Discover more from The Energy Mix Weekender
Don't Let Climate Grief Defeat Climate Solutions
It'll take lots of wins, big and small, to build a decarbonized world brick by brick. We can’t let climate despair slow us down or paint us into a corner.
A summer of wildfires, smoke alerts, heatwaves, and storms is producing a new wave of grief and despair that must not paralyse the solutions we need to get the climate crisis under control.
The reaction is utterly understandable when you can taste climate change in the back of your throat. But it risks drowning out some essential truths that have to guide every step we take in response to this global emergency:
The last chapters of this story have not yet been written.
We still have the power to write them.
And the only way to guarantee that we lose this battle of our lifetimes is if we assume it’s already lost.
The harsh truth is that we’ve known for decades that this moment would come. $200 million buys a lot of misleading PR and backroom arm-twisting, and that’s what fossil companies have spent on climate delay and denial since they turned their backs on their own early climate research around 1984, according to Fire Weather author John Vaillant.
So it was foreseeable, foreseen, and pretty much inevitable that we would reach this point. The crisis is obvious, and obviously terrifying. The solutions are gaining ground, but not yet quickly or widely enough. And the day-to-day grind is getting less aspirational and a whole lot more granular as governments, institutions, businesses, and financiers move from the big-picture “what” of declaring a climate emergency to the detailed “how” of delivering on the transition.
While that tough and necessary work gets done, we can’t let the panic set us back. Particularly when the response is to just shout louder, block more rush hour traffic with street protests, or splash more pink paint on Group of Seven artwork or woolly mammoth statues. Those desperation moves only drive climate concern and action farther out to the margins, at just the moment when climate solutions are moving to the mainstream.
Programming note: You’ve probably been reading that tech giants Google and Facebook/Meta are blocking Canadian media from their news platforms. That makes email subscriptions to The Energy Mix and the Energy Mix Weekender your best antidote to make sure you always get the climate news you need. Subscribe today and never miss another edition!
Building the Future Brick by Brick
Part of the disconnect is that the solutions we need almost always start out smaller and less dramatic than anything that speaks to the immediacy of a cascading, global crisis.
The incremental action items that eventually lead to big wins, then scale up into even bigger transformations, aren’t nearly as conspicuous as a raging wildfire travelling an average 23 kilometres per hour.
But unless we want to put our faith in megaproject pipe dreams like carbon capture and storage and small modular nuclear reactors, the practical wins we need will have to combine the occasional, big political breakthrough with small but significant gains that don’t initially sound like much to celebrate.
Like a wastewater energy transfer system that cuts a hospital’s energy for heating and cooling by 90% and its climate pollution by 250,000 tonnes—so that the idea will only show up in a big-picture emissions reduction scenario when it’s been repeated and adapted in dozens or hundreds of other local projects.
Or an energy management software that allows a big high rise to accommodate up to four times as many electric vehicle chargers before it has to upgrade its utility connection, opening a door for those EVs to deliver lifesaving backup power in the next grid emergency.
Or the City of Nanaimo banning gas as a primary heating source in new homes as of July, 2024.
Or a court case where the judge doesn’t rule against the Ontario government’s active, ideologically-driven hostility to climate action and renewable energy development, but still affirms that seven youth plaintiffs are entitled to Constitutional protection of their climate rights.
Or a South Korean automaker that funds a non-profit to collect 55 tons of plastic waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, announcing plans to reuse the material in its upcoming line of EVs.
A Run of Bigger Wins
The bigger wins are fewer and farther between, but even there, we’ve been on a pretty good run lately.
In a binding referendum two weeks ago, Ecuadorans voted against oil drilling in a protected area in the Amazon that’s home to two uncontacted tribes and serves as a biodiversity hotspot.
California, which has begun styling itself the world’s fourth-biggest economy, has just endorsed the call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Colombia joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.
Global renewable energy investment is set to hit $1.7 trillion this year, outstripping fossil spending for the fourth year in a row.
None of these advances have been easy or perfect. All of them combined won’t be enough to stop the next wildfire or clear a 1.6-million-square-kilometre garbage patch. Not yet. We need much more of the same, and we need it yesterday. We should have been in this place five or 20 or 30 years ago, and there’s no reason it couldn’t and shouldn’t have happened.
