I was in a university class yesterday. It was about earth systems. As it often does with subjects like these, the conversation gravitated towards climate change and how badly we humans have done. Instead of changing the direction of the conversation towards solutions, these people, both students and lecturers, were simply pessimistic.
Oh, how we humans have destroyed the planet. Oh, how bad we are. What good has come out of the world since the industrial revolution? Nothing that we can see.
I’m paraphrasing, but this was the vibe of the conversation. Thinking about it later, I thought of how sad these lives must be, that they can live in a time of such extravagant abundance, able to communicate across thousands of kilometres in an instant, never wanting for food or fibre, and yet still be so down. These poor, disconnected people. At certain points, I have been nearly as pessimistic as this when thinking about climate change. Thank God I haven’t reached middle age or older, still stuck in that mindset. Perhaps my youth is what saved me from that trap.
Whether thinking about climate change or any other grave problem, we have many choices. We can focus on the solutions to the problem. We can acknowledge the problem, but also acknowledge the massive benefits that this same problem has provided us. We can forget about the problem, focusing on our own small world and what we can do to make it better. Each of these three suggestions would be far more constructive than a pessimistic mindset, narrowly focused on our impending doom.
Are there solutions to climate change? Absolutely. They are all around us, and obvious as hell. Solar and wind power solve the energy problem. Regenerative agriculture solves the soil carbon problem. Electric vehicles solve the transport problem. Renewable hydrogen solves the steel problem. If you look these things up, written by people far smarter than me (see Ross Garnaut or Paul Hawken, for example), they are all either here right now or set to arrive soon. The ironic reality: many of those working in these industries don’t even believe in climate change. They don’t have to. The capitalist system, as much as you may hate it, incentivises those people to work on the solutions to the problem anyway. If you dedicated your life to any of these future industries, you would be doing more to combat climate change than any amount of carbon-dioxide emitting whining is going to achieve.
The climate change problem is complex. This is one thing I learned in this same earth systems class. Even the system boundaries that we humans place on these natural systems are somewhat arbitrary. They all flow into one another. There is massive nuance in the details of these things that we humans don’t understand. This complexity is also present in human societies and progress. Humanity has increased the CO2 in the atmosphere, but in so doing has raised millions out of a bloody hard agrarian lifestyle. We get running water, electricity, and reliable building materials. We get to sit at our computers and browse the internet, able to learn whatever we want. These are the benefits of our putting CO2 in the atmosphere. This doesn’t mean that CO2 in the atmosphere is not a problem – it is. But only seeing the negatives of human progress in the last 200 years is a one-sided and destructive view, which doesn’t help us to solve the problem. It makes people demonise progress, which is potentially the most dangerous attitude of all.
There is an irony that I see out in the country. There are farmers, power station workers and tradies, many of whom don’t believe in climate change, but who have a miniscule carbon footprint when compared with those who lecture and whine about how we “are not doing enough”. These working class, country blokes are the kinds of people who would wear the same outfit for 30 years if it didn’t get holes in it. They would grow their own veggie garden and hunt for their meat, or at least aspire to it if they ever got the time. Some got solar before it was cool because they were into self-sufficiency, not fighting climate change.
If you choose to be positive about the world, you will be more equipped to solve the problems that arise within it.