Why the Climate Movement Needs World Building

An article by Climate Spring's Lucy Stone and world builder, social entrepreneur and writer Gustavo Montes de Oca

Why the Climate Movement Needs World Building

Why the climate movement needs world building

Lucy Stone and Gustavo Montes de Oca

Luminous beings are we

Imagine if we could all describe the world we want to live in and pass on to our children with the level of detail that we can describe the fictional world of Star Wars. The fourth most watched film in history deals with themes that we all recognise: power, greed, love and sets them in a completely fabricated galaxy. That galaxy follows its own predictable set of rules so well and is able to generate such rich detail that it is remembered by billions. It is remixed and added to by millions; new writers slot in to create new stories, toy producers create toys from it, gaming studios invent scenarios for players avatars to play through, children of all ages make lightsabers out of sticks and act out their own dramas, and fanfiction writers create their own magazines.

We can easily explore the distant reaches of a fictional cosmos, but we struggle to picture ourselves in a future we want to inhabit. Our creative imagination is drawn to play in well constructed alternate realities. It actively seeks to be drawn into speculation, and wants to play in engaging playgrounds of the imagination.

Culture is where we collectively imagine. It is where we see possibilities and those possibilities in turn shape who we are and our sense of what we can do.

Now you will pay the price for your lack of vision

When it comes to the climate crisis, what we are being shown is largely doomladen and dystopic. This is understandable, it's a reflection on the alarm bell ringing loudly for the climate and nature crisis. But when doom is all we see, it renders us frozen with fear, unable to sense what is possible, and ultimately shapes our sense of self as passive bearers of the world created by powers beyond our comprehension. If we are to navigate ecological breakdown with grace and justice, what we see of the future needs to give us a real sense of what is possible, and nourish a version of who we are that invites our participation and agency.

The playgrounds of imagination we build don’t need to be a far distant utopia. These are also problematic, suggesting everything will be taken care of for us, and ignoring the costs that one person's utopia forces on others. We are already beyond the possibility of avoiding a degree of ecological breakdown. We are in for a bumpy ride whatever happens. But we severely lack the visions of a future that will pull us through the tough times and give us something to manifest. As a giant of cinema Coppola's 40 year attempt to meditate on the falling US empire and the new world that might rise in its place - Megalopolis - launched at Cannes Film Festival to disappointed reviews, perhaps it's inevitable that the future won’t be written by the patriarchal old guard.

Climate Spring is a global organisation working with a growing movement of new and established creatives to produce a proliferation of stories that shed new light on how we navigate out of the crisis, and what regenerative worlds could look like. We are world building to craft visions based not just on fantasy but on trajectories that have already started in the present. We are doing this with the master storytellers who can help inspire wider society and so shift climate communications away from didactic finger wagging to getting people excited about a future in which we address the climate and nature crisis.

Feeling ourselves already on a journey to somewhere better can inspire people to turn towards the future they want, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so far far away. Regenerative Worldbuilding can help the climate community better communicate, and the creative community can step into and flourish in their role as the stewards of our collective summoning.

I have a bad feeling about this

These words first enter the Star Wars universe from Luke Skywalker as his team approaches what they think is a small moon but turns out to be a death star. That sense of fear and doom is no match for Luke - but he is a Jedi. Most people try to avoid the things that cause them overwhelming fear, and when the messages of doom have been avoided so often, a numbness can build up, aligned with a rising tolerance for ever escalating warnings.  

Part of that fear reaction is to feel despondency. People are starting to feel like it's too late to act on the climate crisis. Almost three quarters of young people globally feel scared about their future. The problem seems so big and insoluble that there is little I can do about it, and so I resign myself and trust that someone else will sort it out. In this moment agency is relinquished and this particular dimension of the future becomes what someone else is dreaming into existence. At the moment that is Elon Musk’s channeling the world’s resources into a vision to eject off the planet rather than heal it.

