“The Future We Choose”: A Call for Action

the future we choose

Book Review

The Future We Choose: Surviving the climate crisis

Authors: Christiania Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac

Published: February 2020


Never before have I come across a book that literally screams out to the reader to be the change that you wish to see. And that also with practical imperatives. This is an essential read for all those who wish to see a sustainable liveable world that can be achieved by the year 2050. And its importance only increases in the Indian context where we’re discussing about the dangerous consequences of implementing the EIA, that would start shattering our hopes of being a part of the global environmental collective.

The profile of the two authors who wrote this book is a study in contradictions itself. With Christiana Figueres who is the daughter of the president of Costa Rica, who was a revolutionary leader in Costa Rican history, being the only world leader to have abolished the national army in favour of other educational and welfare policies. Thus, she comes from a largely political family. Opposite is the case with Tom Rivett, who comes from the family of the founding chairman of the East Indian company, which was the only company at that time to have a private army. But apart from all this glaring contradictions, what brings them together is a shared concern for the future of our world and a resolution to create a sustainable lifestyle among the global citizens that would create an ideal place to live for the generations to come. And we cannot dismiss their vision as merely utopian, they have been constantly working towards their goals, already having garnered the support of 195 nations in signing the Paris Agreement which will guide their economies towards climate conservation for the next forty years.

Climate change has started to figure in our debates ever since 1960, when Charles Keeling indicated a rise in CO2 levels and suggested that global warming is a worldwide threat for humanity. But the mindset of literate people has taken two erroneous paths ever since. On the one hand, we have world leaders like Donald Trump who dismiss the fears as nothing but a hoax by rumourmongers. On the other hand, are people who are largely overcome by fear and pessimism that everything has already been decided and that the impending catastrophe cannot be reversed by any means. At this critical juncture comes the relevance of such a book, which enlightens those who aren’t concerned about climate change that it is a fact as much real as gravity. But at the same time, it propels the pessimists to realize that it isn’t yet time to lose all hope because we stand at a threshold in history to be written where we are the last people on the planet who would be able to make a significant change, and that if we neglect the importance of this moment, we would never be able to correct our mistakes. With this statement, the book nails down timestamps in our conscience for cutting down the carbon emissions, 2030 and 2050.

The book starts off on a pessimistic note by presenting a bleak future that will be produced if we don’t cut down the global carbon emissions by the target it has set for 2030. If we aren’t able to halve the global carbon emissions by this time limit, we might as well be accelerating the anthropocene age and digging our own graves for that matter. The scenario that it has laid out in that case will scare the hell out of you, and the world that it projects by 2050 in that case is nothing short of a catastrophe. It will be a world were none is spared except for the rich, where temperatures would rise to an average of 45 degrees Celsius and Africa and South Eastern Asia would’ve begun to be engulfed in filthy air that makes life unbearable. Disasters would be a commonality that forces each citizen to sleep with a mobile phone always by their side that would alert them in case a cyclone or a flood was to ravage their homes unexpectedly. The average temperature in cities like Paris would have risen to 44 degrees Celsius which no longer becomes a surprise to anyone. Apart from this foreseeable facts, the world would be plagued by food shortage, diseases and forced migration. And certainly, this is not the world we would want to create.

