We’re in an emergency, and that’s not good news. However, the worst-case scenarios are not inevitable- and that is good news. The future will be what we in the present make from the options available, and though there is no option in which climate chaos does not exist, there are better possibilities for outcomes if we move on them now. More and more people are concerned and more than concerned—they’re involved in ending the destruction and building the solutions. Their passion is good news, because it’s exactly what we need—enough people who care enough to act and act enough to counter the powers of delay and distraction. That we know what we need to do and how to do it is also good news. We have the technologies.
Wait, it’s not too late?
No! Climate scientists say this is the crucial decade, and what we do now decides the future for centuries to come. It’s late in the game, but the game’s not over. And climate activists are working on making the transition away from fossil fuels and toward climate justice a reality. They have a lot of victories behind them and need to win a lot in front of them. Leading climate scientist Michael Mann said last year (and the recent IPCC report reinforces it) “The solution is already here. We just need to deploy it rapidly and at a massive scale. It all comes down to political will and economic incentives.”
Are you saying you’re against despair?
We have nothing but empathy for despair as an emotion, and we’d never tell people not to feel sad or scared. But despair often also functions as an analysis that there’s nothing we can do. In a weird way it becomes confidence that we know what will happen. But we don’t know, because what happens in the future depends on what we do (or don’t do) in the present.
There is a lot we can do (even if we feel sad or scared), and we must do it for the vulnerable living now and those thousand generations yet to come, even if we feel overwhelmed. (Doing something really helps with the overwhelm too, and so does looking at all the amazing stuff the climate movement is doing, and connecting to the most committed people.) The thing is, the future is not inevitable. It does not yet exist, but will come into being as the result of the decisions we make now. So let’s make a future that works.
What is valuable about your grief or despair or fear is that it means you care and you’re paying attention. The worst and most dangerous thing is indifference. We are grateful you are not oblivious or indifferent. And we want to do what we can to address the emotions and the crisis itself, which are not separate things. You care, and that is the first step in doing what the earth needs from us.
So you’re saying climate catastrophe will go away?
We wish! No, but we are currently choosing between the best and worst paths forward, and all that lies in between. Climate change is here. We cannot change the past. But we still can choose the best future under the circumstances. And the difference between the best and the worst means a lot—every collective action can make a difference for millions of communities and ecosystems. It’s like if you get sick, you don’t want a doctor to tell you you’re fine when you’re not. But you do want one who will tell you how to get better or at least how to come out of the illness alive. Frontline communities, Indigenous peoples, and climate scientists have been telling us what we need to do, and a global movement of climate organizers are leading us in getting it done.
But isn’t it game over if we reach 1.5°C?
Climate scientist Dr. Jacquelyn Gill said to us, "This is not a pass/fail test. At every moment of the future there will be decisions that matter and things worth defending. But the sooner we make the right ones, the better that future will be. The longer we delay, the more positive options will slip through our fingers."
It's important to remember that we must fight at 1.51°C and 1.52°C and onwards. Even if we hit 1.5°C we still must fight. Every step of the way matters for billions of lives.
So what are the obstacles?
The good news is: we know what to do! We know how to do it—to leave fossil fuel in the ground, build renewable energy systems worldwide, bring on a bunch of crucial things from regenerative agriculture to design for energy efficiency to transit alternatives. Respecting and honoring Indigenous rights is also crucial. The only obstacles are political, and that’s been true for a long time. They include the fossil-fuel industry and its government allies who don’t want to give up the short-term profit of extraction even though it means long-term harm. And people often don’t get that we really can do this. Imagination is a superpower. We have to believe the world can be different, and then we have to act on it.
Can the world really change like that?
We believe it can. Look back fifty years to a world in which women were unequal under law in almost every country on earth and held almost no positions of power, many kinds of institutional racism were not even publicly named, LGBTQ people were criminalized and oppressed worldwide, the Cold War divided the world and the USSR held Eastern Europe in thrall, and countries like Britain and the US were powering their systems largely on coal. If you told someone in 1972 what the world looks like in 2022 they might not even believe things could change so much.
