As you may have noticed, the news from the future is not good, not good at all. A report released earlier this month from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global scientific panel set up by the United Nations in 1988 to determine exactly how screwed we are by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, found that holding the Earth to two degrees of warming, the target widely agreed on by most nations, would no longer be enough to avoid catastrophe. At those temperatures, the world's coral reefs would all die off, the eastern U.S. would be pummeled by torrential rains, global fisheries would collapse, and melting ice sheets would reach a tipping point that would ensure the widespread flooding of coastal cities by the end of this century.

The good news is that limiting warming to just 1.5 degrees could stave off many of the worst effects — but that would take immediate coordinated efforts to cut global carbon emissions, of the sort that the world has shown no signs of being willing or ready to engage in. Without those, we could pass the 1.5 degree mark as soon as 2040, and careen into sci-fi levels of disaster — permanent drought in Spain and Italy, global famine and water wars — soon thereafter.

So if the prognosis is so dismal, how should those of us young enough to plan on being alive for a couple more decades be preparing? Does it still make sense to be socking money away in a 401(k) for a future that may no longer exist? Should we be stocking up on canned goods and thundersticks instead?

To find out, Gothamist asked some people who should know: scientists who study the warming climate and its likely effects. How do these experts advise the young people in their lives, now that the world is coming to an end?

"Well, the world's not coming to an end, of course," says Kevin Trenberth, a climate analyst for the National Center for Atmospheric Research and lead author of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC reports. (Good news!) "We're certainly heading in a direction where climate change is going to make it much more difficult for ecosystems and farmers. There will likely be increasing food and water shortages." (Okay, less good news.) "And the question will be how we adapt."

Adaptation can mean lots of things, from building green roofs to strengthening building codes to retreating from the ocean entirely. Trenberth notes that Taiwan, whose largest cities are especially vulnerable to sea level rise, is doing an excellent job on the adaptation front, incorporating climate change planning into both development projects and plans for shoring up infrastructure in vulnerable areas.

Taiwan has also written carbon-emission reductions into local law, which would qualify as a mitigation move, trying to help stave off the worst possible climate scenarios. There are lots of other steps that both governments and individuals can take, whether it's shifting from fossil fuels to renewable power sources or consuming less carbon-intensive foods. (Local produce doesn't just help local farmers, it cuts down on truck traffic; and cows are civilization-destroying methane machines.)

For Trenberth, then, one of the best investments young people can make in their future is to vote for policies that will fund both adaptation and mitigation — even if it means raising taxes. Most important, he says, would be for the U.S. to immediately pass a carbon tax — "which is not gonna happen with the current administration" — that would force people to stop burning so much gasoline and jet fuel if only because it would be too damn expensive.

102918climate1.jpg
Flooded tunnel in Battery Park City after Hurricane Sandy (Justin Lane / Epa / Shutterstock)

Susan Lozier, an oceanographer at Duke University who's studied whether a changing climate will shut down the Gulf Stream and cause the East Coast to freeze — verdict: "not yet" — begins by stressing, "The world is not coming to an end." (Climate scientists, it turns out, are very resistant to fatalism, probably because they know exactly how much difference it makes whether humanity gets its act together a bit too late, or not at all.) "Human life on earth might become increasingly difficult. But that degree of difficulty is going to depend on where you fall on the socioeconomic spectrum."

Some of that is obvious — if it becomes necessary to move to an air-conditioned fortress on high ground, the rich will be better able to afford that — but some of it is not. A study last year, for example, found that the worst climate impacts will be in the South and lower Midwest, which also happen to be the poorest parts of the nation. (New York City may be underwater, but the study notes one silver lining: At least we'll save on heating bills!)

In other words, you might not want to stop putting money into that IRA — or, at least, substitute sticking it under your mattress if you're worried about a collapse of the global banking system once Wall Street is underwater — because you're going to need it once the difference between the haves and have-nots is that the former will still have clean drinking water.

Lozier, who has two young-adult sons, says she feels bad about leaving them a planet that is such a wreck: "Their generation, they can spend a lot of time blaming our generation. But the best thing they can do is to vote for people who understand climate change and really focus energy on reducing CO2 — but at the same time, understanding that a lot of that CO2's already in the atmosphere, and focus on adaptation.

"And put money in their IRAs. That's always a good idea! Just in case."

Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University (and father of a 12- and 8-year-old), says that it's important not to lose hope, in part because nobody can be sure which decisions could end up making a disproportionate difference.

"When I talk about climate science, whether it's to kids, young people, or just about anybody, to me it's all about tipping points right now,” Horton says. “The idea that systems can be shifting very gradually, then all of a sudden you hit a point where things accelerate."

That's true for bad tipping points, where even a small additional rise in global temperature can result in catastrophic results, he notes: "After extreme temperatures cross a certain threshold, crop yields fall dramatically, not gradually." But it's also true for "societal tipping points" that could help rein in this problem. Wind and solar energy, for example, have fallen in price much faster than expected, which could lead to a faster reduction in fossil fuel use than anyone had anticipated.

Trenberth concurs that tipping points can show up where we least expect them. "In 1903, the streets of New York City were full of horse and buggies," he says. "Twelve years later, they were full of automobiles, and there were hardly horse and buggies to be found. The same sort of thing could easily occur for automobiles, given the technologies that we already have." To do this would require shifting government subsidies to penalize gas-fueled cars and encourage the purchase of electric ones — but once the ball got rolling, electric cars would only get cheaper and easier to fuel up.

The important thing, says Horton, is not to panic — or, at least, not to panic more than absolutely necessary. "Through most of human history, we have lived in near constant fear of destruction of what we hold dear," he notes. "I don't know if that makes people feel better or worse."

So to recap: Buy an electric car if you can afford it, don't eat red meat, vote for politicians who believe climate change is real, don't invest in land in Florida or Arizona, and put money in your IRA so you can buy your way into the eventual biodomes. And by all means, stock up on chocolate now, before it becomes extinct. You gotta have priorities.