One and a half year ago, the Åland youth activist Jack Hancock hosted the cultural festival HållbART during the ReGeneration Summit. In his closing speech, which we are thrilled to publish, Jack encouraged us to wish for “paradise in the ashes from the past”. We asked Jack about his reactions upon reading his speech again.
I’m Jack, the host of tonight’s festival, and I never could have guessed that I would be the one who would end up on this stage. As late as the 8th grade I didn’t think twice about the environment, or what was happening all around the world. I always felt that I didn’t have a reason to be concerned, because I never was important enough to be able to make a difference even if I wanted to, for better or for worse. I was isolated on an island, far away from the world’s center of attention.
Then, last year, one of the hottest summers in Finnish history occurred, and heat records were broken all over Europe. I started realizing that the problem wasn’t very far off after all. Then, in January of this year, the greatest storm in the entire history of Åland descended on us, and I lived without electricity for a week - some of my friends for even longer.
I now realized we had passed a point of no return. But I also realized I wasn’t alone.
In February, UMÅ or “The Ålandic Youth Environmental Movement” was founded. Three months later in April, Åland won the European Sustainability award in the category of societies with a population reaching up to 100,000 individuals, thanks to the island’s astounding sustainability initiative, that is now internationally recognized. And seven months later in August, tonight, I know I am proven wrong, because Åland is not a desolate island but the host of ReGeneration 2030 Summit and the HållbART festival, with participants from 14 different countries and autonomous regions! The world’s eyes are on us, tonight.
We are important, we can and are making a difference just by our mere presence at this moment.
There’s a lot of Doomsday thinking these days, that the world is going under and that everything is already lost. The movie industry for example keeps feeding us movies like “2012” or “Avatar” with the world in ruins, reinforcing our negative visions of the future
But let’s face it, humanity’s imagination is too good for reality to keep up with. Reality is always more boring than Netflix, am I right?
The reason these movies keep being produced, is people are scared; not necessarily of the end of the world, but of change. That is the scariest thing for a human being: that something that is right now, will be something else in the unknown future.
But Dear audience, have hope for this planet and for all the people residing on it. I strongly believe that we will make it, and ultimately save our planet. But the truth is that it won’t be the same planet as tonight. The world will change, it has always changed, but the alarming thing is that now, it’s changing very fast, and that we, somewhat intelligent human apes, are the cause. It is therefore this time our responsibility to fix what we unknowingly created: The decline of our ecosystems, the failing quality of the air and water, and the worsening health of earth as a whole. That is why I think people like us hesitate going on an airplane or have at one point considered being a vegetarian, because we feel bad, because “Bad change” is coming.
But guess what.
There is no point in feeling bad. I’ve had this crazy thought in my head, and now I’d like to share it with you, because I think it makes sense, and more importantly, it makes it a little easier to continue living.
There’s no point in feeling bad, because: Was this world perfect anyway? Was it all worth saving the way it was?
A world with sexism, racism, greed, corruption, overproduction, hate, Kuwait, this obsession with body weight selfie sticks and xenophobia, homophobia, Cambodian genocides, and besides, we apparently have a ton of school shootings at all times. Inequality and poverty, Trump and his behaving; Are these things really worth saving?
The world will change, for the worse in some cases, but that won’t stop us. That won’t stop us from making the impossible possible. That won’t stop us from feeling optimistic and that won’t stop us from saving the good things. Change only means change, so maybe some things can change for the better?
When climate caused immigration starts flooding our countries, maybe that’s our chance to reach out and learn how to take care of each other, to forget our differences.
If the world economy comes crashing down by all the costs related to climate destruction, then maybe we will finally start paying women equal wages.
If our food run out, burn up, or rot in our fields, then maybe we all will start eating bugs, and realize it’s our new favorite thing?
We have to rely on the fact that there are more good, than bad people in this world. We should feel determined, and not terminated. And we need to stop confusing change with Doomsday.
Because maybe the old world wasn’t good enough to save, maybe there lies a paradise in the ashes of the past.
We will survive, we will succeed, we will create a better world, together!
When you read this speech again today one and a half year later, Jack, what are your reflections?
It’s funny, ever since I wrote this speech it has stood out in my mind and memory. It was always different from the other speeches I’ve given; it was always kind of magical. Reading it again, I feel as if I was writing it again, because every word and sentence was still so alive with me today.
Upon reading it, I was not disappointed. I was thrown back in time and felt the same feeling of nihilistic positivism about the climate, the world and people, and was filled with a feeling of a strange calm and happiness.
The words made the impossible feel possible, and that nothing would be lost even when everything changes. It is naïve, of course, and vulnerable to cynicism not to burst, but that is exactly the point. The speech is not about action, but hope, and a reminder that people will never give up the fight. Because without hope there is nothing left, think of Pandora. I think that naïvité is exactly what we need in today’s world, and that not just young people will stand for the supply.
You called for less doomsday thinking in our culture. Hasn’t the pandemic brought with itself just more of that?
Sure, and I would go as far as to say that it’s not even about the pandemic or the spread of disease anymore, it’s about everything. Our concern with the far-right politics that is growing, the global decline in mental health and climate-, weather- and nature-related challenges seems to be amplified during the isolated days of Corona.
When societies and the media also keep informing people about the wrongness of the world in the name of public service or “education of the masses” of course we will have a doomsday culture. That’s not a new idea though, what should be new is the way we handle the situation, with a dose of optimistic nihilism. If life sucks or does not matter and will end for all at one point, why not just try to enjoy the moment while you still can?
What can we learn from the pandemic and how can we turn it to something good eventually?
When I got this question I immediately thought of our favorite imagination by our favorite Beatle and his naïve hopes for the future; a future without individual nations, a future without materialism and a future where everyone works together; because I felt like my speech had been written in the exact same spirit. Had I slipped into the same hippie wavelength as John Lennon?
We know that in the past after a great disaster, the famous Spanish Flu for example; the economy then immediately roared back to life and a period of craze, creativity and community commenced, and many theorize that history a century later is in the midst of repeating itself. After World War II the whole world was in shambles, and to prevent it from ever happening again the United Nations came to be as well as the European Union was formed; to unite the world after a common calamity. Why would it be any different this time? Making vaccines took us less than one year when it usually takes ten, solely because the scientists of Earth worked as one team towards one common goal. If this keeps up, who says we can’t abolish countries eventually, or scrap the idea of private possession our achieve world peace? Maybe it took one big fat piece of pandemic to set us on the path to Utopia.
And maybe we have to consider having a pandemic every three years so that people will stop taking literally anything from granted, and once and for all decide to come together to form a unity the world never dared to imagine.
Is the world still worth saving?
Jack was one of the organizers of the 2019 climate demonstrations in Mariehamn. He is currently vice-chair of the Åland environmental youth movement which in 2021 is being transformed into a youth council of Åland.