As far as decades go, the 2010s was particularly hard to swallow. It would be tempting to conclude that the decade that gave us the historic Paris Agreement ended in disappointment, disillusion and deceit. To wit:
- The 2010s was the hottest decade ever recorded.
- The Amazon is burning while the Arctic melts.
- One million species are at risk of extinction (Gizmodo put together this list of all species that went extinct during the 2010s decade).
- We are all eating, drinking and breathing plastic.
- Eco-anxiety is a thing.
- Oxford Dictionary selected “climate emergency” as its Word of the Year 2019.
- COP25 was sabotaged by the fossil fuel industry and its petrostate disciples.
Lest we forget, the 2010s decade will also be remembered for a host of other equally disturbing news, including (but not limited to):
- children in cages
- missing and murdered Indigenous women
- identity theft
- fake news
- opioid crisis
- gun violence
- terrorist attacks
- Deepwater Horizon explosion
- Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline
- refugee crisis
- the rise of nationalism
- election and impeachment of Donald Trump
What does it all mean, and what does it portend for the 2020s?
As I ponder these questions, 90km/hour winds are literally shaking my old farmhouse in eastern Québec, while 4.3-meter high tide surges are pounding and eroding the Saint Lawrence coastline (which should be covered with thick ice at this time of year). On the other side of the Atlantic, 45 million people across nine Southern African countries face severe food shortages from a devastating multi-year regional drought. In Australia, residents near Sydney were told this week that it’s too late to leave their homes in the path of a 370,000-hectare bushfire burning out of control. An unexpected consequence: Sydney’s main drinking water reservoir is now being polluted with bushfire ash.
How easy it would be to just admit defeat – which is what the fossil fuel industry wants us to do – and escape into our soma-induced Instagram-perfect world! And while we’re hiding out in la-la land, why not upload another carefully composed photo of our fluffy new slippers, coffee mug and unread book (opened to the first page, of course) in front of a cozy fire? Don’t forget to ask your friends to 👍!
OK, back to reality.
Despite the relentless denial, obfuscation, obstruction, trolling and infuriating inaction of the past decade – all of which have contributed to the climate crisis and the planetary emergency – I’ve some good news about the 2010s: significant progress was made on a several important fronts. To remain sane, we’ve got to celebrate the victories, and there were many over the past decade. But they were drowned out by the constant onslaught of negative news from both the mainstream and social medias.
“The case for climate optimism is strong,” explains Assaad Razzouk in Episode 27 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy podcast. This particular episode is especially timely for those feeling shell-shocked after the failed COP25 talks. Assaad lists his top 10 reasons for climate optimism – each one compelling in its own right, but extremely powerful when presented together. I’ll list them below, but you really must listen to the full 30-minute podcast to appreciate Assaad’s optimism. He argues convincingly that this is truly an exciting time to be alive: we are living witnesses to massive, unstoppable changes that will transform and define the next decade – for the better.
Assaad Razzouk’s top 10 reasons for climate optimism:
- Massive increase in awareness and mobilization, not just among citizens but entire cities, countries and companies.
- Cost of capital of oil/gas is going up, up up: “Big oil will find it increasingly expensive to finance new projects.”
- Renewable costs are going down, down, down: “Fossil fuel is out of the game, it’s just that some countries don’t know it yet.”
- Electrification revolution of transport: “Electric bicycles are on fire; 100 electric planes are currently under design. Electrification is unstoppable today.”
- Climate lawsuits galore: “More than 1,640 lawsuits right now against fossil fuel companies and governments. We won’t win them all, but the sheer number of lawsuits is a big cause for optimism (by) increasingly exposing the misinformation and obfuscation of big oil.”
- The rating agencies and central banks are on the move: “A huge lever for change: financial markets will stop mis-pricing climate risks”
- Gradually stronger and global pushback against single use plastic and its proponents (big oil, big gas, big petrochemical): “More than 40 countries have some form of ban or surcharge on single use plastic, which represents a big chunk of future demand for oil. If you take out single-use plastics, demand for oil and gas will decline. That has all kinds of consequences for capital costs of oil and gas companies, which means they will not be able to finance new oil and gas exploration.”
- Reforestation, coupled with an increase in nature and marine reserves.
