The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis is a big tent climate book – there’s room for everybody here. The inside cover has endorsements from the great and the good, including unlikely contrasts such as the CEO of Greenpeace and the CEO of Shell, Nicholas Stern and Naomi Klein, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill McKibben. The book can unite such diverse perspectives because of its authors.
Christiana Figueres is the former head of the UNFCCC, the UN’s climate change programme. She took over months after the failure at Copenhagen in 2009, and over the next six years she built the consensus that would lead to the Paris Agreement. Alongside her is Tom Rivett-Carnac, her chief political strategist at the UNFCCC. It was their diplomacy that led to the broad coalition of support for the agreement, not just from governments but from industry and civil society. Whatever its shortcomings, the Paris Agreement is still an extraordinary accomplishment. The two authors here were right at the heart of it, and their book commands an unusual level of attention.
The book starts by setting out two worlds – the one we are creating, and the one we must create. The former is a short and pithy summary of current projections and what they mean, the latter a summary of how the world can be transformed in response to the climate crisis. As the title suggests, we and future generations will get one of these two scenarios, and which one we get is down to the decisions we make now.
Having set out the choice, the authors turn to the kind of thinking that will get us to that second future. There are few numbers, policies or technical details in the book. It’s more interested in the practical philosophy of the question. What attitude do we need? What kind of mindset will see us through? “The actions we pursue are largely defined by the mindset we cultivate in advance of the doing”. Indeed, this was the insight that turned things around after Copenhagen, moving from a process of blame and competing national interests to one of cooperation and shared responsibility. “When you spurn regeneration, collaboration, and community, the consequence is impending devastation.”
We get to actions in the second half of the book, and the ten actions here are described in the broadest of categories. Action one is ‘let go of the old world’. Others include ‘defend the truth’, ‘reforest the earth’ and ‘build gender equality’. These chapters cover a lot of ground in a small amount of space, each one a concise overview of big topics – how to move beyond consumerism, create a regenerative economy, or why the climate emergency needs action of equality at the same time.
I know a lot of activists struggle to see the usefulness of the Paris Agreement, but there’s no sense of congratulation or fait accompli from the authors. They’re more aware than anyone that everything depends on what happens next, on whether governments live up to their promises. I imagine that’s a key motivation for the book, and I hope it is as widely read as that range of endorsements suggests.
As Figueres and Rivett-Cornac write, “whether you are complacent about climate change, or in pain, or angry, this book is an invitation for you to take part in creating the future of humanity, confident that despite the seemingly daunting nature of the challenge, collectively we have what it takes to address climate change now.”