“All options need to be exercised,” said Scottish climate scientist Jim Skea, one of the report’s lead authors, at the report’s press conference. “We can make choices about how much of each option we use . . . but the idea you can leave anything out is impossible.” That radical change needs to focus on not only preventing apocalypse but also building up a picture of a future that’s worth fighting for. Imagining the world as a burning hellscape is, for some reason, much easier than imagining a world where we come together and build a new version of human society that works for every person and every species. A treasure hunt is a fantastic way of having fun with your child and encourages lots of conversation.
We’ve got to do the hard work of fashioning a culture of radical, unrepentant, courageous hope. Kim Cobb has spent her entire career studying the coral reefs of the central Pacific, but the most recent bleaching event clearly changed her. Since her phone call with me from Kiritimati, she has become an activist. She’s organized protest rallies. She makes presentations to youth organizations about ocean science. She bikes to work. She’s vastly reduced her use of cars and airplanes. She’s testified to Congress about the need for radical action. She’s transformed her life. Still, she is filled with doubt, and setbacks are numerous.
After the IPBES report came out in 2019, Cobb told me: “Sometimes, when I get out of bed in the morning, I really wonder why the hell it all matters.” I find inspiration and peace in her courage. Changing the world is hard, and she knows there’s no time to spare. Still, she remains hopeful and courageous in the face of the seemingly impossible. “One of the very few benefits of this new struggle,” she told me, “is [learning] how to work together and take absolutely nothing for granted.”
Radical change is now inevitable. It’s up to us to foster new conversations that confront this truth head-on yet are imbued with the kind of patience and care necessary to finally turn our intentions into meaningful action. We must begin a transition to a new kind of environmentalism that reflects the way the actual environment works. Not a demonstration of individualism or moral superiority, but an actionable, scalable model for a new way of life rooted in collective support and universal justice. Throughout the next decade, we will experience both creative imagination and creative destruction, which is likely to produce a deep and abiding sense of civilizational anxiety. Certain times and certain spaces make us feel uneasy by their very nature: dark, empty stairwells; rest stops along the highway; the aftermath of a breakup.
These are liminal spaces. If you find yourself spending more than several minutes in a liminal, or transitional, space, your inner lizard brain wants to flee—alarm bells begin to ring, something isn’t right. Because they transcend our normal understanding of how the world is supposed to work, they feel haunted. Liminal spaces are temporary, incomplete, and portentous. They imply possibility to such a degree that it is sometimes literally frightening. Right now, Earth—the entire planet—is a liminal space.