- We are at or near peak emissions, finally.
- You: “There are activist citizens everywhere I look: activist lawyers, activist teachers, activist engineers, activist bankers, activist politicians. Even activist oil and gas professionals. Climate change is affected by decisions we all make, every day. It is always worthwhile to cut carbon emissions. We have the solutions. We are implementing them. Slowly yes, but soon they will be ubiquitous, kind of like your mobile phone.”
Assaad saves the best for last, and it’s the sweetest medicine for any war-weary activist:
“Always remember that we’re winning. We are winning for now… slowly, slowly. But soon, we’re going to be winning all of a sudden.”Assaad Razzouk
Paul Gilding reached a similar conclusion in his provocative 2011 book The Great Disruption: “When we [decide to] act, we will eliminate net CO2 emissions from the economy in an amazingly fast transformation and then move on to the rest of sustainability.” Eight years later, in his most recent Cockatoo Chronicles post, Climate Contagion 2020-2025, Paul predicts that this shift is now imminent: “anytime from tomorrow morning to 2025, but not later.”
“Any time from tomorrow morning to 2025, but not later.” This quite possibly could be the most important forecast of the decade. We’re winning, folks.
“The financial logic of acting is now impeccable, meaning the only thing left is for there to be a shift in sentiment – that moment of an intangible, hard to define flip in how the decision makers in the market see the world. That can happen overnight. And because markets hunt in packs – when they go, they’ll all go. Everything is ready, everyone knows it’s coming, we’re just waiting for the storm to hit.”Paul Gilding
Paul lays out the four critical factors that led him to conclude this shift in sentiment is imminent:
- Clean technology is available, scalable, superior and investable.
- Physical climate change is obvious and accelerating.
- Public engagement and political momentum are rapidly turning.
- The financial markets are primed – from central banks, to lenders to stock markets.
The clean energy transition is just one of many reasons for climate optimism. I was privileged to have spent the entire 2010s focusing my cameras on the men and women who are building our post-carbon future. Being surrounded by such talented people who are actively building climate solutions is the main reason why I have managed to remain optimistic throughout this very depressing decade.
I believe this is what Greta Thunberg meant when she said:
“The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”Greta Thunberg, TEDxStockholm, December 2018
For a truly inspiring discussion about climate optimism, check out this live conversation (starting at 15:40) between TED’s Chris Anderson and Global Optimism‘s Founding Partner Tom Rivett-Carnac. In addition to discussing the history of The Paris Agreement, Chris and Tom introduce Countdown, their new global collaboration to turn the tide on climate.
Here’s my quick summary: According to Tom, “Optimism is most relevant when the outlook is the darkest. It is a strategy to drive ambition, and to drive dedication towards something more positive.” In response, Chris added “Optimism is not a feeling; it is a stance. You don’t need to believe that something is likely or that it will happen; you need to believe there is a pathway there. To be optimistic, you take the stance that ‘What better thing do we have to do than roll up our sleeves and try and tackle this?'”
Four decades ago, during the turbulent Vietnam War and Watergate eras (which were overshadowed by the constant threat of nuclear war), we sang collectively there’s something happening here. Then, as now, people took to the streets in the tens of thousands. Then as now, they managed to shift the needle. If you stop and listen, you can feel it: the times are definitely changing. Just listen to this powerful cover by Brandi Carlile:
As the 2010s comes to a close and we turn our attention toward the next decade – literally the make-or-break decade for climate action – we must ask ourselves: is the glass half full, or half empty? Are we winning, or are we doomed? Do we continue to focus on (and contribute to) the dominant negative news stories, or will we train ourselves to look beyond the doom-and-gloom and align ourselves with those who are rolling up their sleeves, taking concrete action?
We can let them kill this beautiful world— or we can get to work making space for a decent future.Emily Johnston
Here’s to new friendships and collaborations in the next decade!
(Top image by Joan Sullivan)
This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.
Joan Sullivan is a Canadian photographer focused on the energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. She is currently working on a documentary film and photo book about Canada’s energy transition. In her monthly column for Artists and Climate Change, Joan shines a light on global artists, designers and architects experimenting with renewable energy as an emerging art form. You can find Joan on Twitter, Visura and Ello.