They say ignorance is bliss. When it comes to climate change, I couldn't agree more. Some days I wish I didn't know what was happening with our climate. A few articles and papers on climate change is all it takes to make even the most optimistic person depressed. For those that are aware of climate change, how it will impact the world, and the lack of political leadership on the issue, it's difficult to stay positive and be excited for the future. After all, climate change is arguably the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Despite the direction we are headed, it's now more important than ever to stay positive – but how?
The X factor
When it comes to projections and predicting the future, there is always one unknown: technology. Most climate models account for technological change and assume a rate of innovation will occur into the future; while this is true, it is near impossible to predict the rate of innovation or what that innovation will be. After all, it is much more than just falling costs. Technological breakthroughs can happen in one of two ways: either unexpectedly, or due to the result of major investment and political leadership. As of today, we lack the latter two when it comes to climate change. But as the race to the moon showed us, when we have political leadership and a mass influx of investment, anything is possible. The same is true when it comes to climate change. Today we know of a suite of technologies that may prove beneficial in our fight to tackle climate change. We have certain carbon capture and storage technologies that are already economically-feasible in areas with high carbon taxes; similarly, we have bio-energy with carbon capture and storage that enables us to actually have 'negative emissions'. We are also researching and developing more dramatic geoengineering tools, such as cloud whitening and stratospheric sulfur injections. While geoengineering does, of course, have a variety of serious risks, the primary point is that we already know of these technologies – one can only imagine what we might be capable of developing when the money and politics align.
The "x factor" that is technology not only applies to altering our climate or managing carbon dioxide emissions; in fact, it applies to every industry that exists today. We know food production will be a major issue as global temperatures rise, compounded by increasing demand due to a rising global population and increasing affluence in developing countries. Yet scientists in Japan have recently shown us that we are capable of growing certain produce in LED-lit indoor farms at rates faster than conventional farms – and on a fraction of the space. We also know that diminishing freshwater sources will threaten global security and put millions at risk. Yet the process of water desalination provides us with one possible solution, and innovation in this sector could see increased efficiency in the desalination process and simultaneous declines in cost. Of course, technological innovation should never be relied on as there is always a chance it is incapable of saving us. Furthermore, the most promising innovations to date involve adaptation to climate change – not mitigation. But nevertheless, there is the small hope that the future may be more comfortable – and much different – than what we are expecting.
Opportunities and Optimism.
If there were ever a positive aspect of change, it would be that with change comes new opportunities. Chris Field, co-chairman of the working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), argues that staying positive about the future will attract the most intelligent people to find solutions to adapt to climate change. This outlook does not just apply to scientists, policymakers, and various industry experts – it applies to each and every one of us. If we believe we have the ability to adapt and the power to do something, we may be more inclined to do what is necessary. At an individual level, we may reduce our consumption, eat less red meat, support politicians that want climate action, decrease our vehicle usage, purchase LEDs, downsize our homes, and more. There is much to be gained here. As Chris Field puts it, there are some "really exciting opportunities" to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and that "if dealing effectively is taking an innovative, creative, entrepreneurial approach, building great businesses and communities, then it's a problem we can deal with". A variety of sectors will have the opportunity to innovate this century with real world impacts. Examples include the motor vehicle industry, energy sectors, architecture, urban and transportation planning, and more. Continued negativity about climate change might restrict us from attracting the creative people we need to build solutions. Let's start realizing that each problem has a solution – and often more than one. It's up to us to find the solutions and encourage others to do the same.
But don't get comfortable.
We are still on a dangerous path, and the probability of innovating and adapting our way out of it to a reasonable degree is severely diminished for each degree Celsius of temperature increase. We need to continue to pressure politicians and policymakers for climate action, and we need to ensure we make changes at the individual level as well. But just don't forget that we have a chance to make the best of a bad situation, and even if we fail today we might not fail tomorrow.
This article was originally posted via Sustainable Collective, which has since joined forces with The Starfish Canada.