An Invitation to Teachers and Students: Creative Writing and Videos

Today one of the current and most serious threats facing our world is the question of maintaining and even increasing energy resources that provide the fuel for our economies. Simultaneously we are facing the economic, environmental, and political consequences of past choices in energy resource use and consumption. IMAGINING TOMORROW : Alternate Energy Futures invites teachers and students to embark on a literary thought experiment, to step outside our current culture and thinking, and imagine a future that might result from the choices we make.

Energy and the environment compete with many other subjects for today’s headlines. They are issues that can be ignored on any given day, but will become increasingly problematic over the next five to fifty years. For high school students, this will be the world of your future, the world where you will find careers, raise children, and where you will live your life. What will this world be like? What are the possibilities?

What political, economic, or cultural changes might occur as a result of increased competition for resources? How will these affect us here in the United States? How might they affect other countries? How will the continued use of fossil fuels affect our environment and climate? What will this mean to people in different parts of the world? What changes in attitudes or policy might make a difference, and how will our choices and options change our attitudes?

Use your imagination to construct a background and scenario, step inside the life of your characters, and tell their story.

Documentaries and PSAs

One of the most interesting aspects of our energy and global climate challenge is that many solutions are already in place; they are just not well-known.  Use the documentary category to tell a "true" story -- an educational piece about our situation, about a project in your community, a innovative company, a new approach to efficiency in the building industry -- or interviews with people who are working in the field, who are being affected by our changing weather. . . the list is endless, and the challenge of telling the story is the same. 


And a Final Challenge

"I read the news today, Oh Boy. . ." John Lennon

When you start to think about these questions, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems that our world faces.

This exercise is designed to help you understand these issues and their implications, to help you get your arms around a subject that is so large and so vague. It is to challenge you to become aware, to examine your ideas about energy and the environment, and go on to help create a future that you will want to live in.

There are precedents that justify optimism. In the 1950s and early 1960s the world faced the prospect of a nuclear war. Children in classrooms practiced "duck and cover" exercises, and instructed to hide under their desks; towns instituted civil defense warning systems; families were educated on how to build and stock fallout shelters. Many scientists, military and political leaders considered nuclear weapons only a powerful extension of other weapons of war and viable options in the great "fight against Communism". The activites mentioned reinforced this view of nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy and our mastery of the atom were heavily promoted, with The Atomic Energy Commission distributing booklets to schools on how the atom would transform our world, being used for everything from powering our homes to digging ditches.

That world is gone. We no longer see nuclear energy as a great new gift with no caveats, and we no longer live under the imminent threat of all-out nuclear war. Somehow between the 1950s and now, our viewpoint shifted.

What created this shift? There were many factors, but a central role was played by the stories that we told and were told about the use of these weapons and the consequences for our world.

After 1945 when the bombs were dropped in Japan, stories began to appear about mutations – "That Only a Mother" by Judith Merril (1948), "It's a Good Life" (1953) by Jerome Bixby, and "Of Man and Woman" by Richard Matheson (1950) were included in the twenty-five stories collected in the book, Science Fiction Hall of Fame (recently re-issued). As the Cold War developed, new stories were written about a post-World War III – "Coming Attractions" by Fritz Leiber (1950), also included in the Hall of Fame,and stories by other authors ranging from Ray Bradbury to Philip Dick. These were stories about a world totally changed, in part or in whole, from the one we knew.

These scenarios began to creep into the popular media, into "Twilight Zone" episodes, and into movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Mad Max, and Planet of the Apes. Through these stories, we were able to understand the true nature of nuclear weapons and the true dangers of a nuclear war — a war that would be not about victory, but only about destruction.

There is a reason why stories are so important. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn pointed out that scientific progress is discontinuous: scientists create a framework or model for understanding and describing the world. New tools allow new measurements to be made and new facts are accumulated. When the facts do not fit the model, it is not the model that is repudiated, it is the new data. The new data may even be invisible — there is not a mechanism for "seeing" the new information. Science is frozen in the old model.

This is not just true of scientists; we now know that all people construct a cognitive framework to explain the world.

Kuhn writes that progress comes when someone is able to create a new model and build a new framework that can incorporate the data. Inquiry and progress can then go forward.

Of course, it is not always easy to give up an old model for a new one. Typically it is adopted most readily by the newest generation. And this is true not only for scientists, but for all human beings, who operate by having an understanding of the world that they live in, right or wrong. As Samuelson said of economists, "Funeral by funeral, theory advances". Joe Bruchak, an Abenaki storyteller, said even more eloquently, "Our stories tell us who we are."

So use your imagination, write some new stories. You are in good company. George Gamow, one of the pioneers in quantum mechanics, wrote Mr. Tomkins in Wonderland (1936) to help understand the new quantum mechanical structure of physics. Albert Einstein wrote, "I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited to what we know and understand, but imagination embraces the whole world."

And don’t be discouraged – as Ray Bradbury said, "I write about the future in order to prevent it."

We ask and challenge you to exercise your imagination. It can change the world.