It’s a heavy time to be alive. We all feel it — the collective anxiety from war, pandemic and climate change threatening our ways of life.
It got a little heavier this month, as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published more guidance on what the world can do to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
The bottom line — we’re still not acting fast enough. Our CO2 emissions globally must begin to fall within the next three years to prevent the worst case scenario.
As the effects of climate change creep closer to home for everyone on the planet, it’s becoming impossible to see it as someone else’s problem. Last year, I came back to British Columbia from the COP26 climate summit in Scotland to find much of my home province underwater. The optimism I’d built up in Glasgow was immediately put to the test. As the reality of living in a changing climate sinks in, many of us are feeling powerless and fearful.
The good news? I really believe we’re making positive strides towards mitigating these disasters. It’s hard to see, but if you want to look for optimism in the face of fires and floods, here’s three areas that remind us there’s still hope yet.
Finding optimism in nature
I’ve noticed an encouraging shift in the past two years — one echoed by the recent IPCC report. There seems to be a collective willingness to look at nature’s ability to help us navigate the climate crisis.
Nature-based solutions are ways of conserving, restoring and better managing ecosystems to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These solutions could provide up to 30 percent of the climate change mitigation needed to limit global warming, while generating trillions of dollars in economic benefits for people like farmers.
Consider this — in the world today, there’s too little carbon in the soil and too much carbon in the atmosphere. One of the best ways to correct that? Photosynthesis — the thing we all learned about in grade school. Now, it would be an oversimplification to say this basic staple of life can single-handedly reverse the effects of climate change if we create more green spaces to suck up atmospheric carbon. But at a time when we need to rally the planet, it’s one of many nature-based solutions that people can get behind right now. On the smallest of scales, even planting more plants in our own gardens can make a difference.
I often found it incredible how many people involved in the fight against climate change overlooked these simple, regenerative solutions. I saw that begin to change in 2021.
Looking to data for direction
With all pros, there are cons. A major challenge for nature-based solutions right now is proving them, and supporting them to scale. The good news here is that we’re seeing so much activity on developing measurement and verification tools to establish an inscrutable business case for change.
We know these keys to fighting climate problems can reach scale when they’re backed by hard evidence. Consider mangroves, for example. These tropical shrubs are a natural solution to protecting coasts from waves, and they’re cost effective. Studies have shown growing mangroves can be two to five times cheaper than building breakwaters, and work just as well to prevent coastal erosion. Planting mangroves went from being an overlooked defence mechanism to a no-brainer.
When it comes to trapping carbon in soil, it’s a common-sense decision for farmers. It leads to healthier crops and more resilient farms. But we need to show objective data on how much carbon is being stored and how it’s helping farm health. In fact, that’s what our company is working on, building the tools and techniques to measure and show the myriad benefits.
The reason to be hopeful? As we continue to get better data across the board, we will be able to hold ourselves accountable to our climate pledges.
Look in your fridge
Granted, all these things can feel like big fish to fry for the average person. If you want to find hope in something you can control, focus on your food waste.
Nearly one billion tonnes of food is wasted worldwide each year, accounting for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We produce enough food to feed the world, but much of it ends up in the landfill, where it rots and produces methane – a gas much more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon.
However, composting converts rotting food into carbon-rich soil while keeping more emissions out of the atmosphere. In other words, reducing food waste and disposing of food and fiber more mindfully is one clear and quantifiable step we all can take to make a difference.
I still consider myself an optimist, but I know we have a steep hill to climb in the next few years. We’re too late to avoid climate change, but it’s not too late to change our systems, adapt and mitigate, with the hope of slowing its progress until we can someday turn the clock back bit by bit. By focusing on what we can do, looking to nature for answers, and maintaining clearer data, the world can work differently.
Indeed, that’s where I find hope: biology naturally moves back to balance. It’s been happening for millennia. There’s no doubt in my mind nature will regenerate eventually – but the future of human civilization is up to us.