I'm a planner. When I go on a trip I book accommodation for every night away, usually months beforehand. I know where I'm going to eat. Sometimes I even know what I'm going to eat. And I've also considered just about everything that could go wrong and made a plan for when it does. 

The internet has let me indulge what used to be a slight quirk in my personality - preferring to plan ahead - and turned it into a full-blown disorder. The availability of information online makes me - and maybe all of us - feel like everything can be predicted, planned for, controlled. Long-range weather forecasts, street view of places in far-off countries, other people's online opinions of things you thought you might do: it all adds up to an illusion that you can be utterly prepared for everything. But as climate change starts to bite, it's not the best illusion to be labouring under.

Whenever I look at climate projections the question I'm really trying to answer is, 'what is going to happen to me, and when is it going to happen? Because I need to prepare.' If you're thinking seriously about the consequences of climate change, you're probably asking the same question about yourself, or about your kids.

Nobody knows the answer to that question. Nobody. The number of variables is immense, and the things affecting them change all the time. The future is, for the most part, unpredictable.

So if you're a person like me, if you're constantly kidding yourself you can be prepared for any worst-case scenario, what do you do in this actual worst-case scenario of an entirely unpredictable future?

In The Handbook we look at a number of ways to deal with this fear of an unknown future. For starters, we suggest taking a systematic look at the types of risks you're most likely to face so you can at least narrow down the range of things to worry about.

Once you know some of the scenarios you might be up against, you can make a plan and then practice it until it becomes second nature (anyone who lives in a bushfire-prone area will be familiar with this process). The City of Oakland, in California, runs earthquake preparedness lessons which give you skills you can use in a quake and during an extended emergency afterwards - these kinds of courses can give you confidence and make you less fretful about the future, as well as providing practical help. I, for one, would be delighted if there were more widely available, free classes about getting ready for bushfires, heatwaves and floods.

But no matter how well you prepare yourself, there's every chance you'll face something you hadn't expected. We also talk about ways you can train your mind to deal with terrifying situations you can't control. Mindfulness can be hugely useful in bringing you back to the present and keeping you in a fit state to deal with trouble or with anxiety about future trouble, and we'll be talking more about mindfulness in later blogs.

Writing a handbook for surviving climate change suggests I think it's possible to prepare, even in a situation of high uncertainty. But do you know what would be even better? Reducing the risk. Yes, it's important to have a plan. It's even more important to do all you can to make sure you never have to put that plan into action.

How do you do that? You harass your government and your business leaders to take reducing emissions seriously until they do. You don't stop talking about the increased threat we already face, and you don't stop asking what your government is doing to protect people from extreme heat, from sea level rise, from more floods and more fires. Your government has a duty to look after you, as the good citizens of The Netherlands recently reminded us. Hold them to account; never let them forget their responsibility.

Picture from Burns Library Boston College/Flickr, used under CC license BY - NC - ND 2.0


1 Comment