Earlier this month—in fact, one day after the other—two seemingly unrelated articles came out that were linked only by their diametrically opposed answers to the same question: What if we started trying to save humanity, even if we’re not sure it will work?
The first, a New Yorker think piece on climate change from Jonathan Franzen, promoted the inaccurate and scientifically unfounded narrative that there is no way to prevent apocalypse. “All-out war on climate change made sense only as long as it was winnable,” Franzen writes. “Once you accept that we’ve lost it, other kinds of action take on greater meaning.” The second was a Lancet commission on malaria eradication that advocated for increasing resource mobilization to create a healthier and more equitable world, while also acknowledging that this was a radically ambitious goal.
Both pieces understand the limitations of hope. But only the Lancet commission looks past the idea of hope to respond to its challenge with practical, purposeful resolve. Doing so in each circumstance, though, is essential. Like nonintervention on malaria, inaction on climate change will have profound consequences for health and health equity. That’s why finding a way to make a difference—and doing so globally, immediately, and equitably—is not an unrealistic fantasy: It is a necessary choice we must make, no matter our prediction on whether it will “work.”
It’s true that the world is already seeing the effects of climate change and that they will continue to intensify. But it’s also true that 2030 is not a hard deadline to prevent the worst of climate change. Climate impacts are a spectrum and continued work toward carbon emissions reduction and adaptation will consistently keep society on the lowest possible end of that spectrum—which is undoubtedly better than the higher end, even if it’s not perfect.