As part of the Manchester International Festival, which opened last week, The Guardian sponsored [The Manchester Report]( “”)– an exploration and celebration of climate change solutions. I was very pleased to be asked to sit on the judging panel, which meant this weekend was spent in the grand setting of Manchester Town Hall, listening to and quizzing nineteen advocates of a wide range of climate solutions.
The event was fascinating and has left me feeling more inspired, better informed, and much more hopeful.
Whilst there, I also attended a piece of interactive theatre put together by the phenomenal theatre group Punch Drunk, ‘[It felt like a kiss]( “”)’. Punch Drunk specialize in location specific theatre experiences that blur the boundaries between the performers and audience. This piece centers around a short film by BBC documentary maker Adam Curtis, exploring the fracturing of the American Dream in the late 50’s and 60’s. It is an incredibly disturbing experience that cleverly leads you into a state of complete fear and isolation. The world created by Curtis and Punchdrunk is not a pleasant place.
The contrast between the two events couldn’t have been greater, and yet the principle behind them was the same. Our perception of reality is a construct of the stimuli we are exposed to. If we seek out evidence that life is good and positive and that a better future is possible, this becomes a re-affirming belief. If we look for evidence of the darker aspects of life and how negative our situation is then we will come to believe this is reality.
Of course this is a massive over-simplification. We cannot just see the things we want to see, and our past experiences colour our experience of the present. Many external influences compete to make us see the world in a particular way, and we tend to moderate our experiences in relation to how others perceive them. In the case of the Punch Drunk nightmare we were very easily manipulated by powerful negative stimuli into a state of collective panic. Back at Manchester Town Hall, we were introduced to a score of inspired ideas and all ended the weekend feeling much better about life and our collective ability to solve the big problems facing humankind.
For this we have to thank the wonderful enthusiasts who came along to tell us about their ideas for making the world a better place. The Guardian will be showcasing them next week so I won’t go into detail. But for me, the most interesting things to emerge were the potential for a truly new type of nuclear power based on the element Thorium; a mini power station for the home (using a ceramic fuel cell) that looks like it might actually work; and projects in developing countries that are helping people to shift to more efficient, cleaner cooking stoves, improving health, reducing costs and helping to reduce the rate of deforestation.
The people presenting these ideas demonstrated a common trait – instead of seeing a problem as an inevitable fact of life, confirming how bad everything is they saw it as a challenge and poured their considerable energies into solving it. Some, like Professor Stephen Salter, (of [Salter’s duck fame]( “”)), have been doing this for decades, not only with little in the way of formal recognition or reward, but also in the face of outright opposition from the powers that be.
Fortunately, there are lots of people like Professor Salter out there – and it was a great pleasure to meet some of them this weekend. The Guardian deserves great credit for conceiving of the event – everyone knows good news doesn’t sell, but it is absolutely crucial that more positive stories about climate change make it into the media. Without it, those who complain that doing anything to tackle climate change is pointless, or too risky, or too expensive, will get us all believing that it’s true. And then it will become so.
We will invent our own future – whether it turns out to be a nightmare or not is entirely up to us.