Are We Screwed? Geoff Dembicki brings a millennial perspective to climate change

The journalist reveals the pivotal moments that shaped his book about how we are dealing with climate change.
Geoff Dembicki looks at what millennials are doing to combat climate change. (Twitter/Bloomsbury USA)

When Geoff Dembicki began writing Are We Screwed?, he was consumed by thoughts of a fast-approaching apocalypse, potentially triggered by climate change. But as he read the reports and monitored political events, he discovered persistent glimmers of hope.

Here's how Are We Screwed? evolved from being a practical meditation on the end of the world to one about the hopeful future a new generation is working towards.

The climate change report that got his attention

This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows a tar sands mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"I'd been writing about climate change for about six or seven years for The Tyee in Vancouver. I was fairly young to be to be writing about some of the stuff. I went to meetings with Wall Street executives in New York, down to Silicon Valley and up to Alberta's oil sands and I was always the youngest person in the room. I always felt a bit out of place. I put on my blazer, tried to dress up and look older. One day, I realized that climate change is going to land harder on people my age, so maybe I should stop pretending I'm older and start looking at the issue from the perspective of myself and everyone else of my generation.

"One thing in particular that changed my thinking was a climate change report from scientist James Hansen. I'm radically oversimplifying his paper, but what he suggested in the paper is that — worst case scenario — we don't do nearly enough at all to limit global warming and all the planet's coastal cities flood by the year 2065. If you're in your mid-30s now, by the time Hansen's worst case scenario happens, you could be in your mid 80s. Anyone who's much older won't be around necessarily to see those impacts."

The 2015 Canadian federal election showed he wasn't alone

Conservative leader Stephen Harper pauses for a moment as he addresses the crowd on election night in Calgary, Alta. Monday Oct. 19, 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"One of the first things that changed the nature of the book was Canada's national election in 2015. For years, Elections Canada had been doing studies with titles like, 'Why don't young people vote?' or 'Is this the end of democracy?' Voter turnout among people in their 20s and 30s had been steadily declining for years and years and there was concern that this election would be no different.

"My partner Kara and I voted that day and went over to a friend's house. We were all nervous, but we were cracking jokes and drinking beer and then someone thought to actually turn on the TV. There was immediately a shot of Stephen Harper acknowledging his defeat and walking off the stage. Not too much later on, I read that a surge in turnout among people in their 20s and 30s had been one of the decisive factors in his defeat. To me this was a huge moment because it was it was the first time I felt that my generation was flexing its political muscles in Canada. It also showed me the power of electoral politics. 

"When I started, I was writing a book that was more of an existential look at what it means to be a younger person who is contemplating the potential for the apocalypse in our lifetime. But when that election happened, I realized that all the feelings of isolation and alienation that I'd felt were also being experienced by millions of other people of all ages. The book became a lot more political, and I would say hopeful, after that moment."

Finding the power in having hope

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at Safeco Field in Seattle on March 25, 2016. (Jason Redmond/Getty Images)

"Bernie Sanders started his run for the Democratic presidential nomination as a socialist and a very fringe candidate. Nobody took him seriously. But by January of 2016, it was undeniable that Bernie Sanders had become a phenomenon. In the spring, I knew that I would be doing a chapter on Sanders' very aggressive climate change policies and I wanted to go down and see him in person. It turned out he was doing a rally in Seattle at Safeco Field.

"By this point, it was pretty clear that Sanders wasn't going to win the nomination and yet there were thousands and thousands of people at his rally. Here I was, sitting in this baseball arena with thousands of other people from all age groups, and I just realized the power that could be had in imagining a more hopeful future and organizing around it. 

"Then, of course, several months later Donald Trump won and I had to re-examine a lot of those feelings. But I still stand by the feeling of hope that runs through a lot of the book, and a big reason for that was actually being in that arena and experiencing it first hand."

Geoff Dembicki's comments have been edited and condensed.

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