I’m guessing that 2018 was a rough year for most of us who care about the planet. The Report—yep, that one—told us that if the global community doesn’t take drastic steps to curtail the carbon emissions in the next 12 years, then the temperature rise will be shoved over the benchmark of 1.5°C. The consequences? Well, how many synonyms can you come up with for “catastrophic”? At a half degree beyond that threshold, pollinating insects will see their range cut threefold. Corn harvests will be slashed in half. An extra 10 million people will be at risk of coastal flooding. The number of us exposed to extreme heat will double.
It’s easy—reasonable, even—to respond to this report with a resignation that borders on fatalism. Me, though? Well, I’m doing my best to heed the words of one of the 20th Century’s great philosophers: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”
As activist storytellers, we recognize that our narratives are self-reinforcing. Once we think that change is impossible, it becomes impossible. We cease to act when we decide action is pointless. Look at the report again. I’ve searched the text, and nowhere does it say “we’re doomed.” It does say that is that there’s still a window (albeit a short one) to make change and stave off the worst consequences. And if we’re going make the necessary changes, then the first step is to tell ourselves and the world that we can succeed.
Whether you’re working on a global problem like climate change or a local issue like confronting a neighborhood polluter or turning a vacant lot into a community garden, it’s important to find the sweet spot when communicating with your constituents. They need to feel that the problem is challenging enough that their effort (or time, or money, or signature) is needed, but not so challenging that any effort they put forward will be wasted. In short, they need to feel that they matter. Too much focus on the obstacles can leave people feeling demoralized and apathetic.
So rather than interpret the IPCC report as the planet’s death knell, let’s consider it our spur to do better in 2019 and beyond. Let’s use it as a source of motivation rather than resignation. Let’s look to heroes like Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who launched the school strike for climate, inspiring thousands of students from around the world to fight for their futures. Let’s take action in our own communities, like the C40 Cities network, leveraging municipal politics for global change. Let’s remember that the future is unwritten till we choose to write it.