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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Why You Should Read a 900-Page Novel About the Climate Crisis

ON THIS WEEK’S episode of Have a Nice Future, Gideon Lichfield and Lauren Goode talk to author Stephen Markley about his book The Deluge, a 900-page epic that attempts to lay out the next couple of decades of the climate crisis. They discuss what our climate future may entail and how future histories can help us all process and imagine a way through the coming catastrophes.

Show Notes

Check out WIRED’s climate coverage of growing threats and promising solutions. And be sure to catch up on our conversations with other authors and books you should add to your reading list.

Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Gideon Lichfield is @glichfield. Bling the main hotline at @WIRED.

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Transcript

Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.

Lauren Goode: It's an inevitability. I can't speak, [chuckle] which is great for hosting a podcast. Three, two, one …

[Music]

Lauren Goode: Hi, I'm Lauren Goode.

Gideon Lichfield: And I'm Gideon Lichfield. This is Have a Nice Future, a show about how terrifyingly fast everything is changing.

Lauren Goode: Each week we talk to someone with big, audacious, and sometimes unnerving ideas about the future—and we ask them how we can all prepare to live in it.

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Gideon Lichfield: This week our guest is Stephen Markley, author of the novel, The Deluge, a 900-page epic about the next few decades of catastrophic climate change. You know, real light-hearted stuff.

Stephen Markley (audio clip): We keep seeing weather events that are well beyond the range of what science thought was possible. And I think when we start to see events like that we have to really be asking ourselves what kind of Pandora's box we are opening.

Lauren Goode: OK, so, Gideon, when you first came up to me in the newsroom a few weeks ago and said, “Hey, I think I'd really like to have this guy Stephen Markley on the podcast,” and I said, “Who's Stephen Markley?” and you said, “Well, he's the author of this new 900-page fiction book about nonstop climate catastrophes. I think it'd be great,” I really thought we had lost the thread on the show.

Gideon Lichfield: You're just sick of reading about climate change, aren't you?

Lauren Goode: No, it's really not that, because we talk about climate change a lot on this show—as we should, because it's incredibly important—it's just that I was having a hard time wrapping my head around how such an epic work of fiction could reveal something to us about our future that we should talk about on the show.

Gideon Lichfield: So, I'll tell you how I got interested in it. I was having this conversation with a friend a couple of months ago, and they were saying there's no works of literature or popular culture that really prepare us for a time like this, when we're going into a future where we know it's going to be bad. There was literature during the Cold War where people were literally afraid of the world being wiped out, but my friend said those books were effectively saying, here is what could happen—the world could be wiped out, but also here's what we could do to avoid it. Whereas today we're going into a future where we know that climate change is going to be catastrophic, and the only question is how catastrophic? And my friend said there aren't any books that can prepare us for that kind of world. And I thought about what they said, and I thought it's true, there's a lot of climate fiction, a lot of science fiction about climate that starts 20 or 30 or 40 years from now or 100 years from now, and imagines that the world has already kind of gone partway through a climate crisis, and maybe it's coming out the other side, but there isn't anything that I've read up to now that really starts in the present day. And that's what Markley's book does. He actually starts the book in the year 2013, and it rolls forward until about 2040, and he unspools this very detailed future history of how the climate crisis will play out—and what the political response is and the social response is and the economic forces will be—and I just found that idea really gripping.

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Lauren Goode: And worthy of 900 pages.

Gideon Lichfield: Well, you know, he is a prolific writer. He said that as a first draft it was 1,500 pages, and he had to cut that down. But yeah, the thing that appeals to me about the book is that he really goes into detail, like some of my favorite science fiction is the kind that isn't just about the science and the technology, but also it says, what's the political economy of the future? And what are the social forces of the future? And what's the ecology of the future? And really tries to weave all of those things together. It's very nerdy, but if you like that kind of detail then it's really engrossing.

Lauren Goode: OK, I'm intrigued. Let's say that you're a person who doesn't regularly read science fiction, and I'm asking for a friend …

Gideon Lichfield: A friend with the initials L.G. by any chance?

