How To Stay Hopeful About Climate Change
Humanity is royally screwed. But there's hope! (Right?)
In January 2020, my city experienced “Snowmageddon”. Over 90 cm (35 in) of snow fell in 24 hours, shutting the city down for over a week.
Just as we emerged through tunnels in the snow (thanks, military!), the next natural disaster struck: COVID-19.
Then, while locked in our homes, a major wind storm blew everything over.
Imagine having to deal with disaster after disaster, month after month, with no end in sight.
Apparently, this is what climate change means from now on.
With the IPCC’s latest dire report making it clear that we’ve seriously f*cked ourselves, maybe you feel it too: impending doom; the weight of massive, terrifying change that’s out of your control; an absence of hope.
Our therapists have a lot of work ahead of them.
Thing is, if we don’t find reason for hope, we’ll all live lives of despair.
That’s no way to live, and it’s certainly no way to solve the problem.
So, how can you find some glimmer of hope so you can drag yourself out of bed each morning and maybe smile every now and then?
Well, here are a few reasons you can be hopeful that we won’t end up in a complete, unmitigated disaster. Feel free to lean on them for support.
Technology Will Save Us
I know, I know. Leaning on technology as some sort of savior is considered cliché at best, and deeply naive at worst.
But there really is reason for hope. It’s called “exponential growth”.
The thing about exponential growth is that it feels like nothing’s happening for a long time until you hit the “elbow of the curve” on the graph. (Check out this short video.)
Right now a bunch of technologies are hitting the elbows of their curves.
We’re going to be blown away by how fast these developments will come to help us address some key challenges. Some hints:
Renewable energy is now cheaper than non-renewable, and major projects are starting to choose the former because it just makes financial sense. Best part: it has nothing to do with moral responsibility, which is good because it’s clear we can’t rely on that.
Lab-grown meat is beginning to scale up. I’m talking about high-quality, delicious, actual meat being grown without the need for livestock or factory farming. When you see the McDonald’s of the world make the switch in a few years because it’s a cheaper and more reliable option, it will be a massive boon for our climate (and animals).
Electric planes for short-haul commercial flights are about to take off (lol pun). Imagine traveling the world guilt-free? It’s coming.
We Can Undo Our Mistakes
We all know the big problem here is that we’ve basically been taking carbon from the ground and pumping it into the atmosphere. That’s why everything’s warming up.
Some people want to fix things with big ideas called “geoengineering.” These are massive climate manipulation projects with names like “albedo enhancement” and “stratospheric aerosols” that hope to offset the problems caused by all that carbon in the air.
Some are a bit scary because they sound a lot like what we’ve done wrong so far to dramatically change Earth’s environment. The only difference is that this time it would be on purpose. (Pump the sky full of aerosols to block the sun? What!?)
But there are a few ideas on the list that sound more reasonable, and I’m actually hopeful that we’ll try them (and that they’ll work). Let’s take a look:
Refreeze the polar caps. This isn’t about installing air conditioners in the North Pole and turning them on bust. There’s a very cool idea being tested right now to put simple devices that pump water from under the ice and spray it around to re-freeze. If this scales up, it could be a big deal.
Reforest the Earth. Technically called “afforestation”, this is all about planting our favorite natural CO2 suckers: trees. To see the status and learn lots about this global effort to plant trees, check out this page.
Encourage Carbon Capture Innovation. An effective approach to getting people to solve huge problems has proven to be competition (ok, money). That’s why I’m excited about the latest XPrize to remove carbon from the air. Elon Musk’s $100M+ prize money is sure to lead to real progress.
Bonus: clean up our oceans and waterways. It may not be causing climate change, but plastics in our water is a serious issue. That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about the progress the Ocean Cleanup project and others have been making.
Again, I could go on and on, but my point is that there are so many developments that are just about to explode in the next few years. It may not feel like that now, but exponential growth is very deceiving.
It’s important to be aware of reality and take it seriously. At the very least, we need to be preparing ourselves for the coming challenges. We also need major government policy shifts to take place.
But we need to stay optimistic that we can get through this and end up in a better world. I believe there is reason for hope.
I just hope it’s not too late.