Can Climate Optimism Survive Reality?

Public Domain. U.S. Geological Survey / Flickr

There is no "fixing" climate change. But the biggest wins are still ahead.

I've been fairly clear about my belief that disasterbation turns you blind, and I've argued that climate change could still be compatible with a brighter future. Indeed, many of my frequent disagreements with dear Lloyd Alter stem from my optimist tendencies and his pesky habit of asserting a dose of reality into the mix.

But I must say, recent headlines have me spooked.

Perhaps the most utterly depressing was this doozy of a UN report—which you can read about over at The Hill—which finds that even if emissions stopped completely, overnight, like tomorrow—then the amount of warming already locked into the Arctic ecosystem will see temperature rises of 4 to 5 degrees by 2100. And if emissions continue to rise, which they will in even the best case real-world scenario, we're looking at more like 2 to 5 degrees by 2050, and 5 to 9 degrees by 2080.

The falling value of beach house properties should not be considered as a buyer's market. And, more importantly, the communities that live in the Arctic—many of them indigenous—will see their lives irrevocably changed by humanity's inability to act on what we knew decades ago.

A house behind sandbags on North Topsail Beach, NC photo

And yet, and yet—Lloyd will be surprised to learn—I still find myself optimistic. Not because we can "fix" climate change, or put the genie back in the bottle. But because it's still evidently clear that there is work to be done, and a growing number of people willing to do it, and that there is still a monumental difference between worst case scenarios where we do nothing at all, and those in which we step up and start taking action. And while change has felt painfully slow for those of us who have been working on the issue for decades, there's a real sense that things are snowballing and starting to pick up speed. Whether it's early signs of the end of the fossil fueled car, the rise of mass climate mobilization, or the shift in political debate from incrementalism toward substantive action, I believe we have an opportunity to really move the needle in the next five years.

Don't believe me? Then listen to climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe:

Or futurist/enviro-nerd Alex Steffen:

Or hockey stick graph creator and (according to some) mastermind leader of this whole climate change hoax thing that we TreeHuggers have been foisting on the public, and who sees hope in the action of a bold new set of recruits:

You get the idea. I'm still an obnoxious optimist, but my optimism doesn't stem from any false notion that we're actually going to fix or reverse this crisis. It's that we're going to weather it, and build a better society as a result.

Onwards! We have work to do.