But don’t lose hope yet. That is only the first scenario. The second one is what we should aim for. Where we will be able to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and in that way, we would have saved our planet of this catastrophe. In this scenario, the southern Arctic ice will not have been exhausted, our cities will have become a balanced mix of green landscapes spaced with buildings, and our work patterns will have become more decentralised, giving us ample time for leisure and slow-cations that allow us to embark on trips that are months long. And no need to say that by then, fuel-combustion vehicles would’ve been museum pieces and we would be reaping the benefits of shared transportation and electric vehicles. Trees are spread around even the most densely populated cities. Fossil fuels have become history; renewable energy is fuelling each individual household with the surplus energy being redirected to a centralized power grid. This scenario is all the result of our collective endeavour to successfully halve carbon emissions by 2030, again by 2040 and finally achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Due to all this climate conscious efforts, we would have also prevented global warming so that the average rise in temperature by the year 2100 would be limited to a mere 1.5 degrees Celsius (as against the 44 degrees Celsius mark predicted in the previous scenario). Food security was a major question that had to be addressed. So people had willingly started shifting to a community-based approach for effective community farming. Individuality and the urge to do duties privately no longer attracts people, as everyone have slowly started realizing that collective efforts are much better for thriving together as a community. Veganism would take over as the new norm as people start to realize how much resource-depleting it is to consume animal protein and dairy products. All the positive aspects of this prosperous scenario have been made possible by a collaboration of healthy government policies coupled with the backing of funding from private corporations that had taken the oath for climate conversation before things got out of hand. This is definitely the scenario that any sensible person would aspire to achieve.

This book doesn’t end with providing these two scenarios, but goes on to explain in minute details how we would’ve to change our mindset in order to produce the change that we wish to see. In fact, we can say that the rest of the book is a manifesto for individual and collective action. It does this not with abstract metaphysical ideas, but with concrete practical strategies that we should implement in our daily lives with a ten-point action plan. It tells us time and again that we aren’t powerless and in fact, even our most insignificant actions are suffused with deeper meanings on our world view and that a collective change in mindset is our sole hope for saving our planet. From now on, everyone should ideally adhere to this book’s call for stubborn optimism. All that has been outlined in this book is not mere utopia, but in fact very much achievable targets, as has been witnessed in Costa-Rica already, which has achieved zero-emission of carbon and fully clean energy and California, which is on the way to achieving this milestone. If all these targets have been achieved, we have no reason to believe why a better future is not possible.

Implementing changes in the political realm can appear to be a tedious task as we can see that most goals that are strived for are in order to achieve a very far-sighted vision. It can seem to be a path that is filled with several hurdles and drawbacks that could possibly hamper the project all together. As the book states the example of what had happened in the Copenhagen summit where the Venezuelan representative, Claudio Salerno, had to bang her hand on her country’s metal nameplate till her hands were bleeding for drawing attention to her voice. If this be the case throughout, then the future of humanity is doomed. But there were still many representatives who had the tenacity to hold on to their vision for a clean future, that had led to the success of the Paris Agreement after five years. The unanimous and courageous decision to proceed with the Paris Agreement even during the event of a warning that a bomb had been found in a nearby metro station is ample proof of the devotion many people including Christiana had put forward to achieving a seemingly herculean task.

The book has also rightly indicated how the fashion industry is pushing global citizens more deeply into an endless consumption cycle that constantly demands more and more. People are forced to link certain dress codes to completing their personality and this ever-incomplete personality drives them to buy more clothes. It is also noteworthy that the textile industry accounts for a major part of global CO2 emissions, so what we can do as conscious individuals in this consumerist world is to buy sustainable material mostly. It is no longer surprising to understand that the Amazon company was able to accumulate a lump sum amount of 10 billion dollars in the Super bowl advertising sales revenue alone. We need to implement recycling policies in our lifestyle instead of replacement. But many companies worldwide are forcing citizens to replace their old goods after a certain time period because most goods come with a planned obsolescence date.

Another serious issue to be dealt with according to the ten-point action plan laid forward by this book is our approach towards fossil fuel companies. Unless and until we are able to cut down our dependence on fossil fuels and instead promote the use of renewable sources of energy, we would be in serious pressure of achieving the target of cutting down the carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. But here also, the problem of the government hugely subsidising fossil fuel companies is a grave problem that poses hazardous risks to world climate, although indirectly. As we have seen in India itself, the recent passing of the draft EIA bill would curtail any efforts for India to rise to the global standards for cutting down carbon emissions. It would make it way much easier for coal companies and mines to get the clearance certificate without any significant pressure from the side of the local population living in a particular region, effectively taking away the voices of millions of concerned citizens of the country. But it is a relief to hear news that people all over the country have responded vociferously against these defective government policies, as we have read that approximately 17 lakh people have signed the petition opposing the EIA. It gives us a faint hope that the political system of our country is still responsive to the concerns of its citizens. Apart from constantly opposing such policies, what can be done by us individually to stop carbon emissions is to limit air travel to a bare minimum, as aeroplanes are emitting huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We should try to rely more on other forms of transport such as trains for long distance travel, or even to cut off unnecessary trips completely and attend meetings via videoconferencing for the most part.

Another important indicator for measuring the climate vows that a country has successfully implemented is by assessing the forest cover in the country and how it has increased or decreased over the years. The book has presented an astonishing and saddening figure that over 12 million hectares of forest land had been erased completely in 2018 alone. This rate would amount to total destruction of forests in a matter of a few decades. What we can do here is to enlighten others about the destructive rates that we need to stop immediately step by step and along with that, we should try to participate in individual or group tree plantation drives. If each person could plant around 10 trees, that would go a long way in showing our commitment towards climate conservation goals.

A practice that is almost obsolete and which serves no purpose practically, especially in the case of developing countries, is that of measuring the growth rate of the economy using the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) Index. The book has presented a fitting example of a coffee cup buying rate to illustrate what actions would increase or decrease the GDP of a country. Hence, we can summarise that it is basically an index that is based on solely extracting and discarding resources. Conservation practises has no effect on the GDP rate of a country. The plan to use a human well-being index that was passed by JacindaAdern in New Zealand in place of GDP is an appreciable initiative in this regard. An example of the effective use of GDP combined with other well-being indicators is the case with Christiana’s country, Costa Rica, where the policies implemented by her father had increased the forest cover from a low of 20% to more than 50%. Costa Rica also ranked among the countries with the highest literacy rate in Latin America and was voted as number one on the Happy Planet Index in 2009, 2012 and 2018. All these achievementshave in a great part to do with the abolishing of the army completely in the country and diverting the capital to other government portfolios.

The book goes on to lay plans for how we can effectively face the future before us with the best combination of technological expertise and natural resources that we have with us. The optimal use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) would help in taking effective decisions on how to limit our use of energy. In conclusion, the book lays forward two more actions, that is to ensure gender equality, as women are largely sensitive and responsive to pressure situations on a higher level than men mostly, so as to work together for the better future. And finally, we have to keep faith in the political system and keep updated with the political developments of our country and be responsive within the limits of liberty that has been assured to us by the state for raising our voice for climate protection.

After having read all the action plans that have been presented in the book, a major question needs to be addressed of how far such policies could be implemented in a developing country like our own. Noting that the book calls for cutting down our consumption of meat products and work towards a vegan lifestyle as this would significantly reduce the carbon footprints on the planet, it is questionable of whether this is practical in India where a significant number of farmers depend on livestock rearing for their livelihood. But here also, we have to realize that change is inevitable. Perhaps, farmers would have to switch from livestock rearing to other modes of agriculture, such as investing in biofuel, which would also amount to renewable sources of energy which ensures sustainable growth.

The call for collective farming techniques and local-based food production needs to fuel our initiatives towards sustainability. For this, we would have to oppose hazardous policies like the 2020 farm bills which would be a blow to all country-wide farmers, solely favouring corporate agenda.

Further, the prospects of the book that we would have high speed rail networks and fully automated electric vehicles which are not under private ownership call into question whether countries like our own have the necessary pathways to assure smooth running of such transportation. But these are all questions that need to be discussed in the near future and resolution must be arrived at for timely progress to be achieved. In conclusion, I urge all who have not yet read this wonderful book that calls for action to get your hands on it soon.

Adithyan K is a PhD student at English and Foreign Language University, Hyderabad. He is doing his research work on French Literature. He is from Thrissur, Kerala.



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