I am writing this column while drinking a smoothie using the reusable straw I won in a game of Water Jeopardy after correctly guessing the answer "fugitive water" as the term used for water that escapes its delivery system. No matter that I required more hints than the average third grader and was, perhaps, unattractively proud of myself when I finally figured it out: A win is a win.
The occasion of my dubious triumph was the latest event in Creative Santa Fe's Disruptive Futures Dialogue series: Cli-Fi: Altered Futures Through Film and Literature. Held May 22 at the Scottish Rite Temple, the free gathering featured activities with local organizations (the Jeopardy game was hosted by the City of Santa Fe's Environmental Services Division and Water Conservation Department); short provocative films exploring environmental issues through cultural and social lenses; and fiction readings by writers working in the solarpunk genre.
The interdisciplinary happening was part of a larger ongoing dialogue about launching a sustainable technologies center focused on climate-change mitigation research and development. It's an idea spearheaded by the Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico (coalitionscnm.org), an organization that formed last fall and grew out of the recommendations of the Santa Fe Sustainability Commission.
In my experience, even stalwart optimists falter during climate change discussions. But the Cli-Fi event successfully reframed end-of-the-worldism with education and solutions. At 350 New Mexico's table, Youth Engagement and Education Coordinator Nancy Singham invited attendees to write on ribbons their responses to the question: "What do you love and hope to never lose to climate change?"
"We call this the heart of climate change," Singham said of the activity, "because it asks you to think about how climate change is going to affect your life here in New Mexico. It used to be that people thought climate change was way far in the future and only had to do with polar bears and coastlines. Now, people realize every single person on Earth is going to be impacted by climate change."
350 New Mexico is part of the 350.org movement founded more than a decade ago by author Bill McKibben and others. It's named after what scientists say is the acceptable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the world exceeded 400 parts per million two years ago, the highest level in 800,000 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Local initiatives include a proposed fracking moratorium, along with advocacy for a statewide Green New Deal.
The four featured films were more thought-provoking than cheerful, depicting parched-earth futures, corporate-controlled food supplies and Mars colonization. The fan-favorite—based on intermission chatter, at any rate—went to director Ramin Bahrani's Plastic Bag, in which an abandoned plastic bag, voiced by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, searches for the woman he considers his maker while falling into existential angst and wishing his life could end (think Bladerunner replicant, except a plastic bag).
Despite my intermittent literary pretensions, I was not familiar with solarpunk as a genre (though I picked up the anthology edited by writer Sarena Ulibarri, Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers and am now happily making my way through it).
At the event, Ulibarri described solarpunk as "a mode of imagining futures in which we have made the big structural changes we need to avoid more ecological damage or adapted to the changes we can't prevent at this point." Solarpunk narratives, she said, "are often optimistic and imagine a better future, not just for the wealthy and privileged, but for all of humanity and our whole interconnected ecosystem."
CSCNM Executive Director Beth Beloff says real-world counterparts for climate crisis solutions exist, and are her organization's focus: Its first major action was writing the community solar bill introduced in the last Legislative session. (The bill stalled out in the Senate, but Beloff says she will push for its inclusion in next year's 30-day session.)
The Coalition and Creative Santa Fe also held a roundtable discussion in April with more than two dozen representatives from educational, policy and other groups to discuss pathways toward developing high and low tech solutions to climate change through a sustainable technologies center.
Beloff, who has chaired the Santa Fe Sustainability Commission since 2015, cites the nonprofit Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) as a model for what she describes as an inter-institutional, interdisciplinary undertaking. The three focus areas the local group landed on during its meeting include water availability (natch), methane mitigation and carbon capture in soil for local research and development, along with technology transfer.
"I think the most important part of the idea is to create a roadmap and momentum to lead to practical outcomes that can be applied here," Beloff says. "We have financial resources in this state. … We have the talent. … If we can create enough of these ideas here and enough cross fertilization, … we should be able to create a pretty fertile environment in New Mexico for the development of solutions that could be applied both here and elsewhere in the world."