You are invited to join me on a journey to find the silver lining as the global community confronts climate change. I don’t know what this journey will look like, but I know in my heart I need to make it and I cannot make it alone.
I have been working on climate change issues since 1992, when I was in college. I majored in biology and French, but the Rio Earth Summit was in the news and I took a course on the geology of climate change and another where I studied Earth in the Balance by Al Gore and The End of Nature by Bill McKibben. I followed up with a course surveying US environmental policy and that did it. I got hooked by the mystery of how the world was going to change the course of politics, economics, technology and human behavior to deal with this enormous problem. That drew me into a career in climate change policy that has taken me from Washington, DC to Wellington, New Zealand in search of solutions.
Twenty years later…
As a student, I would not have predicted that in 2013 we would still be facing the lingering corrosive skepticism of a vocal minority, the power of vested interests in fossil fuels, the inertia in the international negotiations and the failure of governments to enact serious policies that combine climate change and development solutions. Above all, I would not have guessed that so many people today would be more afraid of the solutions than of the problem. Study
after study is showing us that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action; we simply cannot afford to do nothing. Not only that, we are missing out on the valuable co-benefits from reducing our emissions.
Some people hope that climate change impacts will be linear and gradual, giving us time to find a technological fix that will safeguard the future even if it can’t undo the damage already done. However, scientists are discussing the possibility of nearer-term tipping points where feedbacks trigger the acceleration of catastrophic climate change impacts.
The tipping point we want…
What I am focusing on right now is another kind of tipping point – the positive kind. We have seen a tipping point with the understanding and acceptance of human-induced climate change by the vast majority of the scientific community, as evidenced by the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We have seen a tipping point in popular media coverage of climate change issues; although this is not universal, there are almost daily stories of climate change studies and linkages between climate change, severe weather events and economic impacts.
I am hopeful that we are on the verge of another tipping point – that of individuals taking personal responsibility for reducing their emissions and starting a wave of transformational change that flows out from where they live and work to their city, their country and the planet, bringing with it connection, compassion, innovation and opportunity.
If I get to choose a tipping point, that is the one I want. I can see the silver lining glinting through the clouds already….