Climate change: hope versus reality?

sunshine state photo

Photo source: Joel Kramer,

It’s important to keep a sense of hopefulness alive, when talking about climate change. Especially when you work in the field. Face the problem squarely, no blinking. But keep some hope alive, so that you can keep acting.

Occasionally – too frequently – this becomes quite challenging. Take just a couple of stories in the news today. Number 1 comes from down south: the Queensland government has decided to allow coal mining companies to dredge in the Great Barrier Reef waters, to expand an export terminal for coal coming from the inland Galilee Basin. The new dismal attempt at spin in this ongoing saga is that taxpayer money will not fund the dredging. This “concession” will of course make no difference to the ecological impacts on the reef, nor to the massive resultant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, the proposed coal projects would generate at least 700 million tons per annum (mtpa) of emissions, exceeding Australia’s entire annual domestic emissions of 542 mtpa. They would also increase Australia’s exported emissions to as much as 1,100 mtpa. This is globally significant: Greenpeace has highlighted that if the Galilee Basin were a country, GHG emissions of 705 mtpa would make it the seventh highest source of emissions globally.

Going global again, number 2 story is the study published in Nature Climate Change showing the increasing rate of global temperature change over the past few decades. We have known for some time that it’s getting hotter. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that in recent decades it’s been getting hotter faster, and now this new study has provided some additional numbers on this. Compared to a 0.1 degrees C increase per decade prior to the 20th century, the analysis shows a rate of surface temperature rise of over 0.2 degrees C per decade in the Northern Hemisphere, for the last few decades. Projected into the future, this temperature rise per decade is will more than double over the rest of this century. These findings are predicated on one of the IPCC scenarios that is based on rapid GHG emissions reductions by countries. But we know this is not happening. Not yet, anyway. So the rates of temperature change will continue to rise. In the words of the lead author, Dr Steven Smith, a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory“What was ‘normal’ is going to keep changing. It is unlikely that we can avoid most of the changes projected for the next several decades.” Welcome to the Anthropocene.

For story number 3, we travel to the Sunshine State, where there is really no problem at all. Because, you see, there is no such thing as climate change. At least, not according to Governor Rick Scott, who reportedly banned officials at the State Department of Environmental Protection from using the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in any official communications, emails, or reports. You will laugh, with a hollow ring to your mirth, on reading David Graham’s great article in The Atlantic, ‘Politics and the Floridian Language’. Graham asks “Can a staunch enough refusal to acknowledge certain words erase facts?” Let’s hope so, because Florida is highly vulnerable to climate change. The 2014 US National Climate Assessment projected a 5-degree temperature increase in Florida by 2100, and predicted increased flooding and tourism revenue losses of $40 billion by the 2050s, to name just a few impacts.

I guess in the land of Disney, hope springs eternal. Fortunately, many people in Florida, and elsewhere, neither stoop to, nor believe in such hogwash. The Mayor of Miami, Philip Levine, as quoted in the New York Times last year, said “Sea level rise is our reality in Miami Beach … We are past the point of debating the existence of climate change and are now focusing on adapting to current and future threats.” To counter increasingly frequent flooding on sunny days, the city is spending $400 million on making the drainage system more resilient to the encroaching seas. Moving up to the global level, dare we hope that COP 21, the Paris climate change negotiating session in December, will lead to such concrete and funded steps? Especially the much-needed funds for adaptation in developing countries?

At times like this, when denial and disinformation remain strong, hope can seem to be an effete concept,”a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing“. But I like to find solace in the words of Vaclav Havel, who reminds us that hope is not the same thing as optimism. Rather, “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” In the universe of Havel, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” It makes sense for us to continue to push and fight in whatever way we can to bring about the needed response to climate change. Failure to do so would be deeply irrational, given the survival imperatives, not to mention the moral ones. We can find great meaning in these different motivations.


2 thoughts on “Climate change: hope versus reality?

  1. “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
    Thank you Penny!

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