman Sachs’s role in the 2008 economic collapse, he famously called the firm “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” (He just jumped ship for First Look Media, Pierre Omidyar’s new $250M media project that has already attracted Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Poitras and Peter Maass. Other moving but less flashy styles come from Rebecca Solnit, author of “A Paradise In Hell” about people responding to crises and articles on climate like Rebecca Solnit: The Age of Inhuman Scale and Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction.

Before thinking about fables, I was thinking about satire (Dr. Strangelove, especially).
Maybe what I’m suggesting, in terms of content, is a bit too earnest. “Gonzo journalism” (see Wikipedia) is the opposite of earnest. It takes reality and makes it a bit loopy, but still, its points are very telling. It fits in with satire better than with serious scenarios…

Precedents & Inspirations

We’re inspired by elements from works like (not in any order):

  • A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift, a satire about inhumanity
  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine, which reached most of America’s 2.5 million colonists
  • Dr. Strangelove by Stanley Kubrick, showing the insanity of Mutual Assured Destruction
  • If the South Had Won the Civil War by McKinlay Kantor and other “alternate histories”
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, which shocked a nation to regulate food and led to the and creating the End Poverty In California movement
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the best-selling novel of the 19th century, which fueled abolitionism
  • Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, which redefined the relationship between citizens and the state
  • Letter from a Montgomery Jail and I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, visions fueling civil rights activism
  • Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed, near real-time reporting on one of the most important events in history
  • Rivonia Trial Speech by Nelson Mandela, inspired a AMC and international supporters
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, awakening environmental awareness
  • Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, led to Bellamy Clubs
  • So many episodes of Twilight Zone by Rod Serling and others, that had everyone talking the next day
  • This Op-Ed is a modern version of Swift’s Modest Proposal: When May I Shoot a Student? by Greg Hampikian

Current examples of scenarios & artistic depictions

  • Movies: On the Beach, Mad Max, The Road, I an Legend
  • We’ve also been influenced by the scenarios of Royal Dutch Shell, which sees the two roads until 2050 as “Blueprints” and “Scramble” http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/scenarios/2050/acc-version-flash.html
  • We’re looking for the short video from a few years ago by Gary Hirshberg about 2012, The Year We Woke Up
  • Manna, by Marshall Brain, a novella about two futures http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm
  • The Silver Cord, a striking graphic novel with multiple contributors, 217-page Volume I crowdfunded in 2012 https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/silvercord/the-silver-cord-a-techno-epic-graphic-novel and silver-cord.net
  • TC Boyle, “A Friend of the Earth,” novel written in 2000, set in a climate-affected 2025


  • We would aim to have something for the general public in early 2015; sooner if possible. Possibly at TED in March, 2015
  • We are watching and plan to be in contact with two efforts reaching fruition in the next six months. Ideally our content would be aligned with these and we would work to coordinate messaging.
  • Years of Living Dangerously on Showtime, 8 episodes showing the effects of climate change in today’s world, starting April 13, led by James Cameron with an all-star team http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/ https://www.facebook.com/YearsOfLiving
  • Risky Business, initiated by Tom Steyer, Michael Blumberg, and Hank Paulson, this summer, an assessment of risk and an engagement effort, http://www.riskybusiness.org

How to make it happen

  1. We see beginning with a core group of people to create a founding document, an advisory board, a list of people to invite to participate, and enlist initial partnering organizations.
  2. This can begin with two or three people spending a few hours a day.
  3. We’d plan a partially open-source process, with a private working group showing works-in-progress to online audiences, and soliciting ideas, comments and suggestions.
  4. Working areas include content & fact-checking, partnerships.
  5. The first step will be to circulate this document and invite people to join a Basecamp group (collaborative platform)
  6. [Lots more to fill in here.]

Filmmaker Alan Snitow: “Insanely ambitious.” [Thanks!] “Grandiose.” [Hmmm…]

P.S. A look backward
Felix Kramer’s decade-long campaign for plug-in cars, in partnership with many groups and individuals, involved repeated episodes of giving people visions of the future, including:

  • Converting a Prius to plug in in an engineer’s garage
  • Flying one to Washington, DC to show members of Congress
  • Making fun of the lame rationalizations of automakers
  • Pointing to build support in Sacramento for the Global Warming Solutions Act
  • Creating “Bettah,” an animation that showed a plug-in hybrid in daily life
  • Giving people the experience of driving electrically
  • Showing the grid could power the cars with little disruption
  • Starting with appearing at the first national event of Step It Up (predecessor of 350.org) creating a rallying point for the idea that we could leave fossil fuels behind

The range of organizations that initiated important efforts included conservative national security groups in DC; utilities including Austin Energy and PG&E; established groups like the Electric Auto Association and Plug In America; Environmental Entrepreneurs; many universities; local, state and federal agencies, and after a few pioneering groups like Bluewater Network, Rainforest Action Campaign and Friends of the Earth, eventually NRDC, Sierra, Union of Concerned Scientists and many others.

It’s partially as a result of this experience that Felix feels this is time for a broad collaborative effort to change consciousness in a different way than anything that he’s aware of.