Did the title anger you or make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? Does it seem foolish or careless to make that statement since people could become complacent about climate change?
Perhaps. However, this article is not so much about definitively making this statement, but to question if maybe soon we should.
Of late, I feel increasingly confident that environmentalists will be able to make that claim soon. A few experts, like Tony Seba and Ramez Naam, are starting to make this claim. I have been weary of it, but increasingly I think they are right.
Why? Because the exponential growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency would require an act of war to stop it. Wind, solar, and batteries are all dropping in price with no sight in end. Additionally, self-driving electric taxis are just around the corner, meaning eventually we will need 80% fewer cars on the road.
Moreover, I think it is likely that, to be effective environmental advocates, at some point we have to start saying something like, “We will prevent catastrophic climate change.” Why? Because many people for their own sanity have to ignore the fear caused by climate change to simply get through their day. On the other hand, many are desperate for a “Yes, we can!” attitude.
As a refresher, allow me to give an example of how quickly renewable energy prices have dropped. I began following solar closely in 2014 when people across the world marveled how the record low price for a solar farm fell below 6 cents per kWh. In November 2017, the record low fell to 1.77 cents per kWh. This project is not yet built, but is on its way. I almost feel like a ticker tape parade is in order for solar dropping below two cents per kWh. It was only a few short years ago that I saw mainstream projections that this feat would not occur until 2050.
At least in the USA, we have a large number of people who do not think climate change is real or think that it is something minor and there is no urgency.
Roughly speaking, the rest of the population thinks climate change is real and, generally, many have an understanding that it is very serious. Nevertheless, some large portion of those people have become fatalistic. They feel there is nothing they can do about it, and for their own sanity, they choose to ignore it. These people are potential early adopters, but they feel they cannot make a difference to this massive calamity.
The human mind evolved in small hunter-gatherer groups of fewer than 150 individuals. The human mind is not meant to handle 24/7 global news. Most people are struggling to just get through their daily lives and are simply not equipped to take on the challenge of climate change. The drumbeat coming out of the environmental community is that if things to do not change, civilization is likely to collapse — that’s hard to deal with.
My hypothesis is that if we begin say something like, “We will prevent Catastrophic Climate Change,” two important things will happen. First, over time, the deniers will become less intense and dogmatic in their opposition to renewable and energy efficiency. Solar and wind power have high approval numbers, but most people have no idea how much the price of these technologies have fallen. This message can help them to learn that.
Surprisingly, many deniers are all for renewable energy if it is not subsidized. Frequently, they just shut down when you try to explain externalities or fossil fuel subsidies to them. We might consider not even bringing up climate change to them. We might just instead focus on convincing them of the economic benefits of wind and solar along with the health benefits. To open their mind, it is crucial to state that subsidies for these technologies will soon come to an end.
The second thing that may happen is people who do believe in climate change but are fatalistic about it can finally begin to be active in supporting the solutions to climate change. Even if they start out small, they can collectively make a large difference.
We really only need a few more early adopters for climate change solutions until they reach the point where they become overwhelmingly the best economic decision to make everywhere.
For example, maybe you cannot convince someone to buy an EV, but maybe you can convince them to refrain from buying a new car anytime soon, because EVs will be very cheap in just a few short years. Of course, automated electric taxis will be available soon and they an affordable, safe, and enjoyable method of transportation.
I think it is important that environmental activists spend some time out of our echo chambers. At times, we tend to be angry and self-righteous about our understanding of climate change. I think in many ways we need a “keep it simple, stupid” mentality.
Too often, I try to win the argument. Having to be right is a character defect of mine that gets me in trouble far too often. It is an easy mistake to fall into when considering the horrors that climate change present.
I think we need to be humble in our environmental advocacy. It is a misconception that being humble means being weak. Confidence is actually a part of humility. Soon, or even now, I think we need to confidently state, “We will prevent catastrophic climate change. Moreover, our efforts to do so will greatly increase our standard of living.”
Throughout history, an inspiring lesson is often repeated. Societies that face difficulties often surpass those that do not. Take the Aztecs for example, who were forced to settle in the unwanted swamps of Mesoamerica because that was the only territory that was available to them. To grow enough food, they built artificial islands called Chinampas, which floated in the swamp and in effect watered themselves. In facing this adversity to survive, they had to innovate. In the end, they became the most dominant civilization in their region — in large part because they had to face this big challenge.
Think about how well Europe rebuilt itself after being decimated in WWII.
The whole world is coming together to face this challenge. Our linear minds dictate to us that we are behind schedule, but we are catching up fast. While environmental degradation is sad, I am in absolute awe of our understanding of it and the efforts made to prevent it.
Jane Goodall in her book Hope for animals and their world quoted the maxim: “While there is life, there is hope.” The book details how so many brilliant minds are working tirelessly to save our Earth. I often watch this video clip when I need a resurgence of hope, and a reminder that we must have hope to succeed.
I look forward to the comments below, and any links related to this topic.