Oc­to­ber Op­ti­mism

The Victoria Standard - - Weather - BILL DANIEL­SON

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.

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