Everywhere you look, whether it be social media, the news, or elsewhere, pessimism and negativity about the future of our planet abound. Headlines warn us of declining birth rates due to global warming, the impact on children’s brains, and the depressing regularity of extreme weather events. To make matters worse, according to many, the recent UN climate summit, COP27, ended in “tears and frustration.” Meanwhile, the world is experiencing an energy crisis of epic proportions, as countries wonder whether they will have enough power to get through the winter.
While a certain dose of sober realism is certainly necessary to tackle the monumental challenge of climate change, ‘tis the season for thanksgiving and optimism, not more gloom and doom. Moreover, it is important to point out that leading with such a message of hope is not mere naivete or complacency. In fact, it serves a vital purpose. In his book Enlightenment Now, Harvard professor Steven Pinker uses psychological research to argue that people are more likely to accept the reality of climate change, and to want to do something about it, “when they are told that the problem is solvable by innovations in policy and technology than when they are given dire warnings about how awful it will be.”
So I thought I’d treat the good readers of C3 magazine to a few tidbits of much-needed good news.
The world’s population recently hit 8 billion people. While many climate activists blame overpopulation for our climate worries, in a recent book by my friend Marian Tupy and his colleague Gale Pooley, the authors show that, since 1850, the world has actually grown more abundant, not less. Personal resource abundance has grown at a rate of 3.1% per year, while global resource abundance has grown by 4.4% every year. This means not only that people, on average, are getting more prosperous, but also that the planet’s resources can easily sustain a growing population.
Technology and innovation play a crucial role in this. As the world grapples with climate change, we need to shift to sustainable energy solutions, in order to minimize our environmental footprint. Encouragingly, markets around the world have jumped on board the clean energy bandwagon. According to a recent analysis carried out by Rystad Energy, 2022 will be the first year in history where private sector investments in wind and solar will outpace global oil & gas drilling.
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Meanwhile, according to the IEA, 1.3 million energy jobs have been added since 2019, almost all of which are in clean energy projects. In fact, over 50% of total energy employment across the world is in clean energy now.
But clean energy doesn’t mean wind and solar alone. As I wrote for The Wall Street Journal a few months ago, the world is also experiencing a bit of a nuclear power comeback. Countries have been forced to recognize that they can’t meet their climate, energy, and security goals without nuclear energy. When governments in Japan, California, and Germany start changing their tune on nuclear power, you know it’s major.
More recently, the first nuclear plant to be licensed in the United States in the 21st century, at the Vogtle site in Georgia, started loading fuel last month and could deliver clean electricity as early as March. Hopefully, it will be the start of many.
Speaking of cool technology, Venice recently completed its new dam system to deal with persistent flooding issues, and this past week it was able to protect the city from a historically high tide of nearly 6 feet. The power of technology and innovation will be crucial in tackling problems such as sea-level rise.
On the conservation side of things, there is some good news too. According to a recent report, mangrove forest loss around the world is grinding to a halt, which is crucial to protecting marine ecosystems from climate impacts. In the Great Barrier Reef, corals grown in an offshore nursery have spawned for the first time, offering a glimmer of hope for the future of coral reefs around the world. From Florida to Georgia to South Carolina, turtle nesting has set record numbers across the U.S.
Of course, these good-news stories don’t mean that there aren’t also other, less-good stories around the world. But they do offer a hopeful vision for the future, a way out of the quagmire of negativity and pessimism. They should also emphasize the importance of tackling our shared environmental challenges because a better future awaits on the other side.
I can speak to this power of optimism from personal experience. At COP27, my organization, the American Conservation Coalition, organized an event called “Building Bridges on Climate Change,” which we co-hosted with the Atlantic Council, Dream.org, the Chamber of Commerce, and The Nature Conservancy. We brought together an eclectic mix of climate advocates from the center-left, the center-right, and the business and NGO worlds – people that would never otherwise meet. We spent a day exploring our areas of agreement as well as disagreement, touching on issues such as energy security, a just energy transition, and the relationship between developed and developing countries. The result was a truly productive, constructive series of conversations that filled me with hope for the future.
If environmental justice advocates can find common ground with energy company executives, Venice can stop being underwater every other week, and baby turtles can survive the treacherous journey to the sea, we can tackle any problem that comes our way. This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for good news!
Christopher Barnard is the national policy director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBarnardDL.