The Future We Choose – Book Reflection

By Andrew Mathis

The uncertainty associated with our warming climate is often highlighted, but these projections boil down to only two possible outcomes, an Earth that is unsuitable for human life or an Earth that supports human life in flourishing. And as Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac point out in their book The Future We Choose, we still have time to choose which future we want to live in.

What do our options look like? Well, put simply, the bad one is very bad, and the good one is very good. Many people now know that the direction we are heading is serious, but tend to tune out whenever the topic comes up. This is often due to a combination of feeling powerless, avoiding feeling sad, and not knowing what to do. But it is as important to understand what our choices are as it is to understand that this is a choice that we get to make.

I’ll leave Christiana and Tom’s description of the uninhabitable Earth to you to choose to read or not, but the image I’ve had in my head goes like this:

The year is 2050, and we are surviving. Luckily, living in Canada, we don’t have it so bad. Our family lives in a fire-resistant neighbourhood, so when the wildfires do come, we stock up on air filters, turn on the heat pump’s A/C, order drone-delivered take-out, close the blinds, and settle in to watch a TV show. We knew that social media sheltered us from opinions different than our own, but everyone now shares an unspoken appreciation that social media shelters us from most of the suffering in other countries. We have to put ourselves first, otherwise how will we survive? Virtual and augmented reality along with satellite internet allow everyone to not only work from home, but explore, game, and vacation in an endless number of unspoiled virtual worlds. Some governments have the money to continue to establish human settlements on the moon and Mars, but the living conditions still are a lot worse out there. Most people have given up on talking about what could have been done, but the anger towards past generations continues, with the achievements of past leaders being rewritten in the history books in the light of where they ultimately led us. As for future generations, who would want to bring a child into this? There isn’t much left of the world to inherit.

No one would consciously choose to live in that future. But that is the direction we’re heading unless we consciously choose to change. So, what’s the alternative look like? Well, just like the bad future was likely worse than you thought it would be, the good future is probably better than you think it will be:

The year is 2050, and we are thriving. Looking back, we often wonder why it took until the 2020s to start making the major shifts required to decarbonize our society, as everything is simply better. Although the financial payback took several years, the shift to renewables and electric and hydrogen vehicles started making communities healthier immediately. Over a span of months, we noticed that not only was the air fresher, but we could hear birdsong and children playing over the low hum of electric traffic. People use to think that they had to leave the cities to be in nature, but that certainly isn’t true anymore. Trees shade the streets, vines shade the sides of buildings, and new buildings are built in terraces and covered in trees to the point that some appear to be steep tree-covered mountains throughout our cities. All this vegetation not only creates shade, releases moisture, absorbs carbon, creates oxygen, and dampens noise, but it also grows free food for everyone. Most paved surfaces were replaced with permeable materials, allowing the life-giving rain to once again slowly soak into the soil, supporting the plants above. Once we regulated safe driverless car sharing, private car ownership dropped quickly in major cities, allowing entire streets to be converted into spaces for people and places for urban agriculture. Cities now produce a large fraction of their own food through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and the same bicyclists that deliver this food also pick up kitchen waste to be composted and used to grow more food. With cleaner air, better food, and exercise from wanting to walk or bike everywhere, many people’s health conditions improved, and to date most of the cost of decarbonization has been paid for with savings from the healthcare sector. There have been consequences from not having made this transition sooner, but our collective mindset shifting from scarcity to abundance has eased inter-party and international disagreements, and we have been able to work together to support each other when crises do strike.

So, how do we choose between these two futures? Either continue living as we currently do, known as the business-as-usual scenario, and have future generations curse us for our selfishness, or take decisive and urgent action to start reducing our polluting of the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses. The goal is to reach a point where we are only emitting as much as the planet can safely absorb, known as net-zero, by 2050. This will represent a complete transformation of most of our human systems, such as agriculture, transportation, and housing to name a few, and the sheer magnitude of what we need to do can seem overwhelming. So how do we start? Well, as the saying goes, the “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  To reach the 2050 goal, we need to half our emissions by 2030. To half our emissions by 2030, we need to know what our current emissions are, and then make personal and business plans to meet that goal.

