October 2018 was a busy month for weather and climate! Over 240 mm of rain – roughly 10 inches – fell in Sydney. The wind blew, to 100 km/h or more on four days at Grand Étang, including a gust to 155 on the Oct. 28. Snow made its first appearance of the season on the 16th in the Highlands, and kept returning for repeat performances. Between the final snowfall of “spring” on June 26 and the flurries of Oct. 16, we enjoyed a snow-free span of only three months and 20 days! Snow lovers are optimistic the early snow heralds a long, white winter. Snow detesters hope we’ve already seen all the snow we’ll get.
But feelings are unanimous about Cape Breton’s autumn foliage: everyone loved it! And this year’s display was one of the best ever. Somehow the ups and downs of temperature and rainfall produced ideal conditions for trees to reach their brilliant best simultaneously, then maintain it day after day despite all that rain and wind. The bright colours seem to have brightened people’s spirits as well.
Oct. 8, 2018 also saw the release of two important items of environmental news. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C”; and the Nobel Committee announced its 2018 laureates in Economics. Both items contained reasons for optimism regarding global warming – if we put our minds to limiting it.
The IPCC report is over a thousand pages long. Luckily, for slow readers like me, its authors are no masters of suspense: they reveal its main message right in its title. They say we need to reduce the 2°C limit for global warming, which was adopted in the 2015 Paris Accords, to 1.5°C. Achieving this goal is possible, they maintain, and will reduce expenses economically and environmentally, and improve human health and mortality rates compared to allowing ourselves the 2°C limit.
Can we meet the 1.5°challenge? It won’t be easy, because our lives are deeply invested in greenhouse gas-spewing habits. We drive 4,000-pound vehicles to the corner store to get a quart of milk. We eat too much animal-based protein. We own two houses though we can only live in one at a time. And we let our power plants burn coal and heavy oil. We’re not working very hard to reduce our carbon footprint.
But our current excesses can be seeds of optimism for the future. They represent massive amounts of ballast, bad habits we can throw overboard before our ship sinks in global warming’s rising seas. We’ll need devices like taxation, cap-and-trade opportunities, funds for innovation, and the like to prod us into action, but the potential for huge reductions is there. It’s good to see the federal and provincial governments seriously wrestle with these issues, even if imperfectly, so far.
Economist Paul Romer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his “contingent optimism”. He believes that optimism, combined with hard work on creative ideas, is a critical component in solving hard problems like climate change. At a recent news conference, Romer said it was perfectly possible for global warming to be kept to a minimum of 1.5°C.
“If we set about making the policy changes that are required here, we can absolutely make substantial progress … without giving up the chance to sustain growth. I hope the optimism will shift over to taking the steps that we need to take.”
Romer continued, “Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that they will make people feel apathetic and hopeless. People think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”
I love the notion that being optimistic about solutions to climate change actually enhances our chances of success. I’m not ready to walk to the store for milk (because it’s too far) or sell our Cape Breton place (because it’s too wonderful). But I can enthusiastically support climate change initiatives, and I love the idea that my positive attitude contributes to solving this immensely difficult problem. That’s a role all of us can play.
October foliage in Aspy Bay, CB. Photo by Jarl von Arlyon.