When she accepted a 2014 National Book Foundation award, Ursula Le Guin lamented prophetically that she thought hard times were coming. But she believed that “writers of imagination” would be able to “see through our fear stricken society and imagine some real grounds for hope.” In 2020, we could surely use a little hope.

The threat of a rapidly changing climate and now a highly contagious, deadly virus — prompting the volatile reactions of inflated markets — have thrown us an existential curve ball. Many of us are stunned, not knowing how to respond to information so foreign to our world view. We are suddenly challenged to define a new way of thinking about our personal welfare and the common good. “Freedom and Unity” is Vermont’s fitting slogan, calling us to pull together as we stand apart.

There are many of us here in Central Vermont who think the art of words and graphics can guide us to a better future. The Sustainable Montpelier Coalition and friends are inviting writers and graphic artists to describe some grounds for hope, by imagining what Central Vermont could be like in the year 2047.

“What Comes Next?” is a writing competition with a $500 prize for each of five winners who will share their imagination and creativity with the public. The launch date is April 22, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

There are three genres from which adult and youth contestants can choose: Inspiring fiction, considered essay or imaginative graphic stories. Contestants will focus on one day in a climate-changed future Central Vermont. Writers and graphic artists will take the reader through what is guaranteed to be a challenging transition, to a certain day in 2047. We are inviting writers to imagine with brevity and clarity, what that day looks and feels like as well as how people are faring and what activities engage their interest.

The winning entries will offer a vision of innovations and responses that could have emerged between now and then. These creative solutions should be both plausible and useful to people here in Central Vermont and beyond.

Imagine the skills and creativity that might have been needed to deal with the ever-growing threats from climate change and the economic disruptions induced by COVID-19.

How long have we been pulling together while standing apart? When did the quarantine end? What did we have to endure from 2020 to 2047? Did a 10-foot climate-change-snowstorm cut off power and transportation? How did we recover from a massive drought or a terrible flood? Were there more pandemics? What did neighbors do for neighbors? How did these experiences inform the vision of our central Vermont community in 2047? Creative solutions arising from the “What Comes Next?” contest may well give us a model for a sustainable Montpelier and surrounding towns.

Vermonters will one way or another shape the future of this state. Rethinking and rebuilding our relationships with each other, our ecosystem and our economy is possible through the creativity and innovation of those who live here.

Bill McKibben, is one of the more than 20 judges who will choose the finalists for “What Comes Next?” McKibber makes this call for entries: “This is the perfect moment for ‘What Comes Next?’ We’re at home, which is a good place to write. And we know that real change is required now: just as the COVID crisis shows we can’t duck or spin biology, so the climate crisis is a reminder that physics and chemistry set the tone. Our job is to figure out how to respect the limits they’ve put in place — and that’s a function of the imagination above all. So put yours to work!”

This website launches April 22. For more information go to: www.sustainablemontpelier.org/competition

Elizabeth Courtney is an author and environmental consultant, former chair of the Vermont Environmental Board and former executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. She lives in Montpelier.

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