Environment featured

Five Steps to Climate Sanity: Beyond Both Despair and Hopium

October 25, 2023

  1. Stay abreast of climate science. Accept its difficult conclusions as the best understanding we have. Expect to be alarmed on a regular basis, inescapably. Learn.
  1. Accept also that both societies and natural systems are already fated to devastating developments.  Terrible losses lie ahead.  Almost everything will be changing. The future isn’t what it used to be.  A great sadness is normal.  Cry.
  1. Recognize that warnings about climate change and forceful proposals for national action to address the threats go back almost five decades.  The failure to act over these years may be the greatest failure of civic responsibility in the history of the republic.  Get mad.
  1. Appreciate that no matter how tearful the future, every fraction of a degree makes a difference.  Every bit of warming we prevent is important. Learn well what must be done to head off future devastations, including both the immediate steps and the deep societal and economic transformations. Dream.
  1. Know that the fight for the future requires all of us, each bringing what we can to the effort. Find ways to get involved, seriously involved. Know too that in the end our efforts do not depend on our odds of success.  We must act even in the face of hopelessness, warriors defending a sacred place, simply because it is the right thing to do, rebelling beyond hope because the human spirit tells us with insistence that what is unacceptable—all the suffering, all the loss, all the tears—must not be accepted. Fight.

Gus Speth

James Gustave Speth is author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (Yale Press) and, most recently, They Knew: The U.S. Federal Government’s Role in Causing the Climate Crisis (MIT Press). He has served as Dean of the Yale School of the Environment, as President of the World Resources Institute, and as Administrator of the UN Development Programme. He was Chair of the US Council on Environmental Quality during the Carter Administration.