Let’s talk about climate change in relation to optimism, pessimism and realism. And let’s talk it about in today’s context, July 2014. Furthermore, let’s talk about it in the context of our current activism, deniers not included, just advocates and particularly mainstream climate activists. Essentially, where are we going wrong? Whoa! We got a lot to talk about!
There are two areas of concern I wish to discuss and analyze. The first concern is the current status of climate change and the second is our response to that and how that response is not only out of touch with reality, but is also in a state of chaos.
Alright, here’s a list that’s hard to deal with:
–The California drought happened and we were not ready for it.
–The middle-east crisis due to water shortage happened and we were not ready for it.
–Sandy, Katrina and Haiyan happened and we were not ready for them.
–The planet’s ice is melting beyond control now and we are not ready for it.
–The droughts in Russia, China, Africa, Australia and India happened and we were not ready for them.
–The floods in Boulder, Alberta, Pakistan and the Himalaya’s happened and we were not ready for them.
–The Ogallala Aquifer is dropping to the point of no use and we are not ready for it.
–The mudslide in China’s Sichuan Province happened and we were not ready for it.
–The record breaking 2011 tornado out-break in the southeast USA happened and we were not ready for it.
–The 2012 Bucharest blizzard happened and we were not ready for it.
–The European 2003, Australian 2009 and the Chinese 2013 heat waves happened and we were not ready for them.
–Oh, let’s do one more and it’s a biggy: The sea is going to rise by at least 3 feet by the end of the century and we will not be ready for it.
Uhhh…ya starting to see a pattern here? This is a small list, much more has happened with our climate and we have not at all been ready for any of it. Oh yeah, we got our FEMA’s out there, but they are a small band-aid in regards to “being ready” for the type of climate events we are seeing and will see. We are going to fall into a very large trap that we have been setting for ourselves unless we begin to see things for what they are and we begin preparing, mitigating and adapting now. Here are 5 things we know right now about our situation with climate change.
1. 97% of scientists agree that the Earth is warming and it is caused by humans
2. Science has determined we need to be at 350 ppm of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to stay clear of serious climate disruption; we are at 400 ppm and rising.
3. As of 2014 only 21% of global energy is renewable.
4. We already are experiencing serious climate change, and we are not ready for any of it.
5. Far more reports come out about climate change that say “worse then previously thought” than “not as bad as previously thought”.
The strongest indicator of our future with climate change is not the 97% consensus , nor the 400 ppm concentrations, that the sea is rising, that the ice is melting, that the weather is changing, nor our slow progress on renewables and emissions reductions, none of that. The biggest thing telling us where we are headed is that science is repeatedly conservative on their projections and is always saying, “it’s worse than previously thought”. THAT is what tells us where we’re headed. Considering that this phrase has been repeated for 30 years now, I’d imagined it would be safe to say that a good deal of the projections established at this point here in 2014 are likely to be conservative as well.
OK, let me ask again, are you starting to see a pattern here? I find it rather easy to conclude that these patterns are showing us that we are not in reality about our relationship to climate change, well, not even close.
Have you ever been caught in an emergency? For instance, say you were in a plane crash that fell deep into the Colombian forest and right next to a murdering drug cartel that kills anyone who does not belong in their domain. You don’t have any idea where you are at and how to get out of there, but you do know you are in grave danger of being shot and killed or worse. Let’s ask, what would the pessimist do, what would the optimist do and what would the realist do? The short answer is they’d all do the same thing; they would look for help and someone to guide them out of there. They would not take time to be concerned about optimism, pessimism or realism, they’d just move their ass and be looking for help. That’s what an emergency of a life or death situation does to you, it focuses you to act immediately on the issue at hand with no editorials going on in your head. You don’t pretend you are not in a serious situation, you don’t dwell on how they are going to kill you and you don’t stop and weigh the balances of what your situation is, good or bad. No, you run and you focus on that running.
Similarly, this is the case with climate change; it is an emergency, though it is an emergency on historic time scales and not in our immediate face. Normally when a climate change takes place it’s on geologic time scales, but due to our current trends this is not so with human caused warming, it’s a matter of decades.
So, we have the pessimist, the optimist and the realist all involved in summarizing our situation with climate change and to boot having many different levels in each category. Each of them not really considering they are in an emergency, that’s particularly so with the optimist, somewhat with the realist and never in the case of the pessimist. I’m going to average these categories out and state a general postulate to each one. Let’s start with the realist.
