Is it possible that much of the Climate Change news that optimists characterize as pessimism is simply realism? Independent of human sentiment, the Arctic is melting, the parts-per-million of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is steadily going up, and our oceans are absorbing much of the human-caused heat buildup —causing rising seas and more acidity. As scientists monitor and study the effects of greenhouse gas emissions being pumped into our climate system, the experts are finding that it is increasingly likely that our everyday weather, extreme weather events, our ecosystems, wildlife, and humanity itself are being negatively influenced by Climate Change. Scientists aren’t being pessimistic when they seek to unravel the consequences of Climate Change; they are reporting to humanity about a vital issue.
According to Google, optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something” and pessimism is its antonym. That is to say, both optimism and pessimism are human emotions. They are important, but they are not facts. It is with this observation that I mention this article on how humanity feels about addressing Climate Change at this point in time:
NEW SURVEY FINDS THAT A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE GLOBALLY ARE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT OUR ABILITY TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE Climate Week NYC 2017 Opening Ceremony, New York, September 18: A new survey finds that a majority of people globally are optimistic about our ability to address climate change, with 64% of global citizens believing we can address climate change if we take action now. Overall, 33% strongly agree this is the case, and 32% tend to agree. Only 11% disagree that we can address climate change if we take action now. The survey, conducted by global market research firm Ipsos on behalf of non-profit organization The Climate Group and change agency Futerra, polled online adults aged 16-64 in 26 countries and is at the heart of a new campaign, #ClimateOptimist, launched today to change the dominant narrative on climate change. The campaign’s partners include Mars, VF Corp, Interface, Ashden and the DivestInvest movement. The survey found that people in emerging economies are especially likely to feel positive about solving climate change, with 71% of these respondents believing we can address it if we take action now, compared to only 59% in established economies. Countries with high numbers of optimists include Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Mexico, India, Peru and South Africa. (September 18, 2017) Climate Week NYC [more on Climate Change in our area]
It's problematic as to whether humanity is actually optimistic or pessimistic about addressing Climate Change because these kinds of studies are limited and even the people questioned may change their minds from day to day. So instead of trying to nail down whether the study above accurately sums up humanity’s opinion, I want to address a more interesting statement in the article:
“Solving climate change starts with the belief that we can, so on the one hand it is thrilling to learn that Climate Optimists already far outweigh Pessimists globally,” said Solitaire Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra, speaking at the launch.
It seems self-evident that to solve Climate Change we must believe that we can. But is it? Further, is it even possible to solve Climate Change and if so what does that mean?
I’ll comment on the second question first. If by ‘solving Climate Change’ we mean that we’ll be able to cut greenhouse gases so we can return to our way of life soon, that is unlikely. That’s not being pessimistic, it’s being realistic about the nature of Climate Change. This Climate Change, unlike those climatic changes before, involves over seven billion people together with the critical infrastructure necessary to their (our) survival. And it involves the accumulated environmental abuses—species extinctions, the proliferation of invasive species, pollution, and much more—that must be addressed even if we stop emitting more greenhouse gases right now. Of course, in my opinion, we aren’t going to stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, and we’re probably not going to bring them down to a safe level for a long time. This means we’ll have to adapt to a lot more extremes emanating from what we have stored in our atmosphere and oceans.
At best we might be able to manage the environmental problems ahead and adapt. But our way of life will have to be different. It’s quite a leap of faith to believe that we can or must remain optimistic about preserving a way of life that brought us to this crisis—especially in the face of a Trump administration back-peddling on all our environmental protections and a world distracted by everything else. Humanity is far from setting Climate Change as its top priority, which is what it will take to manage our warming world.
Second question (slightly altered): Do we need to believe that we can manage Climate Change in order to address it? No. As in any disaster you don’t need to believe you’ll survive it in order to get moving. Ask anyone running from a fire if they only ran because they believed they could outrun the fire. If a fire, a hungry lion, or an avalanche is at your back, you run. It’s what we do, those who survive that is.
The problem with addressing Climate Change is not whether we feel optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome; the problem is recognizing the kind of problem it is. We should not be avoiding the information, dismal as it is, from scientists who are continually fine-tuning what kind of danger we are in.
Regardless of whether we feel optimistic or pessimistic, once humanity realizes that Climate Change constitutes the same kind of danger a hungry lion presents, an existential danger, we’ll get moving.
The question is whether we’ll address Climate Change on a scale and timeframe that will matter.