Not Too Late is a collection of climate hope messages from climate scientists, organisers, and activists, who challenge us to recognise that the future is yet to be decided and that our actions do matter. Rebecca Solnit opens the collection in a powerful manner, saying of the current state of affairs: “It is late. We are deep in an emergency. But it is not too late, because the emergency is not over. The outcome is not decided. We are deciding it now.”
To have hope
Solnit rightfully addresses climate despair versus climate hope in the opening chapter and acknowledges the importance of being aware of our emotions: “To hope is to accept despair as an emotion but not as an analysis. To recognize that what is unlikely is possible, just as what is likely is not inevitable.” She quotes the playwright, Vaclav Havel, who commented: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.”
Solnit concludes the opening chapter by reminding us that not all successes are visible, and so therein lies the danger when we look for evidence for climate hope – the evidence may be invisible, but that does not mean that it does not exist. “Sometimes victory leaves nothing to see, the trees that weren’t cut down, or the drilling permits that weren’t issued”, she writes.
We are challenged to remember that we are simply the last in a line of courageous humans who have come before us to overcome incredible odds that seemed insurmountable, whether those be in the guise of slavery, pandemics, or migration:
“We need to remember our own heroic nature, our capacity for courage, compassion and action, to remember those who came before us who took action against the odds and sometimes won.”
Change happens gradually, then suddenly
This point, of humans successfully overcoming the odds, is reinforced by the climate scientist Dr Joëlle Gergis in her chapter on hope: “What gives me hope is that human history is full of examples of people across the ages who have risen to face the great challenges of their time and have succeeded. Victory is not the arrival in some promised land; it is the series of imperfect victories along the way that edge us closer to building the critical mass that eventually shifts the status quo.”
She indicates that the ‘status quo’ of reliance on fossil fuels is at an end and welcomes everyone to the global movement to save as much as we can: “Change happens gradually, then suddenly. It’s never too late to be part of the social movement that will help heal our world.”For Dr Gergis then, the alternative of doing nothing is not an acceptable one: “Are we really going to sit back, watch, and declare it all too late, that there is nothing worth saving? Is this really the best we can do?”
The scientific argument is also supported by one of the 2022 lead International Panel on Climate Change authors, Edward R Carr, who insists that “a climate-resilient future is still possible”.
He cautions, though, that a drastic shift in mindset is now required: “This is a message of catastrophe, but it does demand we think transformationally.”
Nothing is inevitable
Thelma Young Lutunatabua addresses the other major issues after climate despair – that of the conflict between individual action and responsibility, and collective responsibility. Waiting to act only after other people act will delay any response and mitigation we are going to have to the climate crisis. Lutunatabua states:“The question shouldn’t be ‘will my actions be enough?’ but ‘will our actions be enough [emphasis added]?’ This is a communal quest in which everyone can bring their talents, visions, desires, access – and if one person struggles, we can help each other up.”
The collective approach as a core theme is picked up by Mary Annaïse Heglar, who argues: “What if your power in this fight lies not in what you can do as an individual but in your ability to be part of a collective?”Heglar applauds and welcomes that climate is no longer a niche topic to be discussed in isolated groups, but is now globally mainstream, despite efforts from big oil to delay and confuse: “Climate is no longer niche. It’s mainstream. It’s about time.”
We have the solutions now
Dr Leah Cardamore Stokes outlines the continued efforts from the fossil fuel industry in continuing to thwart action that will alleviate the climate crisis, especially when the issue of alternative power sources is discussed.
She points out that there has been a shift in strategy from the industry and that this shift has been a self-serving one: “When denial became indefensible, the fossil fuel industry started singing a new song: the crisis can’t be solved. Delay paid them in cash. When we hear stories about the harms posed by clean energy technologies, we should take a beat and ask: who profits from telling this story? Too often, the fossil fuel industry is seeding propaganda to make us feel hopeless and defeated. If we delay, they profit.”
There are, of course, real issues and concerns that need to be addressed through climate hope and climate action, instead of listening to the fossil fuel industry playbook, actions that can help give hope to those who are already suffering the ‘first and worst’ impacts of a warming world.
Professor Farhana Sultana notes that climate reparations and loss and damage are still a contentious issue, and that the financial support which could offer hope to struggling people on the ground has not been there in sufficient amounts: “Colonialism haunts the past, present, and future through climate. The debates around climate reparations remain contentious, as loss and damage acknowledgement has not been followed through with sufficient financial support.”She urges that the global collective should focus on reparative climate equity.
Looking back from the future
Not Too Late then begins to shift its focus into powerful imaginative messages, which look back to how much progress we have made, as well as imagining what a climate-resilient future might look like with global cooperation rather than discord.
As climate is all a form of time travel, these chapters and visions were illuminating in demonstrating that humans have an opportunity to take advantage of their ‘span’ on the planet to change it for good, rather than stamp their activity into the geological record through the Anthropocene.
As Dr Jacquelyn Gill questions: “What could we accomplish if we stood together and faced the danger? What if the future was better than the past? What if it was beautiful?”
Change can happen quickly, and the span of fifty years outlined in the book illustrates this point wonderfully. Attitudes, innovation, and behaviour can all transform, as what was once held up as ‘normal’ turns demonstrably unhealthy. Perhaps we can imagine a world where we state, as Mary Anne Hitt imagines:
“It takes my breath away to write these words, but we did it.”
People often talk about the future as if it already exists
We get to choose our future. We are the ones in control. We are the future creators. The future is not decided yet.
Finally, the words of Arundhati Roy are quoted perfectly in this book: “There is beauty yet in this brutal, damaged world of ours. Hidden, fierce, immense. We have to seek it out, nurture it, love it.” Or if you prefer your messages to be more prosaic, but no less heartfelt, the words of Tolkien come to mind: “There’s some good in this world Mr Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Solnit notes that“people often talk about the future as if it already exists”, but highlights that this is far from the case and that the actions of an individual, a community, a city, can send ripple effects into the world in a positive manner, creating more hope and helping people realise that it is “not too late” in the fight against the climate emergency. To despair and say that it is too late, is to give up on all that we value and hold dear, without a fight.
As Mary Annaïse Heglar declared in 2022: “If you are worried that it’s too late to do anything about climate change and that we should all just give up, I have great news for you: that day is not coming in your lifetime. As long as you have breath in your body, you will have work to do”.