What should you do? Well, with a vision of where we want to end up, it can be easy to be critical of governments, businesses, and neighbours that aren’t helping us move in the right direction. But, pointing out others’ failings isn’t likely to make them change, and therefore we risk being hypocritical if we haven’t taken steps forward ourselves. We should instead work from where we have the most influence, to “be the change we want to see in the world”, convincing and motivating others by demonstrating that a decarbonized life is simply better.

The very center of our sphere of influence is our mindset, and some argue that this is the only thing we can truly control. Why our mindset? Well, as Christiana and Tom explain, our social and economic systems are a product of our ways of thinking, creating this apparent paradox where systemic change begins by changing ourselves. They outline three paradigm shifts that we need to be embraced to move forward with building a prosperous future: Stubborn Optimism, Endless Abundance, and Radical Regeneration.

Stubborn Optimism means letting go of the despair and hopelessness that are common when approaching climate change, and instead realizing that we are living in the only time when massive transformation can happen and that we have the agency to be a part of this change. Focus on the threads of hope that are coming together and realize how much is possible if each one of us does our part.

Endless Abundance means letting go of the zero-sum paradigm, thanking competition for how far it advanced society, and instead embracing collaboration. We need to realize that we are truly all in this together, win or lose. What’s best for us individually is what’s best for us collectively. This enlightened self-interest, where increasing abundance means that everyone wins, will be the force that drives us to put aside our differences and work together towards our common goal.

Radical Regeneration means letting go of the extractive paradigm of nature being ours to deplete for profit, to a regenerative paradigm where we are a part of nature and have a responsibility to improve human, ecosystem, and planetary health. Keeping this idea of enlightened self-interest in mind, we need to redesign our human systems of energy production, agriculture, and economics to go beyond sustainability and meet our needs while increasing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

We are driving towards a cliff, squabbling and too distracted to realize the danger, but these paradigm shifts can help us realize that now is the time to take action. We need to radically change course to have a future.

Our next sphere of influence is our household, the systems and routines that help us meet our physical needs. This is where you should look at your own carbon footprint and make changes to half your emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. Changing your lightbulbs is great, but focus your attention on making at least one big change a year, like upgrading your house’s insulation, switching to an electric car, flying much less, installing solar panels, or eating less meat. All these climate actions will save you money in the long run too. But as you calculate your carbon footprint, you will quickly realize that it is not all within your control. If you bank, have insurance, or buy practically anything, there are significant associated carbon emissions and there are very few low-carbon alternatives. This is where we need to continue to our next sphere of influence and be catalysts of change in our community to work towards transforming these large systems.

In your community, talk to others about why you are concerned but also why you are hopeful. More people share your concerns than you think they do2, and the tipping point for success of non-violent revolutions is only 3.5% of the population standing up for their common dream3. Explain to people how the things they care about will be impacted by climate change and tell them what they can do to stop it. Protest, vote, write to your political representatives, and hold companies accountable to the changes you want to see. Help people work through their climate grief by finding hope in taking action as part of a global movement. As Christiana and Tom say in their book, we need to be stubbornly optimistic, “not because success is guaranteed but because failure is unthinkable”.


  1. Figueres, Christiana, and Tom Rivett-Carnac. (2020) ‘The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis’ First edition. New York, Alfred A. Knopf.
  2. Geiger, Nathaniel and Swim, Janet (2016) ‘Climate of silence: Pluralistic ignorance as a barrier to climate change discussion’, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 47, pp. 79-90
  3. Robson, David. (2019) ‘The ‘3.5% rule’: How a small minority can change the world’, BBC Future, Retrieved October 5, 2022, from

The Oldest Food Forest in New Brunswick?

Joe’s mature Russian mulberry tree

It was an overcast early September afternoon when I found myself driving to visit what I hoped would be one of the oldest food forests in the province, and it was only about a 40-minute drive from my house. During a recent tour of the St. Mary’s Community Food Forest, upon seeing the 2-year-old mulberry tree we had growing there, a lady mentioned that a previous member of their group, Joe, had a mature mulberry tree, along with a bunch of other fruit trees. I was excited at the prospect of seeing a local mature food forest, possibly even one that was 20 or 30 years old, so I got his contact information from her after the tour and gave him a call later that week.