First off, let me say that I am in the realist camp so I have prejudices, but I’ll do my best to be accurate in my assessments. In the case of climate change the realist looks first at what are the dangers, or, what does the science actually say about it? The realist tends to take the science at face value with little doubting but at the same time does not go over board with that trust. They tend to find the most common denominators on scientific assessments and then associate that directly as to what should be done about it. In other words, they are number crunchers. So their solutions scenarios tend to be developed the same way, by the numbers. The only real problem with this is they are not giving any credence to the possibilities that the numbers could be wrong on both sides of good or bad in regards to outcomes.
The optimist has a tendency to acknowledge the dangers and the actual science, but lets that go quickly and immediately turns their attention towards what can be done about it. They spend little time on the problem and devote their focus on solutions. This sounds like a good thing. However, in the case of climate change this is not always so. To put it bluntly if you look at Concern 1 above and then look at the solutions scenarios of the optimists, they don’t match at all. In short, the optimists are way over doing their optimism.
The pessimist tends to ‘only’ look at the science and determines that we are dead and that the science tells us catastrophic warming is on its way and we can’t do a damn thing about it. The obvious problem here is that there is plenty we can do about it, we may still suffer some, but we have it in our means to reduce that suffering measurably if we act appropriately and do it soon.
Each of these positions on climate change can be demonstrated by the proposals they each put forward to cope with this issue. In the case of the realist their solutions scenario is quite drastic as the actual and by the numbers account from science on climate change is that without dramatic action our future becomes catastrophic. The realist sees that assessment and so they propose huge and immediate cuts in emissions, like 80% by 2025, and say to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. Including reducing economic output and imposing government mandates on industry and citizenry. They promote a wartime stance on climate change and are not as concerned about replacing our energy systems with renewables as they are about just getting emissions down, if that means turning off the juice then that’s what it means. Also, their focus is as much on adapting to as it is to mitigating climate change, actually more so.
The optimist sees climate change as an opportunity to make life better on the planet. They see that clean energy is the way to do this and that if we get renewables switched over soon as possible we can continue our lives as modern citizens with economic growth and employment actually rising. They tend to not talk so much about adaptation but stress mitigation almost exclusively.
The pessimist acknowledges the same solutions scenarios as the realist but everything taken down many notches to the near point of may as well shoot our brains out as try. They have concluded that there really is no solution and that only a miracle can save us now. Simply, they’ve given up and many are never heard from again about anything related to climate change.
I’ll ask again, are you starting to see a pattern here? If you look deep into this like I have, you’ll see the pattern is one of chaos. I want to go back to the list of five things we know about our situation with climate change. Review that now if you please and also check again the list of climate events we’ve not been ready for and are still not. Looking at those it’s hard not to go the way of the pessimist and one wonders that if you are a realist or a pessimist, how can the optimist think the way they do?? It is here that chaos begins because the focus as to what it is we should actually do gets lost in all the proposals of these many camps. Simply, we are all over the place when it comes to decision making. We all have a voice and need to share it, but the ensemble get’s so loud you can’t hear a damn thing.
There is a lead voice that tends to overrule the others and that is the voice of optimists. I say overrule because most of the optimists come from the developed world and are also those in the developed world who have benefited by it through their successes. This also gives them a great deal more power as the modern world’s foundations and functioning’s are guided by economic conditions. And so governments respond accordingly as their job tends to be oversight of economic health. Given this, it is no surprise that the optimists are winning the day. This is evident in that the biggest push thus far has been the implementation of clean energy. We hear very little about adaptation (though it is gaining a little ground the last two years, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposals for New York are an example).
I gotta say, that the optimists are our lead right now scares me, not as much as the pessimist would if they lead, but nearly as much. Looking at those two lists above and seeing that our lead is coming from a sector of society that thinks climate change is an opportunity…well, that’s scary. I acknowledge that being a realist has its draw backs while at the same time being a pessimist is quite understandable (though useless), but the current stance of the optimist just simply defies common sense and reality. It is the only thing that’s good about the chaos we are in because at least there are enough contrary voices to the optimists to have hope they’ll be slowed down enough to wake up.
I haven’t intended to promote the realist in this essay, but I admit that I clearly have. Yet, I don’t think it can be avoided when assessing our condition when we take off either our rose or black colored glasses. We can do that with the little things, the every day problems of the world, but with something that has the risk of committing us to the world’s sixth great extinction I believe looking at it squarely and realistically is the only way to look at it. Having done that, we act in direct correlation to our findings. We already have the findings via our science which is solid given there is 97% agreement on it in the field. Therefore, it is appropriate to be realistic and forgo our other tendencies of optimism and pessimism and decisively choose to be realistic and in doing that we end the chaos and get on with the proper action. It’s likely that realism may not turn out to be fun while it fights doom, but it also may be the only thing that gives us a chance to avoid catastrophic warming and its impacts.