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Q Your new book is called The Future We Choose. But isn’t it too late to stop the climate crisis?
A We are definitely running late. We have delayed appallingly for decades. But science tells us we are still in the nick of time.
Q You say this decade is the most consequential in human history ...
A This is the decade in which, contrary to everything humanity has experienced before, we have everything in our power. We have the capital, the technology, the policies. And we have the scientific knowledge to understand that we have to half our emissions by 2030.
So we are facing the most consequential fork in the road. If we continue as now, we are going to be irreparably going down a course of constant destruction, with much human pain and biodiversity loss. Or we can choose to go in the other direction, a path of reconstruction and regeneration, and at least diminish the negative impacts of climate change to something that is manageable.
But we can only choose it this decade. Our parents did not have this choice, because they didn’t have the capital, technologies and understanding. And for our children, it will be too late. So this is the decade and we are the generation.
Q Only 11 pages or so of the book describe the terrible consequences of unchecked climate change, while the rest talks about the possibility of a much better world. Why?
A It’s important for everyone to face the negative consequences that we’re sleepwalking ourselves toward, which is why those 11 pages are there. But equally as important is to spark the imagination and the creativity that comes with understanding that we do have this incredible agency to create something completely different.
Q A lot of the book is about the need for a shift in people’s consciousness. Isn’t this rather grandiose or, on the other hand, too vague to make a difference in the real world?
A Whatever we hold as being possible, and whatever values and principles we live by, determine the actions that we take. Whatever we hold to be near and dear to us is what we’re willing to work toward. And so to shift from doom and gloom to a positive, optimistic, constructive attitude is very important because it is what gets us up in the morning and says "yes, we can do this, we’re going to work together on that", rather than pulling the blanket over our head and saying "it’s all too difficult". So that change in attitude inside ourselves is critical.
We also have to understand that we can no longer live in a world based on limitless extraction and waste. Rather, we have to change our consciousness to one of regeneration.
Q How can people’s consciousness change in that way?
A The first thing we have to understand is the consequence of not changing our attitudes. There are very serious existential consequences. Then hopefully we can make a serious, mature decision whether we want to choose something different.
Q One of the 10 actions recommended in the book is to be a citizen and not a consumer. Can you explain that and why it is important?
A The very concept of being a consumer already points us in the direction of consuming irresponsibly. We have to be able at some point, particularly in developed countries, to get to the point where we say "enough is enough". Before you make a purchase, or an investment, or any kind of decision that impacts on the planet and on other people, the question should be: "Do I really need this and is this actually conducive to furthering the quality of life on this planet?
Q Another of the actions you chose is building gender equality. Why?
A Educating young women and empowering women to come to decision-making tables is the strongest thing that we can do for the climate. When there are more women in boardrooms and in high-level positions in institutions, you get decisions that are wiser and longer term.
Of course there are many men that also do this. But there is a tendency for women to be more collaborative, which is the basis of what we need to do, and they tend to think much more long term. [Women] have the first duty of care of our newborn children and hence, biologically, we’re geared towards that stewardship. But it is just plain stupid, frankly, not to use 50% of human potential. We are in such an emergency that we need to deploy 100% of our potential.
Q Tackling the climate emergency requires global co-operation and action by governments and businesses. But what can individuals do?
A We tend to forget that it is humans who have caused climate change, and we tend to export responsibility to large corporations or governments. The fact is, we all contributed to it.
If we all reduce our emissions, collectively we give a signal to the market. Obviously, corporations have their own responsibilities but it’s helpful to have a strong demand from the public. Once you get governments, corporations and the public moving in the same direction towards low carbon, it can grow exponentially [such as with renewable energy and electric cars].
People reducing their emissions — by flying less, eating less meat and using clean energy, for example — is important.
Q But is demanding that politicians tackle the climate emergency and voting accordingly perhaps the most important thing individuals can do?
A I would say both. If we had 50 years to fiddle with this, then you could choose one or the other. But we are in such an emergency that we can no longer do things sequentially or exclusively. We have to be an "and/also" world. — Guardian News and Media
The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac is published by Manilla Press.
Christiana Figueres is a founder of the Global Optimism group and was head of the UN climate change convention when the Paris agreement was achieved in 2015.