The Ottawa We Want Wiki

Almost a decade ago Richard Heinberg published "A Letter from the Future" a fictional letter set in 2107 and written to the people of the early 21st century in the hope of changing their behaviours towards, energy consumption, climate, food security, and the health of the planet. Heinberg has recently republished this letter in his book "Peak Everything: Waking up to the century of declines".

The difficulty for most people in taking action regarding energy (particularly oil energy) consumption and climate change is that we have no clear history of experience that suggests oil will run out or that a warmer climate means anything other than a more pleasant winter. In fact just the opposite. The gas pumps keep pumping - albeit with more input from our wallets -- and the sun keeps shining, notwithstanding the inevitable tornado, hurricane or snowstorm. The risk is, however, that the small indications we have been observing over time go unrecognized until we find ourselves, like the frog in boiling water, unable to act because it is too late.

Arie de Geus, noted management theorist and former senior executive at Royal Dutch Shell observed in the "Living Company" that “we will not perceive a signal from the outside world unless it is relevant to an option for the future that we have already worked out in our imaginations”. Without a frame within which to hang our observations, we may observe things but not actually see them, their importance completely lost to us.

Thus de Geus argues for organizational efforts to explore these alternative patterns, what he deems memories of the future, to help enable today’s managers and policy makers to see beyond current crises, to deal with the emotional barriers that may inhibit change and be sensitive to information that otherwise might not even register as relevant. Lacking these memories of the future, the value of information that could well help us to to adjust to upcoming economic, social and environmental change is likely to be discounted and fail to make sufficient impact on strategic planning and decision making.

Further, de Geus suggests, “the more memories of the future we develop, the more open and receptive we will be to signals from the outside world [the world outside our individual organizations]”. Heinberg's Letter is just such a tool, essentially a means for us to imagine a possibility and create the memories of the future that might help us avoid that same scenario.

In this light I would strongly encourage you to examine Heinberg's Letter from the Future as a way of creating for yourself a more solid basis for interpreting the flood of information that comes your way on energy and climate change. In fact, I would suggest you do more than this - have a conversation with your friends, family or neighbours and discuss it. Think about the possibility Heinberg tries to paint and your contribution to it. Is this the world you want? If not, what are you willing to do about it? Remember you can still make a choice.