It’s easy to feel pessimistic when scientists around the world warn that climate change has progressed so far that it is now inevitable that societies will transform or be transformed. But like two of the authors of a recent international climate report, we also see reason for optimism.
The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examine future changes, but also describe how existing solutions can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help people adapt to the inevitable impacts of change. climatic.
The problem is that these solutions are not implemented quickly enough. In addition to industry rejection, people’s fear of change has helped maintain the status quo.
To slow climate change and adapt to the damage already underway, the world will need to change the way it produces and uses energy, transports people and goods, designs buildings and grows food. It starts with embracing innovation and change.
Fear of change can lead to worse change
From the industrial revolution to the rise of social media, societies have undergone fundamental changes in the way people live and understand their place in the world.
Some transformations are generally considered bad, many of which are linked to climate change. For example, about half of the world’s coral reef ecosystems have died due to increased ocean heat and acidity. Island nations like Kiribati and coastal communities including Louisiana and Alaska are losing land to rising sea levels.
Other transformations have had good and bad effects. The Industrial Revolution dramatically raised the standard of living for many people, but it brought with it inequality, social disruption, and environmental destruction.
People often resist transformation because their fear of losing what they have is more powerful than knowing they can gain something better. Wanting to keep things as they are, known as status quo bias, explains all sorts of individual decisions, from sticking with incumbent politicians to opting out of pension plans. or health, even when the alternatives may be rationally better.
This effect can be even more pronounced for larger changes. In the past, delaying inevitable change led to unnecessarily harsh transformations, such as the collapse of some 13th-century civilizations in what is now the southwestern United States, as more and more people suffer from the effects of climate change. transformation is inevitable and adopting new solutions.
A mix of good and bad
The IPCC reports clearly show that the future inevitably involves increasingly significant climate-related transformations. The question is to know what will be the mixture of good and evil in these transformations.
If countries allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue at a high rate and communities adapt only gradually to the resulting climate change, the transformations will be mostly forced and mostly bad.
For example, a riverside town might raise its levees as spring flooding worsens. At some point, as the magnitude of the flood increases, this adaptation reaches its limits. The dams needed to contain the water can become too expensive or so intrusive that they compromise any benefits of living near the river. The community can wither away.
The local community could also take a more deliberate and proactive approach to transformation. It could move to higher ground, turn the riverfront into a park while developing affordable housing for those displaced by the project, and working with communities upstream to expand landscapes that capture floodwaters.
Simultaneously, the community can switch to renewable energy and electrified transportation to help slow global warming.
Optimism lies in deliberate action
The IPCC reports include many examples that can help guide this positive transformation.
For example, renewables are now generally cheaper than fossil fuels, so a switch to clean energy can often save money. Communities can also be redesigned to better survive natural hazards through measures such as maintaining natural firebreaks and building houses so they are less susceptible to burns.
Land use and infrastructure design, such as roads and bridges, can be based on forward-looking climate information. Information on weather risks and business insurance rates can help the public recognize the hazards of the products they buy and the companies they support as investors.
No group can make these changes alone. Everyone needs to be involved, including governments who can demand and incentivize change, corporations who often control decisions about greenhouse gas emissions, and citizens who can increase the pressure on both.
transformation is inevitable
Efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change have made significant progress over the past five years, but not fast enough to prevent the transformations already underway.
Doing more to disrupt the status quo with proven solutions can help smooth these transformations and create a brighter future in the process.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Articles in English