We’re regularly reminded of the role we all need to play individually to save our planet. But with the rate at which climate change has intensified, it’s natural to question our impact. Are we really making that much of a difference when we clean out our compost bin after a bit too long, sweat through our work clothes running to catch the bus, or switch out a cheeseburger for an ever-so-slightly less delicious vegetarian substitute?
The reality is that individual actions, while important, are not enough. We will not get to the future our world needs by simply choosing to bike or eat less meat without also changing infrastructure and supply to make these activities more accessible. In a future where we have successfully avoided the worst consequences of climate change, sustainability will be the default way we experience our world.
However, our individual actions do not necessarily need to be effective in bringing about a future eco-utopia to be worthwhile. Working against the grain to make sustainable choices in the present helps us live as if that future were already here. The future becomes our guest — the object of our hospitality. Thinking of our actions as those of a good host changes the way we relate to them. Instead of evaluating them in terms of whether or not these actions are part of “fixing” climate change, these actions become valuable in their own right. After all, a good host does not seek anything in return for their hospitality.
At the same time, encountering a visitor changes the host as well. By researching and practicing sustainable activities, we form our imagination to better see and understand what lies ahead. We also become more aware of our connection to future generations and our responsibility toward them.
Being a good host to the future means letting go of the guilt and shame of not doing enough, as well as dread and despair that nothing anyone does will ever be enough. Instead, we greet our guest with rejoicing. In turn, greeting a possible future inspires us with hope. The future is already breaking into the present — it cannot be far off.
Of course, the climate crisis also calls us to hospitality in the here-and-now. Extending hospitality to the future does not absolve us of our responsibility to seek change in the present. We need to fight for systemic change that will truly be effective in bringing about a sustainable future. We need to care for those affected by extreme weather events and refugees from increasingly inhospitable areas of the globe. We must take small actions, too — a backyard garden can quickly blossom into a community one. Living in and advocating for dense, walkable neighborhoods can lead to the development of more affordable housing.
The future-as-visitor reminds us that our individual actions are intimately connected. By playing host to the future in small and big ways, we are better prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to welcome future generations into our communities.