One problem that I run into on a fairly regular basis is that in my work in science education I frequently come across information that makes my work as a climate activist more difficult. There are, of course, the predictable problems of people seizing on the declared uncertainties that exist in every scientific paper, and using them to extend the inaction that has already lasted for over half a century, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
When you follow the research into what’s happening with our climate, and how the planet’s ecosystems are responding, there’s not much good news. I make a point of regularly looking for good news, and while I do find a lot, it’s mostly in the realm of energy technology.
The preponderance of climate change activism, at least during my life, has been focused on preventing a change – we’ve had a pretty good climate for the last 10,000 years or so, and while the preceding couple hundred thousand years were a bit rocky, we did all right.
Now, however, the warnings and entreaties of scientists and activists over the last 50 years have gone unheeded long enough that it is now more likely than not that the climate will not stop changing. Not for a few hundred years. Not in my lifetime.
So here I am, one of millions working to “solve” the unsolvable. It’s small wonder there’s a temptation to give in to despair.
Of course, for some people, the answer is to pretend that we CAN still prevent the temperature from rising – that we CAN stop the change from happening. While I laud efforts in that direction, it seems like another form of science denial that can be, in its way, as dangerous as the denial that got us into this mess in the first place.
If all our efforts are going into preventing something from happening, while that something is already occurring, then we will be caught unprepared for the changes when they come.
Most people in the climate change movement have caught on to this, but for the most part, it feels like adaptation is now progressing just as well as mitigation – not a whole lot is happening.
So again, there’s cause for despair.
What gives me hope – what provides the carrot to compliment climate change’s stick – is that when I look around, it turns out that we do have all the tools we need to deal with this.
We know what is happening, and we know WHY it is happening. We know how to generate the power we need to replace fossil fuels, AND the additional power needed to cope with the fallout of the irresponsibility of the late 20th century.
We can grow food in the desert by generating power, that doesn’t overheat because we use the heat to turn salt water into fresh water for irrigation.
We can turn every window into a power generator.
We can use floods to store water that can be purified for drinking, or used to generate power when we need it, or both.
We can use our own waste products, and those of our farms, to generate cooking gas.
We have the building blocks for a mighty civilization that encompasses the planet, that promotes healthy ecosystems, adapted to the presence of a burgeoning, high-technology human civilization.
We can, in short, create a utopian society the likes of which we’ve only seen in science fiction.
The problem with THAT is that currently, most of our science fiction that looks at the future is rather more dystopian than utopian. Most people don’t seem to have a vision of a better future. When polled, most people don’t think anything can be done about climate change. There ARE things that can be done, but without that knowledge – without that certainty, the visions people create for themselves, and for each other, are bleak. Faced with such gloom, our tendency, as a species, is to turn inward – to ignore it. We keep on with our lives, try to enjoy the present, and dissociate ourselves from the looming source of our discomfort.
The job of a climate activist in the 21st century must be more than simply opposing the use of fuels that have driven us over this precipice. We must do that, to stop accelerating, but in addition, we must show people, one person at a time, one group at a time, one city at a time, how to turn on their own personal flying machines, and use the energy from our fall to propel us upwards to the incredible future that we can build for ourselves.