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Book review: ‘The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis’

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The strategists behind the 2015 Paris Climate agreement outline a pathway for meeting global emission reduction targets.

As governments across the globe grapple to combat the coronavirus pandemic, another existential threat lies in waiting: irreversible climate change. Unlike Covid-19, which took nations by surprise, global warming has been understood since the 1960s. Yet despite international agreement – the 2015 Paris Climate Accord signed by 195 countries aims to keep warming well below 2°C (above pre-industrial levels) – five years on, progress falls far short.

In their new book, ‘The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis’ (Manilla Press, £12.99, ISBN 978-1838770822), the organisers of the agreement, Christiana Figueres, who was UN executive secretary for climate change between 2010 and 2016, and Tom Rivett-Carnac, a senior political strategist, put out a call to action and ‘map a route’ to how the world can – and must – meet the challenge.

“Humanity has procrastinated for far too long, now we have to walk the path, or rather run it,” they say.

Their message is clear: don’t mourn what has already been lost in the persistent fires and floods or be paralysed by hopelessness, organise instead. “If we do not halve our emissions by 2030, we are highly unlikely to be able to halve emissions every decade until we reach net-zero by 2050,” Figueres and Rivett-Carnac write.

The world has already sleepwalked into the Anthropocene age, where human activity is the biggest influence on climate and environment. Further inaction could lead to an ‘irreparable world’ as critically sensitive ecosystems, such as the Artic summer sea ice, are compromised. In this scenario, global temperatures would rise not incrementally but precipitously, the authors warn. 

They describe two differing futures, both set in 2050: the one currently being created that leads to warming of more than 3°C and another where warming is limited to 1.5°C.

The first is characterised by hot, heavy air, clogged by particulate pollution, rising seas and inhospitable climates. Wearing facemasks is standard. The latter is differentiated by clean air, rewilding and human ingenuity. Advanced electric transportation systems create millions of jobs and fossil fuels are history, smart technology is omnipresent and one company even “invented a giant robot that could autonomously build a four-person dwelling within days”.

However, while the persistent ingenuity of engineers and technologists will be pivotal, the book is at pains to point out that technology alone won’t be our saviour. “We need to adopt the right mindset: stubborn optimism, an ethos of shared winning and regeneration to replenish what we use,” Figueres and Rivett-Carnac write. People must learn to live well with technology, because “while technological solutions are paramount, so are political and social adjustment.” They describe the literal blood, sweat and tears required to get the Paris Agreement past the finish line.

The book outlines ten actions people can take now. They range from defending truth, including learning to differentiate between genuine science and pseudo-science, letting go of the past, to being a “citizen and not just a consumer” and investing in technology.

With many cities in lockdown due to coronavirus, Mother Nature is healing, emissions are falling, an opportunity for change is presenting itself. Figueres and Rivett-Carnac offer a path forward: “We now have to create a Garden of Intention – a deliberately regenerative Anthropocene,” they say.

The question is whether the world is willing to take this route, and quickly enough.

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