Climate change is a story. A true story. But a story nonetheless. And, like all narratives, it has a beginning, middle and end.
The story began at the turn of the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution when capitalism compelled our species to begin pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in pursuit of profit. Since then, we’ve increased atmospheric carbon concentration by more than a third, according to NASA.
Then came the advent of consumerism during the mid-20th century, when we doubled down on our demands on the planet to provide us with all the luxuries we didn’t even know we wanted. It was around this time that we started to get wise about our global environmental impacts. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring helped kick off the modern environmental movement. Our first forays into the stars gave us a glimpse of the fragility of this Blue Marble we call home. In 1970, Denis Hayes, who I had the privilege of interviewing a few years back for GreenBiz, organized the first Earth Day. More than a decade later in 1988, the World Meteorological Organization established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with the support of the United Nations Environmental Programme.
Now nearly two decades into the 21st century, our climate narrative remains uncertain. On the one hand, clean energy innovation continues to advance and the global community has come together to embrace the Paris Agreement on climate change. On the other hand, extreme weather events connected to climate change are devastating communities and economies around the globe, and the Trump Administration and other denialist forces with a monied interest in fossil fuel extraction continue to peddle reactive climate policies.
But this isn’t the end. The finale of our fate hasn’t been written. We still can influence the outcome of this narrative.
As President Obama once said: "We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it."
Consumerism. Capitalism. These are all stories. And that means they can be changed just as much as the climate.
In his book, "Sapiens," Yuval Noah Harari writes: “Myths and fictions accustomed people, nearly from the moment of birth, to think in certain ways, to behave in accordance with certain standards, to want certain things, and to observe certain rules.”
Harari goes on to explain that these rules create ‘artificial instincts’ that enable millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. This network of artificial instincts is called ‘culture’.
If we hope to curb climate change, we first need to change our culture. And if culture is but a collection of stories, then if we can change our narratives perhaps we can succeed in building a more practical climate culture.
That’s the guiding principle of this blog, Climate Talk, which examines the stories surrounding climate change in hopes of finding deeper insights into these narratives. We’ll look at the past and the present so that we can better determine a way forward for the future.
“Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means for making accurate predictions,” Harari writes in Sapiens. “We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
I hope you’ll join me because we’re all part of this narrative. And we all have a stake in seeing to it that this story has a happy ending.