I am heading west. The land is brushed with a thousand shades of khaki and rust. As I rise up out of the Missouri breaks, the sun slides under a reef of clouds and lights the horizon for a thousand miles. Hawks stand witness as they sit on fence posts, feathers puffed against the coming winter. I have no destination, only direction. West.
In this country, we are consumed with the mythology of the west. Whether we are explorers, or modern travelers following Route 66, or the technical pioneers of silicon valley, the west holds a magical spell over us. It promises potential, opportunity, and reward for all the hardships we have faced. It is embedded in our literature, from The Grapes of Wrath to the romantic modern western. It represents not only a physical direction, it is part of the hero’s journey.
Joseph Campbell described this hero’s journey as follows.
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
In many cases the decisive victory for this country meant the deaths of 50 million lives in the world’s largest genocide inflicted by settlers on Native Americans. Or the raw destruction of the earth by those from buffalo hunters, to lumbermen, to miners who saw natural resources as put there by God for our dominion. Never mind the adulation of rugged individualism… Desperado. This is the toxic part of the narrative.
But one of the things that we are missing in our climate communications is the motivation for the journey. That element of the west that makes people want to leave home and risk it all. We’ve certainly painted a bleak picture of what the climate crisis means if we do nothing. We’ve given people all the reasons and the facts. We’ve spent an ugly amount of time telling everyone they are going to die. And it’s not working. More will not help.
Instead, we need a better vision. We need to inspire people to head toward the west of renewable energy, the west of regenerative agriculture, the west of electric vehicles. We need a west that attracts, includes everyone, regardless of the color of our skin, where we come from or what’s in our wallets. We need to do this together, not alone. We need to feel it. It needs to be part of our DNA and collective consciousness. We can’t just be against something. Instead ask, “What is the potential, the opportunity, the reward? What is our vision? Can we see a better image of who we will be?”
If we can take a horse, a cowboy, and the theme from the Magnificent Seven and get tens of millions of people to smoke Marlboros, then we can do a better job of communicating about climate. Make me want to go west.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking