Why does the left need to make the case for climate optimism?

“There is growing reason for optimism to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

The left must articulate a positive vision of a livable world that is still worth fighting for.

Whisper it: there is growing reason for optimism to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis.

I know, I know. This is not what is done here. We are better off wearing our sackcloths and criticizing the failure of twenty-seven COPs to stop fossil fuel expansion, or shaking our fists at the government’s maniacal plans to issue new oil licenses in the North Sea.

We are right to be angry: annual emissions from the proposed Rosebank Oil Field are thought to produce more pollution than the world’s 700 million poorest people produce in a year. While the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP27 was hailed as a hard-earned and historic victory for the global south, just days before its formation, the Global Carbon Project report noted that our current emissions trajectory is leading us to exceed 1.5. C warming in just nine years. Nine years!

This is sad news and makes people despair. On Earth Day this year, climate activist Wynn Alan Bruce died after setting himself on fire outside the US Supreme Court. The act of self-immolation followed the release of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report, which said that 40% of the world’s population is now considered “very vulnerable”. A study published in The Lancet last year found that 59% of children and young people surveyed were “very or extremely concerned” about climate change, and 45% said it “had a negative impact on their daily lives and activities”.

Any surprises? The pictures and stories we share about the climate are often filled with doom-and-gloom headlines, images that cause misery, and truly dire statistics. A quick glance at today’s Guardian headlines paints a rather bleak picture: ‘Seven ways our destruction of the natural world has deadly consequencesRichard Dawson on his post-apocalyptic new album‘ and ‘The world is still on the brink of climate catastropheafter agreement‘, and (my personal favourite)’Climate carnage: whose job is it to save the planet?’.

Such media coverage comes unsettlingly close to embracing a kind of eco-nihilism (or climate doomsday), where the emphasis is no longer on what can be done to prevent global warming, but instead on the most extreme, apocalyptic climate. scenarios. For certain sections of the climate movement, it is already “too late” to avert the climate crisis; Instead, it’s time to start digging our bunkers before the impending collapse of civilization. ‘Say goodbye to your children’ One of my Twitter followers saysClimate change is a school bus with a drunk driver and no brakes…”.

This narrative is problematic for a number of reasons. Climate scientist Michael Mann argues that doomerist logic is easily embraced by those interested in furthering climate inertia. If the world we’re trying to save is already a lost cause, what’s the point of trying to fundamentally change its future? In his view, it is a short intellectual journey from climate disaster to climate inaction.

Climate justice writer Mary Annaise Heglar identifies a phenomenon she describes as “existential exceptionalism.” When the (predominantly white, northern) climate movement portrays the climate crisis as the first and greatest existential threat facing humanity, they conveniently ignore the dangers facing specific communities forever. As he said, “The blacks of the not-so-distant past trembled for every baby born in the world. Sound familiar?’. This explains why eco-nihilism is not a narrative that activists in Tuvalu or Fiji tend to entertain. They are too busy fighting successfully to fund loss and damage or relocating communities to escape rising sea levels.

But most frustratingly, eco-nihilism is problematic because it paints an inaccurate portrait of likely outcomes. There is a different story to be told about our climate future, and it gives us reasons to be cautiously optimistic:

  1. It’s not the end of the world – and it’s always worth saving.

The sense that “we are running out of time” to avert climate catastrophe and save the world has become a powerful metaphor du jour. Our rapidly diminishing carbon budget is intrinsically tied to the fate of our climate, and so the hourglass image, where every grain of sand counts, is not inaccurate.

But it is not an image that can contain many nuances. We will not fall off the ecological cliff when the last grain of sand slips through the hourglass on the day we collectively exceed 1.5C of warming. And if we miraculously prevent the hourglass from ending completely, we’ll still be living with a world radically altered by climate change, with many regions seeing temperatures rise above 1.5C.

The hourglass also fails to capture incredible leaps there is has been done in reducing emissions in the last ten or fifteen years. Before the Paris Climate Agreement, scientists feared we were headed for a warming path of more than 3.5C. What would it feel like? Well, the interactive Carbon Brief analysis gives a good idea; At 1.5C warming, the world could expect 16 times more marine heatwave days each year – up to 41 times more at 3.5C; Every heat wave we can prevent helps protect marine life from extinction. Similarly, if warming is limited to 1.5C, 14% of the population will experience a severe heat wave every five years, rising to 37% under 2C warming.

So are there any other images that help us understand the path our future might take? I find this description by a climate scientist and IPCC author Giacomo Grassi, is useful in this respect. It gives a good sense of the progress we’ve already made in mitigating the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, and provides a visual indication of the treacherous waters we continue to head into. A tenth of a degree of warming is important in this scenario. If we exceed 1.5C, then 1.6C, 1.7C, etc. We don’t just wring our hands and turn back to the big ice sheet.

2) Tthe hinges are pretty awful, but not as awful as they could be.

This summer’s record-breaking heatwaves around the world are a foretaste of what’s to come, but we also have to admit that the likelihood of a truly apocalyptic climate future is starting to recede, and as global actors there is real reason for optimism. is finally starting to turn rhetoric into action when it comes to the energy transition.

Two of the biggest polluters, China and the United States, have made significant progress in the past year alone. The Inflation Reduction Act is a game-changing piece of climate legislation that will invest $369 billion in US Energy Security and Climate Change policies and reduce the nation’s climate emissions by nearly 40% by 2030, in line with Paris Climate Agreement commitments. . The researchers also predict that China’s emissions will peak between 2025 and 2027, several years ahead of its commitment to peak emissions by 2030.

From an electoral point of view, we should not overlook the importance of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s victory over Jair Bolsonaro, not only because it ended Bolsonaro’s destructive deforestation practices, but also because it followed an environmental wave called the “pink wave”. Harmonized governments in Latin America. In Colombia, environmental activist and lawyer Francia Marquez recently became the first black vice president to share a ticket with Gustavo Petro, who has promised to wean Colombia off its dependence on fossil fuels.

3) We have solutions, and solutions adapt.

Even fifteen years ago, it was hard to make the argument that a green transition would mean a better future for all. However, between 2009 and 2019, the price of onshore wind electricity fell by 70%, and the price of solar electricity fell by 89%. It is no longer the case that dependence on fossil fuels is an economically viable position, and this is a real cause for celebration.

The good news is that we have solutions to the climate crisis, and we are better off technologically than when Al Gore released An Inconvenient Truth nearly two decades ago. More good news? Cost of living and solutions to the climate crisis are aligning. The way out of gas price inflation is through renewable energy and emissions reductions. The best remedy for a warming planet? Renewable energy and emissions reduction!

Of course, the speed at which you can push down the emission curve is the difference between hitting an ice sheet or negotiating iceberg-laden waters. But it’s important for the left to confidently convey that the future we’re trying to save is something else entirely. worth savings. It is a cleaner, less polluted and potentially more equal place, where energy independence has paved the way for a livable world.

The future, my friends, is still in our hands.

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