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  • Emily Rumsey

Book Review: The Future We Choose

A passionate call to action from former UN Executive Secretary for Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, and Tom Rivett-Carnac, senior political strategist for the Paris Agreement.

Books on the climate crisis don’t tend to make for happy reading. The Future We Choose is such a book, and for those of us who feel hot flashes of panic when considering the climate crisis, reading this particular genre is not a relaxing pastime.


Although I try to combat the issue in small ways, for the most part I actively try not to think about it. Eco–anxiety, or climate anxiety, has been formally recognised to have a detrimental effect on mental health, particularly in young people. For many, eco-anxiety triggers immediate paralysis or wilful ignorance, neither of which is particularly useful. The authors know this, and invite you to read on anyway.


The book begins with a brief introduction to the authors: from 2010 to 2016, Christiana Figueres was the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, left to deal with the burning political wreckage of COP15 in Copenhagen. Tom Rivett-Carnac was her colleague at the United Nations during this time in his role as Chief Political Strategist, and they played vital roles in delivering the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.


Together, they founded the Global Optimism movement, which this book is based on. In an age when misinformation is rife, and some political leaders refuse to acknowledge the existence of the climate crisis, it is vital to think critically about who is delivering information. The authors’ expertise, combined with an exhaustive list of sources to back up their claims and statistics, reassured me from page one that I could trust what they had to say.



By page ten, I am already impressed with the authors’ tone; they are calmly making the reader aware that, yes, the building is on fire, but there is a way out, and we can find it. They have, by this point, already sprinkled into the text some terrifying statistics about the impact of humanity on the climate, switching between hopeful commentary and devastating facts at breakneck speed, but all the while making it crystal clear that this is no reason to throw up our hands and treat our fate as inevitable.


The part I found most difficult to digest was, naturally, discussing the situation we find ourselves in now, and how it will affect future generations. In the section named The World We Are Creating, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac describe in horrifying detail how the world will look by 2050, should we fail to act on the climate crisis with the appropriate urgency.


It reads like a grim sci-fi novel; the desertification of arable land, the need to permanently wear masks outdoors due to poor air quality, the devastation of marine life, the millions of climate refugees, and the coin-operated water fountains all paint a bleak picture. It is frightening, as it is meant to be.


Fortunately, this section is rapidly followed up with The World We Must Create, which details the authors’ vision for the future. Here, the world is not a wasteland, and the collaboration and innovation we have implemented as a species is a testament to humanity at its best.



Although some parts of this section, such as their hope that “Most countries banned [petrol and diesel cars] manufacture by 2030”, seem unlikely to materialise, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac’s tenacity is encapsulating, and the reader is dared to imagine that it is possible to construct a better world.


The Future We Choose also discusses our mindsets when considering the climate crisis, which I was sceptical about; I’m just being a realist, I would say when confronting my own pessimism. In response, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac inform the reader that, in the most inoffensive way possible, that that simply won’t do anymore.


By adopting three mindsets - stubborn optimism, endless abundance, and radical regeneration - we become a more positive, and frankly more useful, force in the fight against climate change.


Stubborn optimism requires that we unlearn our helplessness response, endless abundance (whilst sounding a little woolly) encourages us to envision the world we can create, rather than the one we are doomed to live in, and radical regeneration inspires us to take action in harmony with nature, rather than endlessly extracting and depleting it.


I started the chapter cynical, but by the end realised this was a fundamental part of the process - you have to believe that change is possible in order to get the work done.


Part three closes with ten actions you can take to combat climate change; from using tech more wisely to talking to climate-sceptics with kindness and empathy, the authors provide a plan for what each of us can do to help.


Whilst I would have liked to see a little more intersectionality recognised here - it seemed strange not to directly address the disproportionate impact on countries and communities in the global south - this section provides a great overview on how the climate crisis impacts every aspect of our daily lives.


I’ll be honest: I did not want to read this book. This gargantuan problem, out of the many we face in today’s world, feels the most insurmountable, the most dominating, and the one I can do the least about. The Future We Choose was the perfect antidote; the authors know it’s frightening, and remind you not to look away when things become difficult.


They expertly walk the knife edge of presenting difficult facts with candour whilst remaining positive and keeping the reader engaged. After finishing this book, I searched online for Global Optimism and other climate groups. I read more about the meaningful work I can do, both on a small and large scale. I wrote this review. All of which is to say: if the authors’ overarching aim of writing this book was to inspire tangible action in the reader - it worked.


If you are afraid or feeling hopeless, I invite you to read this book in spite of your fear. As Figueres and Rivett-Carnac admit on page 59, “Optimism is not soft, it is gritty.” It takes guts to face the reality of the climate crisis, and a quiet steadfastness to drive the change that I now, finally, believe is in our power to achieve.


By Emily Rumsey ©


Sources:

  1. The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

  2. “Young people’s climate anxiety revealed in landmark survey”, Nature News, 22nd September 2021. Accessed online 22nd February 2022. (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02582-8)

  3. “Unprecedented Impacts of Climate Change Disproportionately Burdening Developing Countries, Delegate Stresses, as Second Committee Concludes General Debate”, United Nations Coverage and Press Releases. Accessed Online 22nd February 2022. (https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/gaef3516.doc.htm)

  4. “The hard truths of climate change - in numbers” Nature, 18th September 2019. Accessed online 22nd February 2022. (https://www.nature.com/immersive/d41586-019-02711-4/index.html).


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