Even in 2002, renewables were not yet adequate for most people to imagine leaving the age of fossil fuel behind, and today Texas gets 1/3 of its electricity from renewables, California is now seeing some days powered by almost 100% renewables, and worldwide solar and wind are cheaper than any other energy source throughout much of the world. So imagine the world in 2072. Looking forward, what we know for certain is that it will change so much. And looking backward, we know that many kinds of equal rights, all environmental protection, every change for the better in the social order came about because people fought for them. The visionary organizer and writer adrienne maree brown says, “I believe that all organizing is science fiction – that we are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced. I believe that we are in an imagination battle …”
Isn’t climate denial a big problem?
It used to be, but it’s too late to deny the reality of climate impact now. The new strategy by those who want to thwart climate action is to pretend to be on our side, by proposing either false solutions that don’t really change our dependence on fossil fuels (or cut into their profits) or taking small, slow steps when we need to take big, fast ones. Some of them promote technologies that don’t yet exist or technology as an alternative to systemic change. Some claim they’re doing the right thing when they’re not or claim we can’t make changes that we can. We also need to watch out for propaganda trying to get us more concerned about the ecological and social impact of solar and wind than of fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry is the main cause of climate chaos, as well as millions of respiratory-disease deaths annually, environmental damage from oil spills and refinery emissions, and more. And we need to make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, and ensure that renewable energy is done in a way that respects communities and the environment.
But isn’t this about giving up a lot of the things we love?
That’s a really common framework. But climate chaos is taking away a lot of things we love from stable weather and food supplies to confidence in the future and our existing shorelines. Sure, we will have to do a lot of things differently to address the crisis, but we’ll also gain a lot. Giving up fossil fuel means giving up air pollution from burning it, giving up the other kinds of harm it does, to our politics as well as our health, air, water, land, and future. Climate activist Hop Hopkins says, “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can't have disposable people without racism.” Giving up fossil fuel means getting back hope in a liveable future. It means giving up energy that creates harm at every step of the process, that has inequality and violence baked into it. Through the endeavour of tackling the climate crisis we can build healthier, safer and more resilient communities.
What do I need to know?
Climate is complicated: it’s several kinds of science, it’s politics, economics, history even psychology, and there are countless solutions that matter, from soil conservation and forest protection to transit policy to Indigenous sovereignty and economic justice. Getting educated about some part of it or many parts of it can help you find your place in the climate movement and armor you against misinformation. Right now a lot of people who don’t really understand the situation are also spreading misinformation, sometimes in the belief it’s helpful to say it’s too late, we’re doomed, the worst-case scenarios are inevitable. They’re wrong, and a lot of climate scientists say so.
Is it worth trying if we don’t know we’ll succeed?
We know we won’t succeed unless we try, and we believe nothing is more worthwhile than trying. Christiana Figueres, who led the 2015 Paris climate negotiations to their successful conclusion, recently said, “This decade is a moment of choice unlike any we have ever lived. All of us alive right now share that responsibility and that opportunity. The optimism I’m speaking of is not the result of an achievement, it is the necessary input to meeting a challenge. Many now believe it is impossible to cut global emissions in half in this decade. I say, we don’t have the right to give up or let up.”
What about my climate footprint?
It’s great to recycle and compost and be aware of what you consume but the world won’t get changed by individual actions. We need system change and we need it fast, and we need everyone who believes that to get behind producing it. So join something!
That is to say, it’s great if, for example, you ride a bicycle or take public transit, but what we need is incentives to make it easier and more economical for lots of people to ride bicycles and take public transit. And to cut the subsidies and systems that make driving a gas-burning car easier and cheaper than it should be. I have 100% clean electricity in my home because people in my city organized to make that an option. But it shouldn’t even be an option someone gets points for choosing. It should be how we get all our power.
I’m still feeling iffy, though!
So this is how I look at it. You’re in a lifeboat. It’s leaky. Someone in the boat keeps saying we’re all going to drown! Someone else says, let’s bail and see if we can improvise some patches and seals, and here’s your bucket. Do you take the bucket? If no one bails, the boat will definitely sink. If enough people bail, the handy person in the back might figure out how to seal the leak, or you might get to land or an oceangoing vessel might come by.
Our whole position is: we don’t know what will happen, but we’re gonna try because that might work. That is, we may not succeed if we try, but our chances are a hell of a lot better than if we don’t try. And right now a lot of people are trying, and they need more people to show up.
Finally, it’s also about living your values. In 2030, how do you want to look back at what you did in the 2020s?