[Chuckle]

Lauren Goode: Because I'm definitely not going to reveal myself on a WIRED podcast, I cohost as not a reader of science fiction. But that is not me, it's for a friend.

Gideon Lichfield: This is like the time I had to admit that I'm not that into gear.

[Laughter]

Lauren Goode: When you had to—you didn't know who Beyoncé was. But let's not get into that. Oh my goodness, I'm still bowled over by that. So, let's say that you are a person who's not super into science fiction. Will this book appeal to this friend of mine?

Gideon Lichfield: Well, I guess I would tell your friend that maybe this is gonna be a lot more interesting than reading journalism about climate change, or reports about climate change, or other prognosis and predictions, because climate change is obviously—we all know what's gonna happen. It is pretty grim. It is a downer, and we feel like, well, what else could we possibly learn about this at this point? And what I think Markley does really effectively is, he sets the story against a backdrop of exactly the kinds of disasters that are going to play out based on the science, but he explains what it's going to be like to live in that world. It's not even really science fiction, it's just fiction that happens to be about the near future.

Lauren Goode: OK, I think I would add this to my Goodreads. I'm not sure that I would dive in right away, given its length.

Gideon Lichfield: I was also sucked in, to be honest, by a kind of the ongoing horror of it all. I mean, it took me several weeks to read this book, and it was pretty hard going at times, because he paints such a compelling and realistic and grim picture of what the next 20 years are going to look like, that it's hard to imagine that it might look like anything different. And that's a pretty scary prospect, and so after reading it, I wanted to ask him how he put together a book like this. And also I wanted to try to understand how you stay sane after writing a book like that, because I was barely sane after reading it. And that's the conversation that's coming up right after the break.

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[Music]

Gideon Lichfield: Stephen Markley, welcome to Have a Nice Future.

Stephen Markley: Thank you for having me.

Gideon Lichfield: So this is a 900-page novel. How would you describe it to someone who's just coming to it for the first time?

Stephen Markley: The Deluge is a near-future epic of the climate crisis told through the viewpoints of a range of characters, everyone from a scientist to an activist to a drug addict who doesn't care about climate change at all.

Gideon Lichfield: How do you get yourself into, I guess, the mindset of thinking about the future and how to map it out when you're sitting down to write a book like this? How much do you map it out in advance versus letting it emerge as you write? How do you structure your research? How do you just get yourself into the future as it were?

Stephen Markley: At first it's easy. It was easy. All I did was look at what every major scientific organization was saying about carbon and what that carbon would do to our atmosphere. And so just looking at those projections, thinking about the events that would occur because of those projections, and imagining normal people like you, me, and everyone else living through it. At the base of our consciousness, all a novelist is is somebody who's trying to explicate the human condition. And so all I was trying to do was take characters into that future and see what happened to them.

Gideon Lichfield: So it took 10 years from when you first put words to paper to when you submitted the first draft just on the eve of the pandemic in 2020.

Stephen Markley: Yes, a quick story about that. I turned in the very first draft, I didn't go out, I didn't see friends, I didn't do anything for two months as I hurried to turn it in. And that was in February, I think 28th, of 2020. And so I had already self-quarantined for two months before we got to go through that delightful experience.

Gideon Lichfield: So when everyone else had to quarantine were you like, “Oh, I'm used to this,” or did it feel like your return to normality had been taken away from you?

Stephen Markley: No. I mean, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. [Chuckle] I mean, I was writing a novel about the unraveling of our civilization, and then it certainly looked like that was what was happening to me at the time. Yeah, that was an interesting year.

Gideon Lichfield: The book is full of catastrophic weather events of practically biblical proportions. There's these dust bowls, there's a hurricane that basically wipes out the entire East Coast. How closely are those based on actual climate predictions and modeling?

Stephen Markley: Well, so for those, I mean, I definitely take the science to what I would say is the outer range of what we think is possible. On the other hand, we keep seeing weather events that are well beyond the range of what science thought was possible. And I think when we start to see events like that, we have to really be asking ourselves what kind of Pandora's box we are opening.

