Being Possitopian means both facing the worst and imagining the best, in ways that are both much more rational and critical, and much more creative and open-minded. And also, it means anticipating the future much more frequently, in many more situations and permutations, involving a greater diversity of people. Managing the risks of the planetary emergency is not about working out the best response to the most likely outcome, it is about determining the best response to the full distribution of possible outcomes.
Being Possitopian isn’t a halfway position between glass half-empty and half-full. It is a greatly expanded perspective, a mind that is much more open to ecological realities beyond the human, to diverse perspectives and future possibilities. The hope is that if teams or communities practice being Possitopian, they are less likely to be fixed into positions of either doom or hope, seeing only Dystopia or Utopia, but that they will have more plural and open-minded views and therefore, to collaborate more and argue less.
Can you apply Possitopian thinking when in a planning meeting?
First, set the tone by taking an ‘expanded perspective’. You might be thinking ahead one year, so push it out to 5 or 10 years. You might be assuming that certain conditions are going to continue but challenge those assumptions. You might be ignoring the rapid onset of the planetary emergency, so factor in some of the possible impacts into your planning. You might be missing out on possible options because you’re not drawing on diverse perspectives to open up your imagination of the future – so can you bring some imagination into your meeting?
Second, for each subject of discussion (e.g. funding bids, maintaining the building etc) ask three questions: What could be the very best scenario? What could be the very worst scenario? What could be an unexpected scenario?
Give at least 30 minutes to this new approach. Perhaps take 5 minutes to draw rather than writing down your ideas.
After this, reflect on how it went. Try to use the same thinking regularly and get more practiced at it.
The idea of Possitopian thinking is quite complex and needs explaining.
It is to extend imagination about the future around the widest extent of possibilities. It’s definitively not being ‘Positopian’ i.e. only positive about the future. Because catastrophic climate impacts are already coming 20-80 years earlier than modelled, the Voros ‘cone of futures’ (in the second image above) is far too narrow and linear. The cone is wide open, from now, with events happening beyond our imagining and requiring imagination beyond our norms.
The Probable scenarios are extremely bad. The Preferable scenarios are extremely ideal, and this causes conflict between different visions, just like Leave and Remain positions have hardened. There is also conflict between the few people whose habit is mostly to imagine the Probable (or who have experienced it) and those who imagine the Preferable.
Possitopian methods aim to braid the two, to close the gap, to create a viable path for humanity (or for communities) amidst the Possible. This requires more frequent and sustained imagining of scenarios, bringing together people with different views, combining the imagination with hard evidence or existing solutions, and more design of safe and creative ways to lay down the stepping stones to forge the viable path.
“The problem is that the image we have right now is so much influenced by modelling studies, at least in the scientific community. But with these climate and other simulation models it is just like the way it is with artificial intelligence. These are mere algorithms that lack any real understanding. The understanding is the work that needs to be done by the scientist. So what I worry about is that too much reliance on established scientific methods has led to a lack of imagination, and that there will be things that we have not considered. Last year, almost the entire Greek olive harvest was unfit for human consumption. The reason: it was unusually wet, just the opposite of the trend we expect from modelling, and that led to the spread of certain diseases that could thrive in the increased humidity.” Dr Wolfgang Knorr, talking to Jem Bendell