As Dangerous Climate Change Looks Increasingly Assured, What Does Environmentalism Do?

We're supposed to be cheery, can-do sorts of people around here in the modern green movement. Optimistic that our environmental problems, our energy problems can be solved. Nay, will be solved. We have solutions at our fingertips -- countless reports show how we have enough technology now to stop climate change, for example, and present different scenarios how it is possible to have an all-renewable or nearly-all-renewable energy supply, and soon.

But as two recent reports, one by the International Energy Agency and one by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, clearly show we're clearly not utilizing those solutions.

We've got just five years to move away from fossil fuels or dangerous climate change becomes inevitable, one says. We will have used up our "carbon budget" by building more fossil fuel power plants and it will be nigh impossible to keep greenhouse gas emissions low enough to keep temperature rise below the 2°C threshold above which, all bets are off, essentially.

The other one, just released, shows that renewable energy investment over the next decade is on track to double compared to 2010 levels (yay!) and will almost triple by 2030 (right on!). Except, that level of investment is just about one-third of what's needed to keep greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels (sigh...).

As Dave Roberts recently wrote over at Grist, hitting the nail squarely on the head. "The limits [to using more renewable energy] that matter most are political, not technological," Roberts says.

"We are not even close to doing as much as we can, cost-effectively, with the technology we've got. Why not? Because fossil fuels have a lock on our sociopolitical systems. Because American politics is ridden with choke points where a vocal minority can block progress and there is a core of angry conservative white men determined to block it."

As much as I genuinely hold out hope that we will still muster the political and social will to overturn the current energy order, to instill a new sense of environmental awareness and concern throughout a good swath of society, all in the shockingly short (and diminishing) time we are told that we have to act before worst-case scenarios become worst-case events, my inner voice keeps getting louder, telling me that realistically we probably won't act quickly enough.

The odds are very good that we won't prevent dangerous climate change. We won't keep atmospheric carbon levels below 450ppm, let alone the safer 350ppm.

We in the environmental movement really ought to consider this, consider it publicly that is (I know we all talk about this privately), as a very real eventuality and start talking about what comes next. What are we going to do? What are we going to recommend people do?

Sure, climate adaptation gets discussed all the time, and some money and resources does get allocated to it on the international level, but not enough. Not enough mental and emotional resources get devoted to adaptation either, or at least in anything other than a sky-is-falling, the-end-times-are-seriously-fucking-nigh sort of way.

And sure, there's plenty of virtual and physical ink expended on solutions to climate change, to adapting to a resource constrained world, et cetera, etc. But at least to me it seems like most of the time these things are presented in an abstract way, or an in the future sort of way. Or with an air of inevitable success, eventually.

The thing is, going back to the recent IEA reports, the future is increasingly looking less like one where we successfully and adequately address climate change, but one where we do not. And I think we need to make that mental shift in our presentation of both what the future will look like from a climate, environmental, and social perspective, as well as how we will deal with it.

What do you think? How does our messaging change? Does it need to change?

As Dangerous Climate Change Looks Increasingly Assured, What Does Environmentalism Do?
Shouldn't our messaging shift from if dangerous climate change happens, to as dangerous climate change happens?

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