[Image: Tolosa in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan | © John Javellana]
Alluding to tempests seems particularly apt as coverage of storms rampaging down East Coast Australia knock a submarine Paris off Australia's front pages. And, yes, I know one–off natural events such as these have happened in years gone by, but they continue to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity: remarkably just as climate scientists have been telling us they would for a decade now.
We continue to live in interesting times. Times when respected scientists are pushed to saying "shit just got real" about climate change, when the world continues to break monthly temperature records like there's no tomorrow and a global coral reef bleaching event brings tears to the eyes of those studying it (and, if truth be told, to my eyes as I made the mistake of reading an in-depth article on the current bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef late one night last week when sleep eluded me).
And that lack of sleep is probably what caused a break in my usually optimistic demeanour as I resisted (just) the temptation to repeatedly slap my head in frustration at the inability of humankind to just get on with dealing with the challenge climate change presents us. I mean, how many studies, signs, predictions, warnings, climate models – let alone actual natural disasters – do we really need before we slam our foot on the accelerator of the solutions to this slow–motion climate train wreck that seems to be unfolding before us?!? (Actually, perhaps my optimism hasn't been as shattered as I thought given my choice of the term 'slow–motion' when the latest indications are that it probably isn't going to go as slowly as the scientists predicted it would just 5 short years ago!)
But those who know me will realise that I struggle to look at a glass half–full for long. And given the work I now do exposes me to more and more of the potential solutions, as well as to many of the organisations that are fighting tooth and nail to shift human society as fast as possible to a zero–carbon way of life, I have a pretty established way of getting my positive–skewed equilibrium back in place now.
And the "glimmers of hope" that brought me back from the brink this time are actually relatively insignificant if examined individually, but collectively provide evidence of the momentum that seems to be building daily in certain 'climate solutions' areas. The first glimmer was the announcement by UK engineering company Dyson of its foray into battery technology and electric vehicle (EV) research; the second Latrobe University's plan to completely divest from fossil fuels within 5 years; and the third the tender by Solastor to build a 170MW solar–thermal 'baseload' power plant in South Australia.
To me these three announcements neatly illustrate the fairly dramatic progress that is being made on multiple fronts in spite of the ongoing challenges with transformational climate policy. Dyson moving into battery technology and EVs is as clear an indicator as you can get that some of the key technologies we need are starting to shift mainstream; the Latrobe announcement is just the latest in a growing stream of similar announcements as the divestment movement rapidly approaches it's own tipping point; and the Solastar news provides the most obvious sign yet seen that baseload power from renewables in Australia is much, much closer than even the optimists were daring to dream might be the case.
Now these three examples (and the many other similar ones that you don't have to dig too deep to find) certainly provide some cause for optimism that we will eventually turn away from the fossil–fuel driven madness that is increasingly being called 'the anthropocene age'. But here's where I return to the 'tempestuous times' mentioned in the title of this post. Whilst the optimist in me sees the potential for human society to move into a zero–carbon prosperity in the (relatively) near future, the realist now recognises just how painful that transformation is really likely to be. The loss of life; mass migrations; the famines and increase in poverty; the general reduction in biodiversity; the irreversible degradation of areas of irreplaceable beauty like the Great Barrier Reef; the great economic, social and environmental cost of all we are about to go through. 'Tempestuous times' indeed.
So what's to be done? How can each of us as individuals find a way to face up to this coming reality and try our damnedest to make the tempest as short as it can possibly be?
Well, I'm only qualified to speak for myself, but if the last year has taught me anything, it's that every single one of us needs to keep striving to find the strongest part we can play in this unfolding story. It's taken me nearly a quarter of a century, but finally I feel like I know how to make my contribution. I might wish I'd got there sooner, but in reality that just gives me the added urgency I need to make as much of that contribution as I can.
And if that urgency isn't enough to drive me on when the tempest seems just that bit too overwhelming, I reckon I've got about 5 short years in front of me before my eldest daughter turns to me one day and asks me just exactly what I've been doing to help protect her future – and why aren't I doing more?