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I’ve been working as a writer/editor around sustainability issues since 2003, and most of the work I’ve focused on has been of the can-do variety: We can stop climate change before it’s too late. We can create new opportunities through environmental innovation. We can do well by doing good. Nonprofits, businesses, and governments — they were all focused on strategies for averting a climate crisis. But lately, I’ve seen a shift.

In the last few months, I’m seeing a larger number of projects come my way with a decidedly different tone: It’s too late. Climate change is here, it’s real, and we’ve waited too long to address it. Fortunately, I’m still working with people trying to solve problems, so the question they’re all asking now, is: Well, now what? The forthcoming IPCC report is focused on adaptation, and resilience in the face of climate risks is a major topic for my business clients.

But I have to wonder; are we giving up too soon? What could have happened in the last 9 years to avoid this new narrative? If all those clients of mine, and all the others out there — the nonprofits, businesses, governments — had done the things they said they wanted to do, needed to do, or dreamed of doing, would it really be different today? Most of those action plans didn’t set end points until at least 2020, and even if we’re not quite on track to meeting them today, for the most part we haven’t backtracked. Is it really too late? Are we giving up too soon? Or is it just that we were too optimistic back then?

I’m not sure. I’m glad people are facing up to the risks and realities of climate change; and, hey, maybe talking about the “what if” scenario is just the scare tactic we need to get everyone to accelerate their sustainability and climate change action plans to meet those long-ago goals on time, after all.

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