Optimism abounds despite grim data on climate change, overpopulation, oil depletion, and economy

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      It's not cool to be pessimistic.

      This is my conclusion after interviewing scores of thoughtful people who've wrapped their minds around the most vexing challenges facing humanity.

      Economist Robert Reich, who focuses on growing inequality, says he remains optimistic even though the top one percent of income earners are enjoying 95 percent of the gains in the U.S since the last recession.

      Scientist Tim Flannery, who has written extensively on climate change, has an optimistic view of how things might turn out for the world. This depends on Gaia protecting herself from the havoc being wreaked by her most intelligent species.

      Similarly, environmentalist David Suzuki speaks bravely of humanity's chance of survival in the face of rising greenhouse gas emissions. What's required is more sensible decisions about the use of fossil fuels. He's also optimistic that the Fukushima nuclear disaster won't cause serious health problems for people who eat fish from the Pacific Ocean.

      Gwynne Dyer has written hopefully about geo-engineering rolling back the climate crisis. All it will require is seeding the skies in certain ways to reflect some of the sunlight back into outer space.

      Conservationist Tzeporah Berman seems to think if we work with well-intentioned corporate executives and elect climate-friendly governments, there's a chance of turning things around before some sort of environmental Armageddon.

      Then there's economist Jeff Rubin, who has chronicled the depletion of conventional oil supplies. He often expresses optimism about how people will make do in a world with slow-to-no economic growth for the foreseeable future. He also believes international trade will plummet as energy costs increase, but hey, we'll adapt.

      Meanwhile, media and entertainment executives maintain a cheery disposition even as they acknowledge how the Internet is eviscerating their businesses.

      I spent a fair amount of my Saturday at a workshop with some brilliant young people seeking to enter the media. I'm guessing that they have taken on substantial debts to become educated in ways that I can only envy. Some spoke several foreign languages.

      I'm not optimistic about all of them ending up in their chosen field.

      Later that day, I attended the Amnesty International Film Festival, which featured a movie about brave Mexican journalists killed covering the war on drugs.

      Mexico used to be such a peaceful country, but not any more.

      It's hard to feel good about Mexico's future in the face of all of this violence.

      I confess that I'm troubled by all the optimism I encounter from leading thinkers on inequality, climate change, overpopulation, and oil depletion.

      Adding up all the variables, I've concluded that more global food shortages and increased famine are inevitable. Despite this, our premier plans to build a new bridge to Delta that will result in the loss of some of Canada's finest farmland.

      Having a cheery disposition may make someone sound more pleasant in radio and television interviews.

      It might even enhance a person's likelihood of obtaining book contracts, becoming a media or entertainment executive, or getting elected to high public office.

      But it has a way of sugar-coating problems, diminishing the sense of urgency that we should all be feeling about these crises.



      Jim Beam

      Oct 21, 2013 at 5:27am

      You cannot say a crisis will happen while for 30 years science and the IPCC have only agreed on nothing beyond “could be” and have never said or agreed that we will have an inevitable or eventual crisis. Not one IPCC warning says it and isn't swimming in “maybes”. Dave, you cannot say a crisis will happen, you can only say “could” just like the WORLD of science says. Deal?
      We former believers agree that 30 years of “could be” proves it thankfully “won’t be” a crisis and it wasn’t science that committed any hoax, it was you doomers who didn’t even know what the consensus really was; a “maybe” consensus of nothing. Did Bush condemn billions of children to an exaggerated crisis?


      Oct 21, 2013 at 6:50am

      Thank you for writing about this phenomenon of (false?) optimism! I've been speaking about global warming for the past twenty years, and the the general response is still as though I'd farted in public. No one wants to hear about such things - it's unseemly for a consumer capitalist society to admit that its cherished notion of 'progress' is not all that it's cracked up to be and the future may not be rosy and bright. Alas, such optimism has allowed for climate change deniers, circa 1950 thinkers and the continuation of the same-old, same-old mindset to continue while our childrens' lives become dramatically compromised.

      Karl Rasmosinson

      Oct 21, 2013 at 8:03am

      Science has only agreed it could happen and has never said or agreed on anything past "could be" a crisis so why is Dave saying it will be? Who do we believe, the entire world of science or Dr.D.S.?

      Perry Ulmer

      Oct 21, 2013 at 8:53am

      The ironic challenge is that we're wired to hear (and media's programmed to deliver) only positive messages. David and the others would never get the air time if they spelled out the realities in stark honesty, without the positive spin. (To be clear, I'm not accusing them of dishonesty; they may truly believe the emergency exits exist.)

      In reality, we're as complacent as any grazing herd animal. We'll jump into action faced with an existential threat, but we're not long term planners. Our instincts will never accept the reality we've created as long as our immediate lives are untouched.

      Good article Charlie.


      Oct 21, 2013 at 9:22am

      Joseph de Maistre who wrote in 1811...

      "Every nation gets the government it deserves."

      Until people en mass think beyond their nose and stop being slaves to Nationalism, Corporations & Governments only then will there be action to tackle the serious Climate change issues we face.

      Hopefully it's not to late.


      Oct 21, 2013 at 4:59pm

      It's uncanny that both the scientists and the fundamentalist born again Christian's agree that climate change will bring mass extinction. