'The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis' (Book Review)

This manifesto offers practical steps for averting total climate breakdown.

The Future We Choose book cover

via Amazon

It's hard not to feel discouraged and overwhelmed by the climate crisis. The challenge to decarbonize the global economy is so huge, and the timeline is so pressing, that it's tempting to succumb to a sense of defeatism, to throw up our hands and say, "There's no point even trying." But we cannot afford to do that because every little effort made now can mean the difference between our grandchildren thriving or struggling to survive in a climate that's no longer hospitable to humans.

A new book hopes to pull people back from the brink of defeatism and put them on track toward constructive climate activism. "The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis" (Knopf, 2020) was written by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects and lead negotiators of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This follow-up book is a sort of layperson's version of the official agreement that 194 countries signed and most have ratified. 

The authors describe two scenarios. One is the world we'll have in 2050 if business continues as usual; the other is what it will look like if we meet the Paris climate targets. The former is a dire description, a world rife with air pollution, rising sea levels that have decimated cities, unpredictable food production, poisoned oceans, and general instability. The latter is almost utopian in its loveliness – trees everywhere, diverse organic food production, electrified public transit, tighter-knit communities that share resources, technological innovations that reduce land transport needs.

The point of the book is to show how we can achieve that latter world. Societal transformation starts with three key mindsets, they write. A significant portion of the book is dedicated to extolling the benefits of "Stubborn Optimism, Endless Abundance, and Radical Regeneration." While these may seem off-topic initially, the authors argue that mental transformation is a crucial starting point.

"Attempting change while we are informed by the same state of mind that has been predominant in the past will lead to insufficient incremental advances. In order to open the space for transformation, we have to change how we think and fundamentally who we perceive ourselves to be. After all, if what's at stake is nothing less than the quality of human life for centuries to come, it is worth digging down to the roots of who we understand ourselves to be."

Only then are we ready for the Ten Actions that will reduce carbon emissions, build resilience and sustainable practices from the ground up, and protect society by extremist movements that could pull us back in the wrong direction.

These Ten Actions include:

  • Letting go of the past;
  • Defending the truth (and knowing which sources to trust);
  • Viewing oneself as a citizen rather than a consumer;
  • Moving beyond fossil fuels;
  • Getting politically involved;
  • Empowering women;
  • And engaging in widespread reforestation, among others.

Each action has a chapter that explains its science-based importance, acknowledges the inherent challenges, and gives examples of relevant successful initiatives. 

The final chapter of the book breaks the actions down even further into smaller, more manageable chunks, e.g. what the reader can do today, this week, this month, this year, by 2030, and before 2050 (the deadline for stopping greenhouse gas emissions that surpass what the Earth can naturally absorb through its eco-systems). 

The book's 170 pages make it a short and easy read, aside from the fact that the subject is horribly depressing. Despite that, the authors do a good job of maintaining a hopeful attitude and striving to pass that on to the reader. You can't help but come away with a sense of urgent obligation to act, as well as a list of tangible, real-life actions you can take. 

These suggested actions are not new. We've heard them all before, especially if you read a website like Treehugger, but maybe that's a good thing; it keeps things simple. It underscores the fact that there's no magic bullet solution yet to be discovered that'll get us out of this climate crisis. We just have to buckle down and make the hard choices that are required of us. Every book that is published (along with every news article on Treehugger) reaches a few more people, which spreads the urgent message a bit further, which in turn pushes the needle closer toward the goal of reducing emissions and stabilizing the climate for long-term human inhabitation. 

"The Future We Choose" is certainly worth reading. It was listed as one of the recommended books by Science Moms and, with its focus on action, offers a healthy dose of the inspiration we so desperately need right now.