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Gideon Lichfield: You've talked in other interviews about how you had to get the zipper to meet, is the way that you put the problem of making present day reality match up with the events in the book. And especially since you were writing it over 10 years, that must have been a hard problem to keep the story on track, there was so much that was changing. Can you talk a bit about how you did that, and how much did it change over the period you were writing it?

Stephen Markley: I mean, it was a total nightmare of a problem. It was all the logistical difficulties of writing an epic 900-page novel about the greatest crisis to ever befall humanity. Plus, oh, like, the first woman was elected governor of New York or took over the seat, that suddenly—that sentence in the book is wrong. I had to go find that sentence and change it, and it was just that problem multiplied times a million. The one place where I think, where it really needled me, was Joe Manchin had said he was done with what became the Inflation Reduction Act right as I was turning in the fourth pass, which is, like, your last chance to change anything in a novel. And so he said that, and I was like, OK, well, this bill has failed, it's a nightmare for the planet, my future is grim, but at least my novel makes total sense, and I'll turn it in and everything is good for me. And of course, a few weeks later, he changed his mind and the Inflation Reduction Act passed and absolutely changed the trajectory of what is possible in terms of arresting this crisis. And I was like, goddammit, that's—you had to—you really screwed me there, Joe Manchin.

Gideon Lichfield: What was important about that act? What did it do, and why do you think it has so much significance?

Stephen Markley: The Inflation Reduction Act is actually a climate bill. It's by far the biggest investment in renewable energy that the United States has ever made. And the projections from independent think tanks that look at energy and carbon emissions think that it's going to bring us relatively close to the targets we need to meet to keep the world at 1.5 degrees, at least from the American perspective. It's gonna lead to the deployment of renewable energy at a massive scale, and it's got a lot of other good stuff in it, ranging from environmental justice initiatives to policy that has to do with labor, with making sure so many of these new jobs are unionized jobs.

Gideon Lichfield: OK, so you brought the Inflation Reduction Act into a subsequent edition of the book to update it. Do you imagine that there might be other things in the near future that might cause you to make a change, to bring the book more up-to-date?

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Stephen Markley: No. The book is done, and I am never planning to look at it ever again after this. I will add this: The book takes a much more negative view of the Inflation Reduction Act than I have right now. I'm very buoyed by the IRA, but the book had to sort of thread the needle of keeping the future I had in store for us settled.

Gideon Lichfield: But so, in reality, do you think there is a chance that the IRA might avert the worst consequences the book currently foresees?

Stephen Markley: Yes. 1.5 degrees—the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Centigrade temperature rise is death and suffering for millions and millions and millions of people, if not billions. So, every iota of a degree we can keep the planet's temperature from rising is an enormous victory, and it's now looking like 1.5 is barely left within reach. We have precious few years to keep that goal possible, but at that point, it's still—keeping the planet at 2 degrees instead of 2.5 is a huge deal. And so the IRA, regardless of whatever happens in the future, is going to push us towards a planet that is more habitable than what would have come without it.

Gideon Lichfield: What stands out is that the Inflation Reduction Act and various other things that are in the future in your book are these hopeful moments of legislation that then get gutted or just don't have an impact. And I think this is the thing about the book that made it feel—while I was reading it—very scary and also very realistic, which is that the politics is incredibly messy. There are landmark bills that then get gutted, there are catastrophic weather events, and then business just continues as normal. That sort of stop-go nature of it is what I think makes it feel so terrifying.

Stephen Markley: In viewing the situation we are in, I wanted to take the most realistic view possible, which is if we pass big climate legislation, it's going to look an awful lot like the Inflation Reduction Act. A very messy bill with probably a lot of issues and a lot of problems, but that nevertheless has pushed the ball forward. And that is also a reflection of what democracy is like. You don't always get everything you want. And especially in an American system, which is incredibly compromised by not just big money but by the design of the Senate for instance.

Gideon Lichfield: Not to give away spoilers, but there is a happy ending of sorts. Towards the end of the book there is finally serious legislation, which, even though it has its flaws, is way above anything that had come before. And after 25 years of almost relentlessly bad decisionmaking, it feels almost surprising to me to have that. Did you feel like there was a pressure to not end on a completely gloomy note?

