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Greening Up — Becoming Fearless

A great irony of global warming is that the means of keeping cool is making warming worse.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

On March 4, 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as the 32nd President of the United States. In his inaugural address, he made his famous statement, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Used as a noun, fear is defined as a very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger.

It is emotions, such as fear or worry, which motivate us to protect ourselves from risk. But as decades of behavioral decision research has shown, most people have to feel a risk before they do something about it.

This presents a challenging situation when it comes to global warming because as researchers tell us, our emotions are shaped by two forms of past experience: either direct personal experience or evolutionary experience.

“Global warming doesn’t make evolutionary sense to us,” says Elke Weber, a professor in the department of psychology at Princeton University.

“Our minds haven’t adjusted to the much more complex technological risks that are removed in space and time,” Weber adds.

Melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels, more intense hurricanes, increased droughts, worse floods, disappearing lakes and water supplies are just some of the dire consequences that climate scientists have been warning humanity about for decades.

“Rapid changes in the weather and temperature are outpacing our traditional ideas for assessing risk, redefining the calculus for economic success, shaking up the geopolitical status quo,” investigative reporter Mark Shapiro writes in his book The End of Stationarity: Searching for the New Normal in the Age of Carbon Shock.

We humans have no innate experience that the consequences of burning too many fossil fuels will be a buildup of greenhouse gases that will dramatically warm the Earth’s atmosphere.

Simply put, human-driven climate change is unprecedented; it has no place in our memory bank.

And so our past no longer offers clues to our future.

In a 7,300-word essay in the July 9th New York Magazine, author David Wallace-Wells aims to tell us all the reasons why our worst climate fears may soon come to pass.

His defeatist prose describes a nightmare future that has already been challenged by environmental scientist Jon Foley as “a deeply irresponsible article, cherry-picking doomsday scenarios.”

In a lengthy Facebook post, climate scientist Michael Mann writes: “The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now, is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.”

Global warming may not appear to be a clear and present danger to many of us in British Columbia but as our skies darken from the smoke of countless forest fires, another emotion is aroused in those of us still safe in our homes – compassion.

None of us want to lose our homes. These mere structures contain our lives, our memories, our accumulated and treasured keepsakes – irreplaceable all.

As the media informs us that thousands are being evacuated from their homes due to forest fires, compassion causes us to imagine what their experience is like.

For many of us compassion will cause us to overcome concerns about self and motivate altruistic behaviour – we will donate money, clothing, or other goods. Some will give their time as volunteers.

For others, this compassion will be the beginning of the journey from Me to We – an understanding of what we can achieve by taking action together.

A forest fire can change the whole economy and the whole quality of life in a community or region. The residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta know that only too well.

Will the summer 2017 fires in BC create a visceral reaction to risk in us and cause us to ask for alternative ways of organizing our lives in ways that will really be sustainable?

I hope many of you answer yes to this question because the blueprint for a sustainable way of living was recently released by environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken and a team of almost 200 research fellows and advisors.

The venture is called Project Drawdown and comes in the form of a book titled Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming and a digital platform.

Climate drawdown means that we not only limit our carbon emissions, but also begin to lower greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

The most exciting part of the plan is that 80 of the 100 substantive solutions to global warming are not new and are already in use. The remaining 20 are in various stages of development.

“All of the solutions we list and model already exist, are well understood and are scaling,” Hawken says in an interview in the Summer 2017 issue of tricycle magazine.

“And virtually all of them are getting less expensive and more practical every year,” he adds.

Many of the solutions like wind turbines, rooftop solar, reduced food waste, composting, LED lighting, retrofitting, mass transit, electric bikes, and recycling are among the usual suspects and grouped under the headings Energy, Food, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, and Materials.

In a sector titled Women and Girls, the three solutions – supporting women agricultural smallholders, providing family planning and reproductive healthcare, and increasing access to education – show that enhancing the rights and well-being of women and girls will improve the future of life on Earth.

Less well-known solutions like pasture cropping, autonomous vehicles, wave energy, living buildings, solar highways, and smart grids are grouped under the heading Coming Attractions.

Most people have not heard of a land-use technique called silvopasture yet it is one of the top ten ways to drawdown carbon emissions. It involves planting trees and shrubs on pasture lands and rotational-grazing regimes that improve meat production in pounds per acre per year. A five-year study revealed that intensive silvopasture resulted in a carbon sequestration rate exceeding 10 tons per acre.

A great irony of global warming is that the means of keeping cool is making warming worse.

During these hot summer days, it may come as a surprise that the most successful way to draw down carbon emissions is through refrigerant management. Our air conditioners and refrigeration systems mainly use chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons. Although these are being phased out by an agreement reached in Kigali, Rwanda in 2016, 90% of refrigerant emissions occur at time of disposal when these chemicals escape into the atmosphere and cause global warming.

The other nine solutions in the top ten ranked in order of effectiveness are: onshore wind turbines, reduced food waste, eating a plant-rich diet, preventing destruction of tropical forests, educating girls, family planning, solar farms, silvopasture, and rooftop solar.

Each of the 100 solutions has been mapped and modeled as to its cost and effectiveness in reducing carbon emissions. The result is a sensible and empowering plan that builds a cleaner, better world.

“We modeled the economics and the overwhelming conclusion is that the cost of climate solutions is now less than the cost of climate change,” Hawken says in the tricycle interview.

“That wasn’t true before. Or you can say that the profit from creating these solutions and implementing them is greater than the profit that comes from creating the problems,” he adds.

Destroying soil, water, air, and biodiversity by continued use of fossil fuels is not a recipe for sustainability.

The solutions outlined in Project Drawdown offer a viable pathway to lowering humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and prove that humanity is already on the case.

Hawken offers some sage advice about the collective willpower to lower CO2 emissions from their current level of 407 parts per million.

He says the required changing of our thinking and our minds doesn’t take 100% or 90% or even 50% to make the change.

“It only takes 5% or 10% of dedicated people to change the balance of the whole.”

Hawken says it helps to look at global warming as something happening for us instead of to us in order to inspire us to change and reimagine everything we make and do.

“We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius.”

Drawdown is an optimistic answer to the doom and gloom that swirls around global warming. It offers convincing evidence that there is something more important than fear.

“What we need to be is fearless, not hopeful, because to be hopeful means that our actions are based on fear,” says Hawken.

We must call on ourselves and our leaders to be courageous and to take fearless action now.

We can do this.

Michael Jessen is an ecowriter based at Longbeach, near Balfour. He runs the consulting firm Zero Waste Solutions and can be reached at zerowaste@shaw.ca