But to get the speed and depth of change that the climate emergency demands, we first had to reach the threshold where we are right now. And then the next. We needn’t have waited (fossil companies and their allies needn’t have forced us to wait) until multiple climate tipping points were on the immediate horizon. But finally, so much of the momentum is increasingly in our favour. And that means we have two choices that are not mutually exclusive.
We can rage, grieve, mourn, and track down the resources we need to cope with a devastating global emergency. I’m guessing that most of us have been there from time to time.
And then we have to pick ourselves up and get back to work. Keep on building wins, big and small. And make a habit of listening for the investors, policy-makers, practitioners, and other allies outside the “bubble” who may not spend every day fretting about climate change, but still have their own, essential part to play in achieving faster, deeper carbon cuts.
Stop Shouting, Start Connecting
This line of thinking translates into a somewhat different agenda for climate hawks.
Because shouting indiscriminately at people who aren’t already out there alongside us, working all-out on the climate emergency, is not one of our options. Not if we want to build a wider, louder voice for climate action and solutions, rather than painting ourselves into a self-righteous (and, these days, pink-hued) corner.
A week rarely goes by without the some variant on the same language popping up in email, in our comments section, or on social media: What will it take for people to wake up??
That question is almost always misplaced.
There’s ample evidence in public opinion polls that people in Canada largely understand that we’re in a climate emergency and want something done about it. We also know that a precarious economy, with some of that precarity driven by climate change itself, rips away the time, attention, and dollars that many households would need to put climate solutions or emission reductions at the centre of their day-to-day thinking or action.
So—if we really mean it (and I’m convinced that most of us do) when we talk about climate solutions that leave no one behind, our strategies and messaging should sound like it.
Sending Allies to the Sidelines?
Pointing out that fare-free transit makes it easier and more affordable to get to and from work is probably a more widely appealing message than leading with the emission reductions that also result. But either of those benefits is a whole lot more constructive than blocking traffic to disrupt “business as usual” and get commuters to somehow, magically, abandon the cars they depend on, often for reasons that are far beyond their control.
Tossing washable, pink paint on works of art generates coverage, though the logic is a lot less obvious than if the target were an oil and gas AGM or a fossil-friendly bank. But are the pink paint headlines building a wider climate community or sending potential allies and supporters screaming to the sidelines?
The academic theory behind the protests holds that no non-violent movement has ever failed if it managed to engage 3.5% of the population. But I’ve always wondered—if the climate community can aim to connect that widely while operating on a shoestring, how long will it take for the fossil industry with its various faux-grassroot offshoots to mobilize its own 3.5%? I fear that question may have begun to answer itself in last year’s convoy occupation in Ottawa, and more recently in the smaller convoy-style protests against wildfire restrictions in Shuswap, British Columbia and Yellowknife.
The brutal reality is that, sooner or later, the traffic disruptions and pink paint protests will help drive up despair over the very crisis they’re meant to solve. Sooner, if they convince people farther outside the climate bubble that there’s no other way to take action, or later, when the protests themselves fail to deliver as promised. If that’s right, it means that shouting at people who are already struggling with everyday life, rather than calling them in to a combined agenda of climate solutions, a fossil fuel phaseout, and social equity and justice, is nothing short of malpractice.
None of which should stop any of us from gearing up and spreading the word for Global Climate Strike 2023 on September 15. But maybe we should think about leaving the pink paint at home?
Thanks for reading The Energy Mix Weekender! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.
Mitchell Beer traces his background in renewable energy and energy efficiency back to 1977, in climate change to 1997. Now he and the rest of the Energy Mix team scan 1,200 news headlines a week to pull together The Energy Mix, The Energy Mix Weekender, and our newest weekly e-digest, Cities & Communities.
You can also bookmark our website for the latest news throughout the week.
Video of the Week
As our forests burn, oil companies are doubling down on their old business models (Globe and Mail/John Vaillant)
How Indigenous Techniques Saved a Community From Wildfire (New York Times)
Hydro-Québec's race for more wind power leaves developers scrambling, residents upset (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
GFANZ quietly creates ‘observer category’ for non-members (Responsible Investor)
Kids getting burned on swings and slides? Here’s how to fix it. (Washington Post)