Many people in wealthy countries tend to structure their lives like a spreadsheet. They plan their careers at 17 and their retirement at 25. A couple who have a baby project their genes 90 years in advance.
Our generation of Westerners, raised during the most peaceful times in history, have come to imagine our personal futures as predictable. But the climate crisis upsets all predictability. Climate change equals human change, and it requires re-imagining our lives. So how should we all live with the growing risk of disaster?
This is the question asked by the “Deep adaptationmovement. Its guru, British academic Jem Bendell, is criticized for exaggerating the risk of “short-term societal collapse.” But the truth is, most of us are probably underestimating him.
Bendell’s premise is that talking about climate action by governments, businesses and individuals is just talk. Leaders happily pledge to strike zero carbon by 2050, when they are dead. In truth, however, everyone is encouraged to keep the party going by emitting more carbon dioxide.
Every unit pumped into the atmosphere is an infinitesimal contribution to someone else’s problem at some unknown future time. This will be true even for our children living with climate disaster.
Inevitably, carbon emissions therefore continued to increase until the pandemic. During the unprecedented economic shutdown, they abandoned about 6.4 percent – but it is still far from 7.6% fall required every year until 2030 to keep us on track to limit temperature rise to 1.5 ° C.
Meanwhile, climate change is advancing faster than the conservative forecasts of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A draft of the next IPCC report, which was just leaked to Agence France-Presse, is the panel’s scariest document to date, with increased predictions of droughts, floods and heat waves by 2050.
He also warns against “points of no return” that could accelerate this future, such as the Amazon rainforest drying up or the collapse of ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica. The Greenland leaf is melting seven times faster than in the 1990s. Today’s climatic disasters, such as the record-breaking heat wave in the western United States, herald worse.
Anyone predicting the apocalypse faces two standard objections. The first is that prediction discourages people from taking action. That may be true, but people aren’t taking any meaningful action anyway, and the objection doesn’t invalidate the prediction.
The second objection is that all past predictions of the world apocalypse were wrong. However, the past apocalyptic was a lower probability bet because we only acquired the ability to annihilate ourselves after atomic bombs arrived in the 1940s. Progress has doubled our average lifespan and simultaneously allowed us to end world history.
Most of us face it not by denying it but by not thinking about it. People in the burgeoning “sustainability” industry would rather brag about the small repairs (this new plane will use 10% less fuel!) Than consider the chances of everything blowing up.
So how to live? The younger you are, the more urgent the issue. At the most basic level, if you are buying a house, you are usually making a bet over 50 years: the average mortgage term, plus the mortgage of the person who will buy it from you. I wouldn’t buy in Miami today.
Typically, the safest regions in the future will be those that currently have relatively mild or cold climates. Perversely, this means that the best places to escape a climate catastrophe are precisely the ones that have emitted the most carbon in the past: northern Europe and northern United States.
More existentially, take the point of view that almost all humans had until the 1950s or so: don’t make any assumptions about your future. Don’t structure your life around distant gains. Which entity will be able to pay for your retirement in 2050?
Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Check out FT’s coverage here.
Are you curious about the FT’s commitments to environmental sustainability? Learn more about our scientific goals here
Then there is the moral question: do you want to be part of a climate destructive system? It’s tempting to put all the blame on the fossil fuel industry, but almost everyone who works in a developed country is complicit – salespeople, hoteliers and journalists whose newspapers are funded by readers from carbon-intensive industries. .
Anyone with gas heating, a car, and the occasional plane ticket lives on the destruction of the climate. Almost anything we call “progress” or “growth” makes it worse. Our children are unlikely to admire our careers.
The stereotype of the doomsday survivalist is the madman in a tinfoil hat with an AK-47 on top of a mountain. (The upscale version is a New Zealand mansion.) But there are more social ways to retreat. I witnessed this when I moved to the ruined Prenzlauer Berg district of East Berlin in 1990, just after the fall of communism.
Many of my new neighbors were young East Germans who had rejected what they saw as the bad Communist system. They did not have formal employment, or held low status jobs as librarians or nurses or, as young Angela Merkel, in non-Communist professions like physics. Some lived off the grid, without a telephone, perhaps with stolen electricity. Their small community was rife with informants, but people helped each other, expecting nothing for the future. Oddly enough, they may have been our future.
To pursue @FTMag on Twitter to discover our latest stories first