If the facts on climate change were persuasive and if we really were rational beings, then coal mining would have ceased, other fossil fuels would be on their way out, and we would be a long way down the path to a carbon-free economy.

The fact is, facts and reason don’t count for much when it comes to influencing behaviour. We act on emotion, ignore the inconvenient and avoid the frightening. It’s just the way we are. So how do we change minds and stimulate action? Through stories, says John O’Brien, visionary stories.

80 Visions of 2100

John invited a number of high-profile people (including the Pope and President Obama) to create their vision for the world in the year 2100. Some (including the Pope and President Obama) didn’t respond, but 80 others from around the world did. They include Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Special Envoy on Climate Change to the UN, Christine Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Yvo de Boer, Director General of the Green Growth Institute. Journalists, planners, scientists from a range of disciplines, an Archbishop and high school students also responded.

“Rational arguments for rapid action abound. We do not need any more of those. What is needed is a different way of communicating that inspires and attracts the widest possible group of humans towards wanting to travel on this same journey.”

John has woven these visions through his new book, Visions 2100: Stories from Your Future. Why did he go down this path? Because “visions can and do change the world.” The visions act as a framework around which John examines the psychology and technology, current business mindsets and failures that have lead to our present position. He goes on to explore the challenges and the opportunities that will arise between now and 2100.

L to R: Neil Salisbury, John O'Brien and Alistair McCaskill at the Melbourne book launch of Visions 2100

Time to imagine

John chose 2100 as the year to look back from so as to avoid the weight of near-term reality that would inevitably inhibit imaginations and stifle truly inspiring, visionary thinking. Even so, it’ difficult to ignore present realities, so while Bill McKibben of 350.org foresees a low-carbon world that “works just fine”, he says there is no way to re-freeze the poles, lower the sea level or grow food with our current ease.

FutureShapers founder John Renesch offers a more positive vision. In his 2100 everyone has their basic needs met, conflict and violence are rare, and more functional life support systems have replaced those that collapsed. So while these views of the future are not universally cheery, Visions 2100 does provide a welcome antidote to the large body of climate change literature that is impeccably researched, infallibly reasoned but oppressively gloomy.

Even better, the Visions2100 website gives us all an opportunity to contribute our own visions for 2100. Click on over, buy the book in paperback of electronic version and leave your vision. Facts may fail, but in sharing visions that inspire and generate hope, we may yet create a desirable future.