Falling in love with the future

By Amy Reiswig, January 2016

Guy Dauncey’s new novel envisions an urban ecotopia.

The new 2016 calendar seems a good time for a story of possibility. And, following the Paris climate conference, for a tale of not just personal but planetary possibility. In his novel Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible, launching this month, BC Sustainable Energy Association founder and award-winning author Guy Dauncey doesn’t just talk about ways to fight climate change; he shows us a vision of what our lives could look like if we work together to make change happen.

An activist since his early 20s, Dauncey has authored or co-authored ten other books, including Earthfuture: Stories from a Sustainable World and The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming. The longtime publisher of EcoNews (a monthly newsletter promoting a sustainable Vancouver Island) and co-founder of the Victoria Car Share Co-operative, Dauncey has spent most of his life becoming informed and getting others informed—and active. While many of us find the daily inundation of climate facts, figures, and dire predictions overwhelming, Dauncey smiles widely and confesses to what he calls “A chronic enthusiasm that comes from knowing and putting it together.” 

“By diving deep,” he says, “I can see that the undercurrents have changed. The mainstream media just get the froth on the surface of what’s really happening on this Earth.” Enthusiasm, rooted in knowledge that allows one to imagine what’s possible, is what Dauncey is trying to spark with his novel. He sees it as an antidote to Hollywood’s despair-generating dystopian narratives.

Readers follow the young man Patrick Wu as he quite inexplicably jumps forward for four days to the Vancouver of 2032. The city has been transformed, fulfilling its current goal of becoming the greenest city, and Patrick discovers a kind of urban ecotopia of renewable energy and collaborative economy that’s leading the way in a world still facing major environmental threats and social unrest. “It’s not all rainbows and unicorns,” the irrepressible yet realistic Dauncey tells me. He fully recognizes that, as one character says, “You can’t control nature once she’s got her angry on,” but later another speaks for his faith in humanity: “My hope is that it’ll make us draw closer.”

Dazed and amazed, Patrick draws close through conversation with all kinds of people, from farmers to neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists to urban planners, as well as people living the social transformation: a Walmart employee turned electric car converter, a financial dealer turned financial activist with the Tax Justice Network (a real organization). Through extended talks, Patrick is educated on everything from the practicals of community currency and transportation networks to quantum physics, the study of consciousness, and the unifying concept of syntropy (which says the drive to self-organize for the betterment of existence is intrinsic to the universe). Characters in the book explain how the formerly alienating city has become the beautiful, community-nourishing place of this future—a future Dauncey believes could be ours.

Centering on conversation means the book is more about ideas than action, and the excitement is not in the plot per se. Perhaps ironically for a work of speculative fiction, for me the excitement lies in what we learn about things happening right now.

As a “practical utopian,” Dauncey has included over 940 endnotes pointing to news stories and websites chronicling current inventions and initiatives. My mind was continually woken up as I followed links and travelled the world to self-sustaining communities in Spain and Italy; explored 3D-printed houses; learned about solar glass, benefit corporations, radical rest homes, the Human Connectome Project and much else. Whether it’s in a lab at MIT, the hallowed halls of Oxford University, or right here with our own local inventors, the fruits of people’s passion for making a better world are laid out in a huge feast of ideas that make you say: “Wow, this is real right now?!” Through fiction, Dauncey can combine it all in one place, revealing the cumulative beneficial impacts for the environment, economy, education, healthcare, and human relationships at the local and global scale.

Of course, Dauncey also adds his own imaginings, riffing on what exists to explore what can be. For instance, there are shopping apps that show your groceries’ calories, foodmiles, preservatives and nutrients or a product’s source, toxins and any black-flagged labour violations. It’s a world where once fossil-fuel-burning concert tours become holoconcerts, and free trade agreements become fair trade agreements. By including so many real innovations, you can’t help but say about the imagined: “Why not?” Suddenly, so much more seems possible. If I said the excitement isn’t in the plot, that’s only until you accept that it’s our plot, our story. Then the excitement really kicks in. 

“When I go into schools and speak to 400 kids,” Dauncey tells me, “I ask them how they feel about the future. I ask how many feel hope. Only about five of 400 raise their hands,” he says, his light momentarily dimmed. But he says that once he gives them a positive vision—how our various efforts can come together, what they can add up to—more hands eventually rise.

The book is not just about what we can achieve, though. It’s also fundamentally about who we are, who we can become, and what we carry inside us that makes change possible. As Patrick says early on: “I wanted to learn how people in Vancouver had been able to turn their city into one of the greenest in the world—and what was the story they carried in their hearts when they decided to take it on?” 

Much of the new society is built on collaboration, and Dauncey probes the role of love, reciprocity, and empathy in changing attitudes, practices, and policies. He examines the duality of the selfish versus the sharing side of each of us and looks not only forward but back through moments and movements in history where people have stood up for human good in the face of power and greed as we’ve moved from the Age of Discovery through the Age of Empire into what he sees as the Age of Cooperation. 

That’s a journey that has interested Dauncey for years, and it’s partly the source of his unquenchable hope. “I was a ‘60s kid coming of age in a massive explosion of possibility,” he explains. But when he got older, he questioned why there was so much conflict in the human world when nature seemed so harmonious. Studying sociology in university, he says he came to a simple solution: We’re still evolving.

That idea allows him to have deep faith in our nature and our future. Thus his character Thaba, a physicist, cites Martin Luther King’s notion of the long arc of the moral universe bending towards justice, and through Thaba, Dauncey looks much farther forward than 2032, as he observes: “We have only been seeking answers in a scientifically rigorous manner for a few hundred years. Imagine a civilization that has been at it for forty-thousand years, or four hundred thousand years…If we can get through the current global crisis and learn to live together as a family of nations, maybe there will be a golden age of tranquility on the other side.”

It’s quite an ideal, but Dauncey believes that real personal engagement and change hinge not only on knowing what we’re fighting but on being able to envision what we’re fighting for. One older character, explaining Vancouver’s transformation, also sums up Dauncey’s goal for us with this novel: “People slowly fell in love with the future.” It’s a good goal for a fresh new year.

 

A book launch for Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible will be held on Saturday, January 23, 7pm, at the James Bay Community Centre, 140 Oswego St. Sponsored by the BCSEA Victoria chapter.

Inspired by Dauncey’s appendices outlining specific steps for personal engagement, Amy is going to spend less time worrying and more time filling her calendar squares with positive action plans.