Positive Climate Futures Can Make for Good Stories

By Daniel Hinerfeld, Director, NRDC’s Rewrite the Future

Los Angeles, 2022

What will climate change mean for humanity?

Hollywood’s vision of our climate future has been bleak: extreme weather disasters, societal breakdown, apocalypse.

And that’s understandable! The dark, narrow, and recurring take is called “negativity bias,” and it’s hardwired into us.

But it overlooks many other possible futures, including ones in which we fight against and avoid the worst consequences of climate change and, in the process, build a healthier, more equitable and sustainable world. It also underestimates human agency and creativity—our power to set noble and ambitious goals and achieve them through collaboration, innovation, and grit.

Even in an advanced green economy, there will still be murders, affairs, and corruption.

The risk of so many dystopian depictions is that they become a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing people to disengage and withdraw. This explains, at least in part, why only a small minority of Americans believe we can solve the climate crisis.

People won’t rise up and demand solutions they can’t imagine.

The good news is that positive climate futures can be entertaining! Even in an advanced green economy, there will still be murders, affairs, and corruption.

There’s a beautiful example of a positive climate future in The Future We Choose by Tom Rivett-Carnac and Christiana Figueres. It’s a glimpse of 2050 after years of concerted climate action that's halved greenhouse gas emissions every decade.

The air in most cities is moist and pure, cleansed by urban forests, hanging gardens, and vertical farms. Electric high-speed rail has all but replaced air travel, and many city streets have been returned to pedestrians. Homes, schools, and businesses generate their own electric power using solar paint and micro turbines.

Cheap, clean electricity has improved sanitation and health care and raised millions out of poverty. People live longer, healthier lives on plant-based diets. Children are astonished that humans once ate animals.

Such profound changes to the physical world would reflect an equally profound shift in values: away from individualism, consumerism, and inequality, and towards collaboration, stewardship, and equity.

There are a million positive climate future stories to tell, and they needn’t involve grand utopias. Good stories are, as you know, about individuals: characters living their lives in a climate-altered world, meeting these new challenges and moving forward.

It is the power and privilege of writers and artists to envision positive climate futures and bring them to life on the screen—a thrilling creative challenge that will help humanity find a path to salvation.

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✍️ Daniel Hinerfeld, an Emmy-winning filmmaker and award-winning journalist, oversees Rewrite the Future, an initiative to help Hollywood tell stories about the climate crisis. He founded NRDC's documentary unit and has created films including Sonic Sea, narrated by Rachel McAdams; Acid Test, narrated by Sigourney Weaver; and Stories from the Gulf, narrated by Robert Redford. Daniel cocreated the nationally syndicated radio program Left, Right & Center, and has worked as an editor, producer, and reporter for NPR.