This is an update of an article that originally appeared in the Hong Kong-based magazine, Ecozine in the spring of 2015.
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed something curious whenever I climb to the top of a wind turbine. Looking out over the landscape from my bird’s-eye view 80 meters above ground, I often find myself thinking about John Lennon: wondering what kind of songs he would have written about climate change if he were still alive today. Wondering what lyrics he would have invented to underscore the urgency of global action and, simultaneously, to promote solutions to climate change such as these wind turbines that I love to photograph.
In this age of the Anthropocene, what poetry would Lennon create to challenge the status quo and inspire radical change, as he did with Imagine, his 1971 iconic anthem at the height of the Vietnam War and one of the most influential protest songs in history?
Discussing the enduring popularity of Imagine’s gentle melody and simple lyrics – both of which camouflage radical anti-war and anti-capitalist ideals – Lennon is quoted by author Geoffrey Guiliani as saying: “Now I understand what you have to do: put your political message across with a little honey… our work is to tell [apathetic young people] there is still hope and still a lot to do.”
He clearly didn’t mean “sugar coating.” I suspect Lennon figured out in his short life what has taken behavioural scientists and communications experts decades to understand: that you can’t change an individual’s or society’s behaviour by clobbering them over the head with constant negative imagery and doom-and-gloom stories. As Amory Lovins has famously said: “You can’t depress people into action.” Instead, let’s offer hope, a tangible way forward, creative solutions, a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Yes, even a little dab of honey.
Lennon’s advice is particularly relevant to climate change artists. As I have previously written on this blog, artists from all disciplines and from all corners of the globe must rise to the challenge to collectively transform apathy into action, despair into hope.
Baptized by the protest music of the 60s and 70s, I have great faith in the power of poets, songwriters and other artists à la Dylan and Lennon to define and influence a whole generation through music. It’s just that they seem to be conspicuously missing right now, when we need them most. Echoing the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin, I believe we are long overdue for a new wave of protest musicians to burst onto the scene Woodstock-style to question authority, motivate Millennials and the so-called iGeneration to get involved, to march in the streets, to raise their voices, to divest from fossil fuels, to not lose hope, and to show the rest of us how to embrace the inevitable transition towards a post-carbon, clean energy economy.
To put it simply: I’m convinced that Lennon would agree that protest music is the missing ingredient to breathe new life and a sense of urgency into the global climate change conversation.
As a photographer, I’ve taken Lennon’s advice to heart: I have decided to focus my camera exclusively on the way forward, on positive and tangible solutions to climate change, notably renewable energy. As a photographer, I am truly inspired by the breathtaking speed at which the clean tech industry is evolving. Much of this work is quite technical in nature; the challenge for me is to find ways to artistically interpret the social, public health and environmental benefits of these potential breakthroughs: energy storage; distributed energy; green architecture; solar powered roads; micro-wind turbines.
I now understand that we will never solve climate change by waiting for our politicians to fix it “for us.” No. At this time, it is the dreamers, the creative visionaries and risk takers such as Elon Musk and Danielle Fong who are moving us forward, imagining the future, inspiring radical transformation of the world as we know it.
I hope Lennon would approve of my taking liberties to modify his original lyrics by adapting them to the Anthropocene. You can listen to my version – Imagine No More Warming – here, sung and arranged by my friend Pierre Laurier. If any musicians out there reading this post would be interested in using these lyrics for a cover, I would be thrilled. Let me know your thoughts.
Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on solutions to climate change. She is convinced that the inevitable transition to a 100% clean energy economy will happen faster – and within our lifetimes – by creating positive images and stories that help us visualize and embrace what a post-carbon future will look like. Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram.