“A livable future for all is possible, if we take urgent climate action. So says the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2023 report — providing some much needed optimism in the conversation surrounding the future of our planet.
For too long, the conversation surrounding climate change has focused on problems instead of solutions, disregarded the Earth’s ability to heal itself and relied on worst-case-scenario predictions to be taken seriously. And while this perspective may have been necessary in the past, evidence suggests that inevitable planetary doom has been exaggerated and moreover, that hope for the future is a necessary prerequisite for action.
It’s an indisputable fact our planet is warming. Over the past century and a half of burning fossil fuels, global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Ice caps at the poles are melting, sea levels are rising and much of the planet is facing prolonged periods of drought. More frequent and intense extreme weather events have become increasingly common, and climate-driven food and water insecurity is expected to grow as a result.
So is Earth, the only home we’ve got, barreling at breakneck speed towards inevitable environmental devastation?
Well, not quite. Not inevitably anyway. And that’s the key thing to remember. If we change the way we consume resources, we have a chance. In his book “A Life On Our Planet,” Sir David Attenbourough (of BBC’s “Planet Earth") gives two views of the future. The first in which we continue to prioritize growth for growth’s sake; economic growth, population growth, and unchecked consumption — what environmental writer Edward Abbey would call “the ideology of the cancer cell.”
If we continue on our current path, Attenborough says, we will find ourselves living on a planet consumed by extreme weather, famine and drought; a planet that lacks biodiversity, where the wilderness has been consumed by unchecked human ambition.
But there is another choice. If we begin to shift our mindset from growth to sustainability, from living apart from the wild to living in communion with it, we may have a chance to save our planet, our species and millions of other life forms.
Our planet has a remarkable ability to heal, if only it is given the chance. Sequestering carbon in biodiverse ecosystems, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and shifting our mindset from consumption towards essentialism will be necessary steps. But these are all choices that we have the ability to make, if only there is sufficient will to do so.
We’re running out of time until we reach a tipping point before climate change will accelerate beyond what we’ve seen thus far, it’s true, but there is no such thing as a point of no return. Whether or not our species will be around to watch the planet heal is what’s in question.
If we can help our planet to heal by developing sustainably, divesting from fossil fuels and re-wilding our ecosystems, we can sustain our species well beyond our own lifetimes. But we have to remember that these choices are ours to make; and while sacrifices will have to be made, we haven’t lost yet.