Three Ways Climate Change Will Be Great*

Yesterday I read a comment on an article about climate change that really frustrated me. Today I woke up angry about it. The article was a pretty excruciating list: Eight Ways That Climate Change Hurts Humans. The comment, which I’ll reproduce here in full against my better judgment, is this:

Remaining “beleivers”; We deniers demand that certainty be determined by the world of science not a goose stepping mob of determined “believers”.

Science is 100% certain the planet is not flat and 100% certain smoking will cause cancer but if 32 years of science’s “95%” certainty that THE END IS NEAR from Human CO2 is good enough for you to condemn your own children maybe you just hate humanity more than you love the planet.
“Believe” all you like but do not tell our children that science has the same certainty of “belief” that you remaining “believers” have. Now who’s the fear mongering neocon that is “ignorant” of science; you “believers” didn’t know that it wasn’t a consensus of “will be” and only just “could be” a “threat to the planet.”
Your eagerness to “believe” is sickening.

There are a lot of sort of interesting arguments against climate change. If you read as much “skeptic slush” as I do (aka the comments section), you start to see patterns. Within the broad category of deniers, there are those (like this ‘person,’ username “mememine“) actually take pride in going against scientific consensus. Frequently this is in the name of jobs/the economy. (I.e. most of our jobs are in coal mining therefore when we take that away we are DESTROYING THE ECONOMY. None of which, by the way, is true.)

But as in this comment, denial is sometimes in the name of–interestingly enough–free thought and a theoretical love for humanity.

I’m conflicted even writing this post, because I don’t like giving attention to denialism. Too many people “believe” that climate change is basically a large, extremely elaborate hoax already. Too many Americans, especially (from what I can tell, most of the rest of the world is either seeing consequences already or ideologically on board with it).

However, I want to take this (ahem) opportunity and provide a positive perspective on climate change. While some people have tried to argue that global warming will be good for the planet because it will mean more warm areas and therefore longer seasons for growing crops, I’m not going to take that tack (while a few areas have the possibility to become more productive agriculturally, I think it is more likely that the overall effects of climate change–not just warming–will be mostly negative for most agricultural environments due to the likelihood of severe events like major storms and droughts in areas that will have experienced more stable weather in the past).

Instead, I want to argue that we are at a point in human history when we still have the chance to do some pretty cool things for humanity (*)At the same time, climate change is a real and urgent problem and I’m far from thinking everything will be peachy. But I do have a lot of love and respect for humanity, and it is for humanity, more than for the environment, that I am concerned about climate change.

Innovation should trump exploitation

“Developed countries” are currently extremely wasteful. Yeah, I know I said I was going to be positive–what current wastefulness means to me is that we have a lot of opportunities to be more efficient. This means room for innovation. Further exploitation is just going to waste more resources, including human lives–but we’re already seeing a lot of innovation, in part because of people being able to collaborate in different ways than were possible in the past. (See next point.)

Some examples of what I’m talking about:

Learn how to share like kindergarteners were supposed to

When I was in Stockholm in the fall, I went to a meeting of OuiShare. This is a really exciting community and some of their biggest and best ideas are being practiced already. The gist of it is that more localized, person-to-person economic strategies can work with a degree of trust. It’s not just economic, though; it’s also a way of trying to re-wire social networks to be more connected and more inclusive. Here are a few big moves:

  • Collaborative consumption (sharing stuff and services)
  • Crowdfunding and person-to-person banking
  • Open knowledge

The big idea is that we can all benefit from sharing information, whether it’s in the form of seeds (genetic information) or plans to build cool tables. We can also be less consumerist if there are people we trust with whom we can share stuff. This isn’t a new idea (I’m thinking especially of rural communities, which typically had to operate in the ‘sharing economy’ to succeed–barn raising, anybody?) but needs to be adapted to the way(s) we live and work now.

Experience over stuff

“Minimalism” (the philosophy more than the aesthetic) seems to be becoming more and more popular. While I don’t fully embrace some aspects of minimalism, I do think that people in my generation are finding themselves moving frequently and experiencing reduced possibilities to hoard stuff anyway, while simultaneously being more connected to work and community through virtual means. I don’t necessarily think those aspects are good, but I do think they will drive consumption trends towards experiences over material purchases. Although the Walmart economy might/should take a hit, hopefully these sorts of things will be able to grow:

  • public spaces like cafés and bars, especially local spaces that can react to their customer base
  • art institutions
  • recreation spaces (ice rinks, movie theaters, paintball fields, bowling alleys, etc.)
  • services such as fitness classes, yoga, massage, etc.

Not only is spending money on experiences over stuff typically better for the environment and the local economy, it’s also shown to make us happier. While traveling this year, I quickly learned that skimping on admissions fees or a few dollars (or kronor or euros or pounds) to spend time with people over a drink or a meal was absolutely miserable, and the money I could save didn’t bring any pleasure. Now I try to over-budget when I’m planning for trips so that when I’m actually on the road, I can spend without worrying too much. (Note well–I have to counteract overly stingy tendencies; if you tend to be more of a spendthrift, you will probably need a different strategy!)

Djurgärden, Stockholm, Sweden (September 2013)

Djurgärden, Stockholm, Sweden (September 2013)

Back to climate change. At this point, I don’t think there’s much utility in discussing whether climate change is or is not “believable.” It’s real, it’s happening, and there’s 97% scientific consensus about that. The earth is not flat. (If you’re actually trying to figure out what to believe, talk to me and I can direct you to some resources.) Most people who do not “believe in” climate change cannot be convinced through words (I’m convinced of that). That portion of the population–the die-hard deniers–needs to be left in the dust.

What we need to be thinking, talking, and writing about–and more importantly, doing–is creating adaptation strategies that DO work for humanity, that DO show love for our fellow humans. I believe this is possible. Not easy, but possible. Further, while we may never be able to end poverty, we should at least give it a try. Part of the solution is technological; a big part of it is social.

What does denial offer? Denying climate change is “real” means putting your human energy–which is a valuable and beautiful thing–into harming your species and (if you’re gonna go there…) your children’s futures. Climate change is extremely discouraging. When you believe modern science and try to wrap your head around it, the situation seems really dire.

Yet there are a lot of people out there who believe in climate change and are trying to figure out what to do about it, not to save polar bears but to save ourselves. Sometimes it can also be threatening to realize there are so many people who are smarter and cooler than you are working on the same thing you want to work on (I feel this way a lot!). Still, it’s easy to find a positive way of looking at this: these are all potential partners, people you could find yourself working with. You’re not alone.

And that’s really it–the best and worst aspect of climate change is that it’s a global problem. We can ignore it, and hope it goes away, and watch a lot of human suffering as the effects become more drastic. Or we can work on it, figure out ways that both our individual lives can be more ecological and our social lives–our interdependent existences in various forms of community–can be improved while using ecological concepts.

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