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Stephen Markley: It's so funny. The ending of the book—I mean, my God, it says so much more about the reader than it does about what I wrote. I'll talk to people who are like, “Your book ended in such a grim way, like I didn't know if I could get out of bed. I wanna go arm myself and build a bunker.” And then I was talking to a climate person who was like, “Yeah, the ending was way too optimistic for me. I don't see us ever managing to pull that off.”

Gideon Lichfield: Interesting. It definitely felt optimistic to me.

Stephen Markley: Well, let me say, what my conception of the ending was, is that civilization won't do anything if a big weather event comes along. Like there's no storm, there's no fire, there's no catastrophic event that's going to spur us into anything different than what we're doing. What will happen is eventually this crisis is going to reach deep into our economic system, into our capitalist neoliberal system, and at that point it's going to become unavoidable—when it makes that system grind to a halt. And my idea is that the most obvious way that's going to happen is through sea level rise affecting real estate and insurance. Recently, insurers are trying to pull out of California due to wildfire risk. And so, to me, it's like the size of that economic crisis would require the response that we haven't been able to do yet. In order to get the financial system from collapsing entirely, that is when politicians would finally say to themselves, here's what we have to do, but even in the context of the novel it takes a few other exogenous events I won't get into, to get it over the finish line.

Gideon Lichfield: It's not a given to me that what survives is the state. It's actually possible that wealth and greed are the strongest forces.

Stephen Markley: Oh, sure. And, I mean, in the novel, just to be clear, it doesn't—no socialist utopia springs forth after the crisis, and I think that was another rule I'll just say that I made for myself is, I was not allowed to use any wishful thinking or anything outside of what we have at our disposal, which is a capitalist economy, a democracy that is—at this point—barely functioning, and sort of a world collective of nations that disagree on a lot and are constantly in conflict. Those are the tools we have. And I wanted to think through, how do we change things given all that messiness that we live with?

Gideon Lichfield: One of the features of the book is people's capacity for denial. And I'm thinking particularly of a character who was in Miami and is like, “What do you mean Miami is going to be under water? What do you mean Florida is going to disappear?” And even sitting from where we do today, it seems almost obvious that that is going to happen. What do you think it takes ultimately to shift people's conceptions when they've been in denial for so long about where things are going?

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Stephen Markley: I think denial is going to become a part of especially the American conception of this issue for as far into the future as we can see. But, the energy transition is underway, and it's coming no matter what. Solar and wind and other forms of renewable energy are going to become cheaper than fossil fuels very quickly, and they're going to be deployed at speed in many parts of the world, and even many parts of the United States, and once people's economic—once their livelihoods start to change and they're centered around those industries, then denial will not be as easy to sell. And so I think if you wanna stop denial, the number one thing we do is deploy renewable energy and weaken the power of the fossil fuel industry anyway we can. That is the source of this. It is a well-financed ideology that's coming from a particular industry that's trying to guard itself against its own extinction.

Gideon Lichfield: So, in the book, one of the most interesting things that happens politically is that a schism emerges within conservatism, even as there's this increasing climate denialism as a feature of the right. There is also a conservative president who's elected on a green platform. In the book, the climate activists help bring about that schism by crossing political divides and appealing to Republicans. Do you see any sign of that happening in our real world today?

Stephen Markley: I've long seen those signs. There's a former congressman named Bob Inglis who I think deserves way more credit than he ever gets for being a sort of tireless advocate for climate. He lost in the Tea Party wave back in 2010 and got absolutely hammered because he was like, “Yeah, I believe the science, and I think we should do something about this crisis.” After he was voted out, he spent his entire life basically talking to all the people the climate movement would never talk to. Going on conservative talk shows, going on the radio, just sort of endlessly humping that Sisyphean boulder up the hill. And I do think—and I get these emails and comments from people—that there are more, especially young Republicans and young conservatives who don't have their heads buried in the sand on this, but they also operate within an ecosystem where the mouthpieces and the organs of right-wing politics are so loud and so vociferous, it's really hard for those people to gain purchase. But I still think as people's economic interests become more tied to the energy transition, that is going to begin to change—it's just a matter of how fast it changes.

Gideon Lichfield: One of the central characters in the book is Kate Morris, this climate activist who is instrumental in helping part of the right accept the green agenda. How important is it, do you think, to have this figurehead for the climate movement? Other than Greta Thunberg there isn't really that kind of figure at the moment. Do you think we need someone like that in order to push the climate fight forward?

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Stephen Markley: I just sort of—again, 2010, Greta was probably 4 years old or something. I just sort of figured that someone was gonna come along who would become the corporeity of this movement, and that has a lot to do with the way media works, which is that having a figurehead—having somebody who is front and center—tends to be the way our society organizes around certain issues. Regardless of what the issue is, figureheads emerge who sort of carry the torch. And Kate Morris was my conception of what that person might look like in the US, not that I would predict that is who she would look like, but you needed a charming, indefatigable character, you needed somebody who could reach people who heretofore have not been reached.

Gideon Lichfield: And I think what's compelling about her is that she makes a lot of questionable choices in the book, she makes a lot of enemies, she makes compromises, but she's so devoted to the principles that she's fighting for that you nonetheless, I think, have a lot of sympathy for her as a reader.

Stephen Markley: Yeah, that's, I think, if you look through history, people who push forward enormous social change are first despised by the people who oppose them, and then despised by the people who adore them. It's this way in which people who can evoke passion can evoke the exact opposite just as easily, especially when they start to make the compromises necessary to push major change forward.

Gideon Lichfield: Right. For me, having read the book, it's kind of hard to imagine an alternative future playing out. So for you, having written it, do you now feel as if you can't see it happening any other way, or do you still have a more open view about where the world could go?

Stephen Markley: I think part of the reason I wrote it was to help forestall it. And part of the reason I wrote it is because I still think there's time. It's not too late. We still have decisions to make, and we have so much work that can be done. Especially given what's happened in the last two years of the Biden Administration, I am more hopeful than I've ever been before.

Gideon Lichfield: So we usually end with two questions. The first is, what keeps you up at night apart from, you know, gesturing broadly, all of this?

[Laughter]

Stephen Markley: Just that little thing, yeah. The scariest thing about the climate crisis is not the climate crisis itself in the near term, it's what we do. I truly believe that the solutions to this crisis provide the key hole through which we build a better, more just, more equitable, more prosperous world. And yet the flip side of that is that if we don't do that, the future is incredibly dark and incredibly grim, and the politics that will arise as this crisis metastasizes are going to make all the horrors of the previous two or three centuries look like child's play, look like a walk in the park. If we don't arrest this crisis, we will find new levels of horror about what human beings can do to each other.

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Gideon Lichfield: And the second question, where does optimism and hope come from for you?

Stephen Markley: In 2020, everybody went out and voted and we elected a run-of-the mill White guy Democrat president that I couldn't have been less excited about, and yet I think what his administration has produced has, frankly, shocked me, given the constraints that were put upon it by the makeup of the Senate, various other political factors, et cetera, et cetera. And so I sometimes get a little frustrated with my friends who are like, “Well, we need a revolution. We need to do this, we need to do that.” Really, if everybody just went out and fucking voted every election, we would be in a much better situation right now. And so I really view this upcoming election as an enormous opportunity to push forward the absolutely urgent work we need to do on the only crisis that matters right now [chuckle]. So when I look at people's determination who have worked on this—and I'm not just talking about people chanting in the streets, I'm talking about the nerds, I'm talking about the engineers, the policymakers, the economists, the people who have really put in the work to thinking about how we do this—when I hear their determination, I myself find the energy and the motivation to keep going.

Gideon Lichfield: Well, Stephen Markley, thank you for joining us on Have a Nice Future.

Stephen Markley: Thank you so much for having me. It was a terrific interview.

[Music]

Lauren Goode: So first things first, Stephen really did almost have a nervous breakdown.

Gideon Lichfield: Yeah, and I'm not surprised. As I said, I almost had a nervous breakdown reading it, I can't imagine what it was like writing it.

Lauren Goode: And it took him 10 years.

Gideon Lichfield: Yeah. That's dedication, that's a serious belief in what you're doing.

Lauren Goode: That's a long time to have your head in these really dire reports and prognosis.

