Story at a glance

  • With climate change news all around us, it is easy to feel the “doom and gloom” around our future.
  • Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac write about stubborn optimism and why it’s essential to surviving the climate crisis in the new book “The Future We Choose.”
  • Everyone can start taking action today to reduce their carbon emissions if they make the choice to.

When it comes to climate change, it is easy to feel defeated and overwhelmed. But if you have any bit of optimism left within you, you may want to nurture that and listen to what Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac have to say in their new book, “The Future We Choose.”

Figueres and Rivett-Carnac worked on the negotiations for the Paris climate agreement of 2015. In this book, the authors argue that “devastation is admittedly a growing possibility but not yet our inevitable fate.”

What’s the worst and best that could happen?

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In 2050, a short 30 years from now, we could be living in a world with pervasive toxic air pollution, natural disasters and super hot temperatures. In the book, the authors walk us through what walking out of our houses on a day in this future might be like. They lay out how we reached and surpassed several crucial tipping points, and how entire swathes of continents are uninhabitable.

In this scenario, “even in some parts of the United States, there are fiery conflicts over water, battles between the rich who are willing to pay for as much water as they want and everyone else demanding equal access to the life-enabling resource,” write the authors.

During a launch event at the New York Public Library (NYPL) on Feb. 25, Rivett-Carnac says that it was actually freeing to write this chapter because it pulled into reality the things that he feared. “I thought my god, I’m writing exactly what I’ve been fearing for my daughter,” says Rivett-Carnac. For Figueres, writing that chapter was a reminder of why she has dedicated her life to the climate crisis.

The better scenario, where we collectively choose to address the climate crisis and reduce emissions, goes a lot better. The air is clean air everywhere because we’ve planted trees. There are fewer cars, and cities have been reimagined and restructured. We have ultra fast electric vehicles and all renewable energy.

The rest of the book is focused on what it would take to achieve this world.

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How do we even begin?

After they’ve laid out these two scenarios, the authors present three mindsets or perspectives they feel are necessary to “survive the climate crisis.” These are stubborn optimism, endless abundance and radical regeneration.

The authors argue that it is crucial to be optimistic “not because success is guaranteed but because failure is unthinkable.” At the NYPL event, Figueres explains it’s about choosing to be intentionally optimistic. Endless abundance has to do with moving away from a zero-sum perspective where if one person wins another must lose. Regeneration is about “acknowledging and internalizing the simple fact that our lives, our very physical survival, depend directly on nature.”

Changing mindsets is difficult and potentially counterintuitive for some. But that’s where we should start if we would like for anything to change.

What can we do?

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In the book, the authors go into detail about 10 actions that anyone and everyone can take to move towards a better future scenario, including getting involved in politics, using technology responsibly and promoting gender equity. These actions encompass all aspects of life, and rightly so as everything is interconnected.

One of the actions is to face your grief about the past but hold onto a vision for the future. This speaks to the emotional side of thinking about the climate crisis. It's natural to want to hold onto the past, but the authors make it clear that we can't move forward without properly grieving for what's actually been lost. And we have lost much that may never be recovered, including Figueres' favorite Costa Rican wildlife species which she regrets is lost to her children.

Another action is to see yourself as a citizen and not a consumer. There's a reason why marketing works so well. It's tapped into our psychology to want things and to want the things our peers have. The authors suggest becoming better consumers by changing our consumption patterns and dematerializing by owning fewer things.

On a more collective level, moving away from fossil fuels and reforesting the Earth are other actions.

Cameron Russell, an activist who moderated the discussion at the NYPL event, notes that Figueres and Rivett-Carnac are good leaders because they get into the nitty gritty of what we can do, especially at different temporal scales such as today, this month and this year. The book closes with a short chapter doing just that: outlining specific actions that are doable within various timeframes, like making a personal plan to reduce emissions or starting a conversation with someone who isn’t active on climate change.

At the event, Figueres tells the audience there are three tangible things we can do in 2020 and before we hit 2030: find out what our carbon footprint is using one of many online calculators, determine what are the low hanging fruit and commit to reducing our personal carbon footprint by 50 percent by 2030.

What future will we choose?

Even Millennials who have only been alive for a few decades can remember a time in their lives when the climate was different. For myself, I remember there used to be ice on the Hudson River in New York during winter, and spring was longer than two weeks.

Our future will probably be neither of the two scenarios in the book, but that isn’t the point. Throughout the book, the authors bring up arguments and ideas that leave you feeling hopeful and charged to take action. We are the generation that has to act, that gets to act, says Figueres. The situation may seem dire at the moment, but even if the better world scenario may feel unattainable that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

“Our collective responsibility is to ensure that a better future is not only possible but probable, and then not only probable but foreseeable,” write Figueres and Rivett-Carnac. “We are all weavers of the grand tapestry of history. As we cast our minds back and consider those who lived at moments of great consequence, we naturally feel that if we had lived then, we would have been among those who made the noble choices rather than those who stumbled along, head down, changing nothing. Well, this is our chance.”

Published on Feb 26, 2020