threatens to ruin the support system for all living things, and along the
way displace, impoverish, or destroy a major portion of the human race.
It undercuts our hopes for the future. It alters our understanding of the
religious, cultural, and political traditions we inherit, for the future on
which their validity relies threatens to disappear. We simply must fight on.
But as we do so, we should begin to confront the possibility that what-
ever the results of our efforts, the future we have always taken for granted
is in danger of disappearing. We could once rely on the notion that the
basic ecosystems of the Earth would still be present and flourishing for
decades and centuries into the future. We can do so no longer.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the best thinking about our cur-
rent situation almost always hesitates to acknowledge this fact. Inevitably,
with only one or two exceptions, those who tell the truth about the
dimensions of the challenge and the lateness of the hour lay great empha-
sis on the steps we can still take to alleviate the crisis or the best strat-
egies we might use to survive the changes in the biosphere when they
come. Providing a note of optimism is key; thanks to that gesture, we can
handle an honest assessment of our situation much more productively. I
too would emphasize that not all is lost, that we can still take action—if
we do so immediately and on a vast scale. But anyone who stops there is
not telling the whole story. In actual fact, given the slow pace of politi-
cal change and the immense inertia of our economies, the probability we
will do what is necessary in time is extremely low.
To face our situation without evasion, then, we must do the appar-
ently impossible, break a very strong taboo, and begin to ponder what it
would be like to live in a world undergoing severe climate change. None
of us would ever seek out thoughts of this kind. Nevertheless, to block
them out is ultimately another form of denial, another way to protect
ourselves from the realities of climate change. Any such defense ulti-
mately contributes to our complacency, our willingness on some level
to accept things as they are. In contrast, the sanest, most humane, most
transformative course of action is to face our situation as fully as we can.
Doing so will not undercut a commitment to changing our societies;
on the contrary, it will help us understand the real stakes of the current
fight. The goal is not only to safeguard the future of the biosphere; it is
also to preserve our idea of the future, on which so much of our lives and