photo credit: https://www.kankou-shimane.com/en/?p=930

When you realize we might be losing the climate battle, fall into Climate Realism.

I joined the ranks of environmentalists some 15-years ago. Like you perhaps, I was an optimist. We were going to do an energy pivot, and redress the looming environmental crisis.

A couple of years ago, a gloom overtook me, as I realized the impossibility of stabilizing the PPM CO2 in our atmosphere before radical planetary change. I realized the impossibility of reaching the targets of the Paris Agreement, and the travesty of COP18 confirms the macabre masquerade. It’s reminiscent of the “Duck and Cover” civil defense policy during the 1960’s nuclear threat; our nation and international community are simply not preparing for what is coming, at the eventual peril of hundreds of millions of people, not to mention fauna and habitat. This gloom began oozing into my personal and professional communication, my resolve to have impact, as I drifted into a state of pessimism. I hated being a pessimist. Who doesn’t love an optimist? That struggle with accepting that I might no longer believe was as disruptive as the non-belief itself. At some point even my wife had had enough: “Deal with it!”…Deal with IT?

How does one deal with visible, predictable, unavoidable disappearance of a planetary continuum?

I’ve since asked that question of many, of folks from all walks of life, generations, ethnicity, attitudes. None had a definitive answer, and most referred to “optimism”. I ask the same question to you, reader, because this is something we need to think about, talk about. If you believe “technology” will solve the problem before our planet is transformed, you have the dream we all have. But perhaps what you are is hopeful…Better have a plan B: reality. And if we are to face the fact that we are headed to a 2% climactic rise this century, then we should accept that practicality is at least as important as optimism. That mindset shift takes one through myriad emotions.

Over the last 18 months, I experienced them all.

Hello, New Reality

Today, I’m kept motivated by a strong dose of realism. I now think of optimism (in context with The Climate Problem) as the opposite: non-realism, which sets me up for failure, as if cheerleading to stop the on-coming train. After 15 years of selling and financing renewable energy solutions and environmental upgrades, I’m clear about what drives decisions, and it’s not the environment. It’s IRR, cost-stabilization, lifestyle visions that prioritize comfort and pleasure, it’s placating government mandates, and/or the attainment of status (including being “seen as green”). Even if CO2 and raw material efficiency were to be forced into control in the US via mandate (CA is thankfully leading the way), the world populace is not yet ready to follow. Witness the Gilets Jaunes in France, where the lower middle economic class violently rebelled against a restrictive environmental law (gas price increases to push a switch to hybrids and ev’s). Witness the explosion of pollution out of Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam, China, etc, where fast rising economies are floating earnings up, allowing billions of people to move into car-ownership, meat eating, tourism, consumerism, all grossly destructive behaviors we in the West cannot seem to shake while fully aware of our own excesses.

And I witness my own hypocrisies, like a personal habit of ordering online with the expectation of immediate delivery of an individual package, and fondness of crackling wood fireplaces, and my trips on jets across the globe in the interest of ends other than climate emergency…all while I resolutely drive EV’s and forego plastics and meat.

So, Realism:

From my point-of-view, it’s too late to lick the disastrous trend, because consumer behavior points to other priorities, some of which are basic, like survival. Notwithstanding the amazing discoveries and inventions that will grace us over the short term future and beyond, I feel that turning our global ship will take far more time than the dozen years before climactic reality really hits the fan. Today, 47% of americans still think that our current consumer habits have no impact on climate.

Slowly a new way of thinking will emerge, hopefully in the next couple of generations. Those of us who preach, teach, lead, plead, will see our work weave itself into an eventual larger effort that will imbue planetary re-education. Over the course of, say, a hundred years, hopefully, we will have stabilized the situation, or be working on returning it to a semblance of what it was around the time that folks of this era were born.

But in the lifetime of anyone reading this piece, we will watch the bi-product of millennia of culture that took us to this juncture, the fruits of survive-at-all-cost, divide-and-conquer, rape-and-pillage, greed and power, the competitive models that led to the rise and establishment of civilizations. Can a critical mass of earth’s population move to prioritize the planet over individual’s needs and desires? Can eventual technologies scale and change behavior in less than one generation?

Coming to truth while accepting hope

Truth needs to hurt before behavior will bend to it. Today, the truth is only wind in the ears of most. Its brute force will mark increasingly but slowly, like a progressive Indian burn. At some point, when the majority of us on the planet are scared, things will change, governments will change, behavior will be mandated, anger and panic will drive it. A new course will be charted.

These thoughts are meant as neither pessimistic nor gloomy; just…real. It’s time to adapt, and stop wishful thinking. We can and must continue to work on solutions to pass on to the next generation(s), but we must also see, accept and nationally and socially anticipate the unfortunate odds of climate change.

“What about hope?” asked one of the many I’ve questioned on this subject.

Hope is to optimism what luck is to a poker player…You can’t bank on it, and you’ve got to know when to fold them. We can have hope while accepting that this phenomenon seems bigger than our global capability to counter it over the next 20 years.

None of this should keep us from participating in and celebrating the excitement of the challenges and opportunities ahead, technological, socio-political and otherwise. It’s just good to emotionally prepare for what will likely be a more difficult world. I wish you a wonderful and productive new era.

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Philippe Hartley

Philippe Hartley

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Musings of an L.A. serial entrepreneur on the rapid tides of a consumer-dominated world.