Reading About Sustainability: The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

Reading About Sustainability @trishtalksbooks
April 2023
The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
Vintage Books/Random House Audio (2020)

Read This Book If: You'd like a shorter book on the climate crisis and how we must act to ensure that we keep global warming to a minimum of 1.5 degrees C. You’ll want to pick this one up if you’re interested in a helpful, suggestion-packed book that comes from two voices of experience. Figueres and Rivett-Carnac bring their lived experience working in the field of climate policy to a shared, practical vision of how the world will look depending on which trajectory we choose. Then, they suggest truly practical action items. This isn’t full of science or background. It feels more like an on-the-ground manual.

About the authors: Christiana Figueres has a Masters Degree in Anthropology from the London School of Economics, and began her career as a public servant as the Costa Rican Minister Counselor at the Embassy of Costa Rica in Bonn, Germany in 1982. Notably, she was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016. She was crucial in bringing the 2015 Paris Agreement to fruition. She’s now co-founded an organization called Global Optimism, has a podcast, and is on the board of Accionia, a company that develops sustainable infrastructure.

Tom Rivett-Carnac was a political strategist for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He has a Masters degree in and Holistic Science from Schumacher College-Plymouth University, and co-founded Global Optimism and co-hosts the Outrage and Optimism podcast with Christiana Figueres. Most awesomely, he spent three years after he graduated from university living as a Buddhist monk in Myanmar and Thailand!

Why I wanted to read it: After reading three books by Canadian climate scientists, I decided I’d like an international perspective. These are from the political strategist point of view. It was really interesting to see Figueres and Rivett-Carnac talk about the ins and outs of the Paris Agreement, and get their perspective on the global stage.

Questions it answered for me:

I just want to say upfront that there are two amazing chapters near the beginning of this book that make this book worth reading, presenting two scenarios. The first is what living in 2050 will look like if we fail to meet the Paris Agreement targets. It is narrated by Rivett-Carnac and paints a depressing, semi-dystopian-type future that had me thinking how I’d survive. Then they contrast this with an optimistic future if we do meet the targets. It was breathtaking and inspiring! And it isn’t presented as a for sure option. It will take “stubborn optimism” from most of us to reach this future.

They discuss three critical mindsets to attain the more favourable future:
  • Stubborn optimism, a key concept throughout the book (to combat pessimism and denialism)
  • Endless abundance, realising that the race to a good future is not a zero-sum game (to combat tribalism and competitiveness)
  • Radical regeneration, caring for ourselves and all of nature (avoids burnout and exploitation)
Two items that particularly resonated with me were firstly how the authors touched on caring for oneself in order to care for others and the planet, citing a meditation practice as an excellent way to help. Secondly, the discussion of economics got me thinking more about the challenges of an endless growth economy and has spurred me to want to research alternatives.

The end of the book finishes with 10 actions everyone needs to take at some point. They asked each of us to determine what we can start with today, even if it is something small. Each item came with a really thoughtful discussion.
  • Let go of the old world
  • Face your grief (but hold a vision of the future)
  • Defend the truth
  • See yourself as a citizen, not as a consumer
  • Move beyond fossil fuels
  • Reforest the earth
  • Invest in a clean economy
  • Use technology responsibly
  • Build gender equality
  • Engage in politics
What a small book that packs a big punch! I really enjoyed listening to this, and have some take-home points to work on. The short length means that it’s packed with good information and action items that you can work on today. And again, those two chapters detailing what life will be like on a favourable vs. unfavourable trajectory…highly recommended!

Further resources:

Figueres and Rivett-Carnac co-founded Global Optimism and have a podcast: Outrage and Optimism. There are a ton of other resources on their pages.

Here is Figueres’s website.

And here is Rivett-Carnac’s TED talk.


This was my fourth straight-up book on the climate crisis, albeit each with a slightly different take, and I’m finding most expert thought converging on common themes. On a personal level, key points include: learning about the climate/educating oneself; doing one’s own inner work to assuage grief and loss; talking about climate change with others in a compassionate way, meeting them where they are; and not engaging in climate denial. In moving towards action, key points include: starting with some SMART-type goals to begin, then moving into larger arenas if able to, including political engagement. Cultivating honest optimism and hope is critical to avoid despair, because despair doesn't help you or the planet.

I’m now feeling ready to explore more specific areas of sustainability. Some topics I want to learn about include alternative economic systems/the economics of sustainability; looking at the issues around sustainable transportation and vehicle electrification; and systems of food sustainability.  I also would like to explore some kids books, and perhaps feature some climate fiction.  As I continue to read and learn, doubtless I will add to this list.