THE BLOG

I Was a Futurist, Until I Realized There May Not Be a Future

06/05/2015 07:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

The clock has run out on the climate change debate. It's time for predictions to give way to radical action.

For most of my career, I've been a trend spotter, sometimes referred to as a futurist. I've divined trends for companies seeking to innovate; anticipated consumer appetites; and kept pioneering brands ahead of the pack. My work has been a passion, a calling, never just a job. So, it was fundamentally disorienting when I realized recently, I'd lost my feeling for the future.

Gradually, over a period of I don't know how long -- months? -- my usually strong connection with intuition was lost. Something was impeding my inner vision. It happens to writers, I thought, why not futurists? I was blocked. I went about my work mechanically and began to fear I might be losing my touch. Then one day, a fortuitous meeting with a friend brought resolution.

I met Daniel, a writer, for tea at a downtown café to discuss his current work-in-progress: a spiritual perspective on climate change and the unfolding of an ecological mega-crisis. I'd been a fan of his work for years and was curious to hear how he was approaching this critical topic.

For my part, I'd been following climate-related news and had what I'd thought was a healthy concern -- strong enough to impact consumption patterns for my family and influence my political choices. But, mainstream media (even the liberal media I favor) had done me a disservice. By focusing more on the debate around climate issues rather than the details of its reality, I'd come to think I was on the right side of history simply for believing it was true. I could roll my eyes at those ignorant "climate deniers" over there. Job done, or so I thought.

What I was yet to understand was that while my ego was busy buying organic, learning to compost, and feeling good about the green beauty products in my medicine cabinet, my body was perceiving and internalizing a much deeper, primal threat to the very existence of civilization. I'd begun to fear, without even knowing it, there might not be a future for humanity on this planet.

This was made clear to me that day at the café as Daniel painted a picture, carrying me along into the heart of the ecological catastrophe in a way I hadn't been moved by the media or scientific reports -- emotionally. His deep acceptance of the inevitability of the situation was plain, and his fearlessness in the face of it, humbling. Sitting there with him, I was emboldened to imagine the end.

And then I saw it: the future. I saw the actual devastation of the predictions; felt personal and collective fear; experienced the pain of regret at all the unheeded warnings; and then in the aftermath...I saw humanity picking itself back up again. Even now, I can recall the teacup held aloft, halfway to my lips, as denial gave way at warp speed to disbelief, anger, grief, and then into a state of acceptance and hope. My whole defensive structure fell at once, and my life instantly re-prioritized itself. The darkness that had been clouding my inner vision dissolved. I realized that was the first time I'd ever allowed myself to open my eyes to the actual reality of 'climate change'...such a sterile name for something so devastating, visceral.

With a sigh, I asked, "So, what do we do now?" Daniel smiled warmly and answered, "We act fast. We're definitely headed for disaster. Whether it will be a broken-arm-disaster, or a full-body-cast disaster, is our choice." I understood then that the place of no-future I'd been in was numbing and preventing me from achieving the state of coming alive that is available in facing the facts. I walked into that meeting a futurist and walked out an activist.

Now genuinely awake to the urgency of the situation and ready to mobilize, I asked, "How do we wake up more people more quickly?"

"A massive catastrophe could do it," he answered bluntly, "But I hope we don't have to wait for that."

The statistics are overwhelming and the evidence now irrefutable that we are facing an unavoidable ecological, sociological mega-crisis the likes of which the world has never seen if we continue on the current trajectory of carbon emissions and waste production we've been on. Scientists say we are now in the midst of the sixth mass extinction on the planet, the worst since the dinosaurs. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and others, the current estimate for the earth's temperature rise by 2100 is 3-5 degrees Celsius, which would threaten and irrevocably damage plant, animal and human ecosystems; bring about extreme weather events and pandemics; cause coastal flooding and inland droughts; and probably, ultimately wipe out a large portion of the human population.

But, this doesn't have to be our future. We're at a crossroads. Bill McKibben wrote recently, "The next 10 years will be decisive when it comes to the planet's future -- what we do (or don't) will play out over geologic time." A similar message was imparted to me directly by the Native American activist and environmentalist, Winona Laduke. She said her people have an ancient prophesy that says this is the time of the Crossroads. One path will be well-worn but charred, the other will be not-well-worn and green. Both of these messages are epic and somewhat intimidating, but they don't have to be disheartening. We still have a choice.

I offer my experience because I considered myself awake to the situation. I wasn't. I was childishly hoping for a Hail Mary, some kind of salvation from a super hero or technological miracle. This level of denial was preventing me from embracing the urgency of the situation and finding my own inner hero. Fear feels protective, but it is actually acceptance that opens the door to the qualities we're going to need in abundance: resilience, hope, determination and creativity.

What's required now is a swift and confident move in a completely new direction: a leap of faith. For each individual the climate crisis presents an opportunity for self-awareness and personal growth, for decisive and moral action and acts of courage. It presents something so rare in our modern, insulated lives: the opportunity to transcend. For all of us collectively, we have the chance to move in a coordinated fashion into the unknown, relying not on some promised outcome, but on each other. This would not be simply about personal growth, but a collective, evolutionary leap forward.

This is the fight of our lives...because it is, in fact, the fight for our lives. All of us.