Gideon Lichfield: Yes, so I think all of the journalists that cover climate day in, day out have their heads in these dire reports and prognosis all the time, and I think maybe the saving grace for someone like Stephen Markley is that he gets to tell a story that comes out kind of OK in the end. I thought it was interesting that he said that some people see his story as optimistic, his ending is optimistic, and some people see it as pessimistic, and that that's a real litmus test.

Lauren Goode: Right, it's a choose-your-own-adventure in a sense. I was amused by what Stephen said when President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, that it really threw a wrench into his narrative [chuckle]. He was like, “Oh no,” because the Inflation Reduction Act is actually a climate change act, and just, I guess, changed the direction that this fictional world was headed in, and so he had to go back and edit that.

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Gideon Lichfield: Yeah, I mean, in his fictional world, things still get really, really bad after the IRA passes, even in his modified version of the book, and, you know, I guess we today still don't know how the consequences of the IRA will play out or what other bits of legislation may or may not pass in the future, so I feel like there's still plenty of scope for being scared.

Lauren Goode: Why do you think it is—especially considering how much we cover climate change here at WIRED, we have some of the smartest brains writing about climate change for us—why do you think it is that this work of fiction or something like it tends to resonate more than the actual news, than the actual realities?

Gideon Lichfield: You know, I come back to something that Stephen said in the interview. He said, there's no storm, there's no fire, there's no catastrophic event that's going to spur us into anything different than what we're doing. And I think what he was pointing to was that, yeah, we can read about climate disasters on the other side of the world, or even on our doorstep, or even the ones that we're living through, but there's maybe a kind of frog-boiling-in-water effect, where we just get used to the fact that this is our reality. I think what's compelling about his book is that we still have, despite everything that's going on around us today, we still have trouble imagining what 10 or 20 years from now might look like, and there's something about putting it into fiction that makes it feel compelling and real. I can't even really explain why, 'cause as you said, it is real to us today.

Lauren Goode: It stokes your imagination though.

Gideon Lichfield: Maybe it stokes your imagination, or maybe it just says to you, yeah, you can't keep on ignoring this, it's going to keep on happening. This isn't yesterday's news, or today's news, this is the next 20 and 30 and 40 years’ news.

Lauren Goode: How does casting your mind this far into the future make you feel?

Gideon Lichfield: It's a good question. I think it makes me feel some weird combination of empowered and disempowered. When you read a book of fiction that is this detailed, it's kind of hard to counter it with imagining anything else, and of course, a book of fiction like any other prediction is likely to be wrong in many, many ways, but it lays out such a compelling narrative that it's hard to see how things might go otherwise, and that narrative is one which is very depressing for quite a period of time. But on the flip side, I say empowered because I feel like having an understanding of how that future could play out also prepares me better for it. To hark back to another podcast conversation we had recently, we talked to Noah Raford, the futurist, who was also saying something to the effect that climate catastrophe is coming and we can't divert that, but what we can do is learn to adapt to it better and figure out how to operate in a world in which these kinds of problems are going to be given. So I feel like having read about what one version of what a world like that could look like in Stephen's book makes me feel better prepared for living in it.

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Lauren Goode: Honestly, it makes me feel pretty grim about the future, it paralyzes me a little bit. I don't know if it's the way my brain works, I don't know if it's the way I was raised. I don't know if it's the world we live in right now, and I don't know if it's the confluence of all of those things, but I tend to feel as though we're on this slide right now, and it's a downward slide, and I have moments of optimism, and of course good days, but I have a hard time feeling really, really great about the future 50 years from now, and I try to live my life with a bias towards action, towards doing things rather than not doing things, and yet when I think too much about climate change and what's happening and what's happening right now, I really do feel paralyzed, it's like I don't know how to help, I don't know what to do, I don't know exactly where to live. Yeah, that's a really [chuckle]—you've tapped into a really existential crisis for me, Gideon.

Gideon Lichfield: OK, so let me talk you out of it, what do you think would help you feel less paralyzed and less disempowered? What do you need?