Joe didn’t pick up when I first called, but I left a message explaining how I got his number, and that I had been working to establish food forests around the province, but that there weren’t many examples of mature food forests and that I’d love the opportunity to see his. He called me back 5 minutes later and had a flurry of questions for me and explained that due to COVID and being older he didn’t do tours anymore, but that since I was doing good work with an organization he knew, that he would make an exception for me. When I asked when I could visit him, he said I could come right away if I wanted to, but that he was fine with me visiting anytime if I called first.

It had been almost a week since that first call with Joe, and as I turned into his subdivision, I felt like I hadn’t had enough time to prepare what I wanted to ask him. I had been considering starting an inventory of food forests in the province, so there were the basics like when it was established, how large it was, and if it was for private or public use, but Joe represented such a resource of local information that I wanted to make sure that I could learn everything that I could from him. I wanted to know what had grown especially well, what had ended up dying, what he had tried, and the best practices that he had developed.

When I arrived, Joe was watering his vegetable garden behind the largest arctic kiwi hedge I had ever seen. As we started talking, he told me his mission was to grow every plant that produces edible fruit that could be grown in the province, and to let him know if there were any that I could think of that he didn’t have. That’s when I knew I was in for something beyond my expectations.

Joe started the tour by showing me the plot across the street from his house that he had purchased years ago because he was tired of seeing the plot unused everyday. As we started going quickly from plant to plant, it soon became clear that there were particular things that he wanted to show me, and that I was going to have to do my best at quickly taking notes while continuing to listen to every word.

The fruit of the “Milky Way” Chinese dogwood

Of course, he had all of the species that I would have expected; apples, plums, blackberries, raspberries, hazelnuts, serviceberries, highbush cranberries, sea buckthorn, elderberries, chokeberries, and so on, but he also had nannyberries that taste like dates, Cornelian cherries that he pickles to taste like olives, and “Milky Way” Chinese dogwoods with incredible-looking fruit, and that was just in the new section. And there was so much to learn. Last year they had lost most of their decades-old plum trees to a bad black knot year, including their Japanese yellow and German blue plums. The nannyberries were suckering and would spread easily, but his mature Autumn olive would not spread even though he had tried to get it to do so.

As we headed back across the street to his house, we reached the oldest section of the food forest in the front lawn, and I asked him when he had started planting. He said that they started planting fruit trees when they bought the house, and after thinking for a second, said that that was in 1980. I was floored; this was a 42-year-old food forest! Not only had he developed his own great-tasting apple cultivars, but he had mature peaches with an intense flavour, both the Bailey cultivar as well as cultivars from China. Not only did he seem to have every edible fruit-bearing plant, but most ornamental or interesting plants too. Beautiful buckeyes and tulip trees were mixed in with the edible plants, along with ornamental bushes such as the beauty bush, butterfly bush, and the seventh son that was just coming into bloom.

After showing me his vegetable gardens with turnips almost the size of my head, unique summer squash from the old country in Sicily, and his perennial vegetable collection that included perennial arugula and Turkish rocket, we made our way into the back yard arboretum. One side was an apple and pear orchard in neat rows while the other side was a sprawling collection of plants that reached to the surrounding woods in a way that you couldn’t quite tell where the garden stopped and where the forest started. All of the plants were in these low square wooden boxes, and Joe explained that when they plant something, they add extra soil in the box as their soil isn’t great, and then they use grass clippings as mulch inside the boxes. The boxes also allow them to weed whack everything and not worry about hurting any of the plants, while also creating the mulch they need which they add after letting it dry for a day. They have also started to delineate paths with rocks and are aiming to have entire areas planted sufficiently to remove the boxes in those areas and not have to cut the grass at all.

In the center of the first part of this arboretum was the huge arching Russian mulberry tree that I had heard about from the lady on my tour the previous week. Joe mentioned that they don’t get many fruit from it since the birds get them first, but then showed me a younger and smaller white mulberry that they do get fruit from. As we made our way through the arboretum, Joe pointed out mature horse chestnuts and Northern Catalpa, before showing me his collection of hybrid chestnuts covered in nuts. Although a couple of the chestnuts were decades old, Joe said that most of the fruit didn’t have nuts inside, and he suspected that poor soil or pollination was the issue. He also had several mature shagbark hickory trees that he wanted more for the flowers than for the edible nuts.