A big part of why the climate community is failing to engage the public in addressing the climate crisis, is not only because they lead with fear and guilt, but also because very often the climate community has not understood that the root cause of the problem, and therefore the solutions are not just less pollution and more renewables, more trees. The root cause is an extractive, dominant, colonial worldview that has shaped our system to view nature and people as a resource, consumed in a linear manner, using more that we replenish. A regenerative world view and practice understands we need to restore the lost biodiversity, heal and regenerate an economy that will enable people and nature to flourish. We believe there are shoots of this regenerative world view, behaviors and systems growing, but they are at threat from being trampled by the stampede to more extraction for more technology and even greater industrialisation.

Rebellions are built on dreams

There is hope. There are incredible groups of people working often without recognition to bring about much better worlds. They are pioneers whose knowledge, commitment and passion we will be grateful for, but they can sometimes struggle to bring everyone else with them. They are often too busy doing the regenerative work to tell their stories.

Although regenerative worldviews are still practiced in indigenous communities, applying them does not mean we have to go back to living off the land and relinquish quality of life. But our understanding of what a quality of life looks like is changing, and needs to change. Regenerative means farmers shifting to grow food in ways that are not just low pollution, or sustainable, but in ways that enable nature and people to flourish. Circular business design where there is no waste and designing cities to benefit people and nature rather than just business.

Creatives, like most people, have a similar reaction to the immensity of the ecological challenge; It is easier to look away. But it is cultural creatives’ role to see and to illuminate, so when they look away we are all blinded. It is hard to look ahead at the uncertainty and turmoil. Systemic change is hard to comprehend and address. And even once we look, it is easier to imagine dystopia, apocalypse, breakdown - and this is reflected in the movies about climate we have had: The Day After Tomorrow, Snowpiercer , Wall-E… Hell . We’re in danger of overexposure to climate danger tropes; how many floods, wildfires and collapsed cities can the box office take? Will they keep entertaining when the real world starts to catch up with the prophesied dystopia?

This is the way

At Climate Spring we propose a way around these challenges by working with writers and writers groups to worldbuild regenerative worlds, the kinds of worlds that we would be proud for our children to inhabit. We bring the incredible work of pioneers of that world to the workshops/programme and then help writers unleash their imagination constructively to create generative worlds from which their stories can emerge.

In our processes that can work for solo writers we can help writers better understand a better world and its story implications through examples and creations of our own, but we also help them build their own versions of the world. We guide storytellers to creating histories, groups of people, meaningful places, products, and practices across the various domains of human activity that need to be considered in regenerative futures.

Once they have established their worlds, we help them find the stories within them that still conform to the norms of dramatic tensions, genre expectations, commercial viability. The features of the world can fade into the background or pop into the foreground where they advance the plot, but the story being told needn’t be the story of the world. These are not climate stories as narrowly defined, but stories set in a compelling, cohesive, credible world in which humanity is taking the challenge seriously. This world building first approach means that we can find the drama in hopeful worlds after all drama is both the commercial hook and the mechanism that pulls people through the world.

The worlds we create for the screen have to work on the screen industry’s current needs if we are to broadcast them to all the stick wielding children, fanfiction writers, subredditors, and audience members. It is there, in all those people that the regenerative world takes root and makes the future something they want to bring forward instead of flinch from. Our worldbuilding can inspire people to build the world they would be proud to pass on to the next generation.


Lucy Stone is the founder of Climate Spring, the global organization funding and supporting scripted and unscripted storytelling that changes the way society sees the climate crisis. Climate Spring works with all stakeholders in the industry as a funder, advisor, convenor and facilitator. Lucy is a leading narrative change expert and climate innovator having set up many successful organizations and initiatives. Lucy has been a leader in philanthropy, in social enterprise, advising UN organizations and governments.

Gustavo Montes de Oca worldbuilds and builds the world he wants to see. He has experience working in everything from urban agriculture to electric mobility platform cooperatives and emergency response. He is a futurist, sci-fi writer and active member of Radar - a decentralised futures community with people around the planet discovering and creating wonderful futures.

Image featured: Black Panther - Wakanda Forever (c) Marvel Studios

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