Lauren Goode: I think spending time with people who do have new ideas and who are optimists themselves is really helpful. I think spending time around young people who are really optimistic about the future and seem committed to building a better future makes me feel a lot better, and maybe this is also why I don't like science fiction all that much, because it causes this anxiety in me, I don't necessarily find solutions in it. I tend to be that way with film and TV shows too, like the moment that something really mystical or futuristic enters the equation, like here's a dragon, or here's our post-apocalyptic world 60 years from now. I'm not as interested, I'm interested in the here and now because I'm very interested in the human condition and how people are working on our problems right now. The future does tend to fill me with this sense of dread, and I'm not quite sure how to fix that honestly.

Gideon Lichfield: So maybe there are different types of people, maybe I am someone who prefers to know the horrors that are coming because it makes me feel better prepared, and if I know that we're all on this train, then I can just think about what I can do given the train is going where it is, and maybe for some people like you, it's safer and easier really to focus on the now, which is absolutely legitimate, and say, “What are the things I can do in my life in the moment? What can I do to make the world around me better right now? What can I do to make my own life better right now?” That's as legitimate a way of approaching a scary future as trying to inform oneself about it, I think.

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Lauren Goode: Thank you. I mean, I do like to stay informed, it is what we do, we live in the news, we live in information, but—yeah, it's almost like if, when I'm on a plane, I'd rather not know the turbulence is coming. I'd rather just—OK, oh, there was a bump, right? But when the pilot gets on and says we're going to have 30 minutes of severe turbulence coming up, I am like, “Oh my God,” I'm gripping my seat. But if there are few bumps along the way, and I feel like, “Oh, we're all on this metal tube together,” and all these people around me are acting differently and doing different things, and I'm sort of observing, I'm OK, I'm OK in the moment.

Gideon Lichfield: You know, a funny thing happens to me on planes, which is as the plane starts to taxi for takeoff is when I'm most likely to fall asleep, and I think—

Lauren Goode: Same!

Gideon Lichfield: It's because at that moment is when I know that I've given up my fate. It is in the hands of the pilot and the aircraft manufacturer and the elements, and there is nothing I can do except focus on my immediate comfort, and that's kind of relaxing. And maybe what we're both saying in different ways is that the way to deal with this barreling into this scary, terrifying future is to focus on the immediate things that you can do for yourself and for the people around you, and the world around you. Because what's coming is coming, and whether you spend a lot of time reading about possible futures and imagining all the scenarios and trying to prepare for them, or whether you try to shut that out and just focus on the present day, the end result is the same, you're still working on the things that you yourself can influence right now.

Lauren Goode: So should I read the 900-page book [chuckle]? Should I spend right now reading the 900-page book about the future?

Gideon Lichfield: I think you could read it because it does provide a really interesting picture of how the world might evolve and how politics of climate change might develop, and if you're at all curious about the kinds of political moves that we might make to try to change climate policy, it can give you some ideas.

Lauren Goode: All right, well, I don't want to bury my head in the sand. I'm a believer in being informed, and you've convinced me that this is probably a book at least worth considering reading, so as we are doing this, I'm going into my Goodreads app right now, typing in The Deluge, adding to Want to Read, and, Gideon, I think I may give it a go.

Gideon Lichfield: All right, well, come back to me in three months when you've finished it, and let me know what you think.

[Laughter]

Lauren Goode: Sounds good, hopefully it will help ease my anxiety.

Gideon Lichfield: And if it doesn't, we can talk about it.

[Music]

Gideon Lichfield: That's our show for today. Thank you for listening. Have a Nice Future is hosted by me, Gideon Lichfield.

Lauren Goode: And me, Lauren Goode. If you like the show, you should tell us. Leave us a rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts. And don't forget to subscribe so you can get new episodes each week.

Gideon Lichfield: You can also email us at nicefuture@wired.com. Tell us what you're worried about, what excites you, any questions you have about the future, and we'll try to answer them with our guests.

Lauren Goode: Have a Nice Future is a production of Condé Nast Entertainment. Danielle Hewitt from Prologue Projects produces the show. Our assistant producer is Arlene Arevalo.

Gideon Lichfield: See you back here next Wednesday. And until then, have a nice future.

[Music]

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