Next, Joe showed me his persimmons and his medlars, which were both a surprise as I didn’t think they could be grown in our zone. He said that he covered them with blankets over the winter, but now some of the persimmons were too large to cover but had been doing fine. The medlars such interesting-looking fruit, and Joe told me that they can be grafted onto hawthorn, which is very interesting as I have so many hawthorn around my property. I asked about paw paws, and Joe told me that he had tried them several times but they always died, so he gave up, which made me think I should move the paw paws I have planted into my four-season greenhouse.

As we were finishing up the tour we were talking about nurseries, and Joe told me that he doesn’t pay more than $15 for a plant, and that most of his food forest was started from seeds or cuttings. We agreed that it is unfortunate that the people who need the fresh food the most often don’t even have access to land to plant on, and that municipalities should plant fruit-bearing plants. When I told Joe about the St. Mary’s Community Food Forest, and he told me to come back in the spring and he’d give me anything I needed for that project. I left Joe’s place that afternoon with a pocketful of hazelnuts, a Sicilian squash, and a groundnut tuber, but more than that, I left feeling amazed with what Joe had accomplished and with a new vision of what was possible for New Brunswick food forests.

Who Cares if it’s Warmer?

(Originally published as part of the Faith in Action Climate Series at St. Mary’s Anglican Church.)

By Andrew Mathis

When faced with the reality of human-produced greenhouse gasses causing global warming, a common response may be something like “Well that’s okay, Canada is cold, we could use the extra heat,” or “Who cares if the planet is 2 degrees warmer, it’s only 2 degrees!”

The first thing to realize is that it is the average temperature of the planet that is rising; some places will cool while others will heat up faster. In fact, Canada is warming at twice the average rate of the planet. Our glaciers and ice sheets have already been retreating since the 1980’s1. The ice melt causes ocean levels to rise all around the world; and has already forced people in coastal areas to abandon their homes and move inland.

A warmer climate increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, and flooding2. As we’ve heard in the news extreme weather events are becoming more and more common everywhere. 2020 was the 2nd hottest year on record on this planet, pushing 2019 down to third3. If fact, all the top 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005. In 2021, Lytton, B.C. recorded the hottest temperatures ever seen in Canada three days in a row4 and on the fourth day, the village caught fire and burned to the ground. In Fredericton, 2020 was a drought year, and the floods of 2008, 2018, and 2019 raised water levels to heights not seen since 1973 and 19795.

Warming of the planet, even by a degree or two, is cause for concern, and both a present and future reality. We have the knowledge needed to face this challenge; we just need the collective will to change our ways.

Kennedy, Brendan: Maugerville, 2019 The Toronto Star, June 2019 

For Further Reading:

The Greenhouse Effect

(Originally published as part of the Faith in Action Climate Series at St. Mary’s Anglican Church.)

By Andrew Mathis

In early April 2021, with a mandate to stay home because of COVID and a son who was bored of playing in the snow, we were eager for the warmer weather to finally arrive. Luckily for us, we had a place to play where it was summer all the time.

On a clear winter day, our four-season greenhouse can reach 25oC. This warm environment is due to the fact that although the sunlight can pass through the plastic panels of the greenhouse, the heat that it delivers cannot. This is known as the greenhouse effect, and it doesn’t just apply to greenhouses, it applies to our entire planet.

Just like the plastic on our greenhouse, Earth’s atmosphere allows sunlight to pass through, but traps heat from escaping. This is a very good thing since outer space is very cold; without the greenhouse effect the average temperature on earth would be  -18oC.[1] Just like in my greenhouse, the effect allows life to exist in an otherwise inhospitable area.

The things we call greenhouse gasses act like the plastic panels in my greenhouse. The main ones are water vapour, methane, and carbon dioxide.[2] Water vapour is actually the most potent, but it only stays a few days in the atmosphere before falling back to the earth as rain or snow. Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas, but it only stays in the atmosphere for about 12 years. Carbon dioxide is much less potent than methane, but it stays in the atmosphere for between 300 and 10,000 years! 

Although the greenhouse effect is essential to life on Earth, human activities since the invention of the internal combustion engine have increased the amount of these gasses in the atmosphere, leading to global warming and long-lasting effects.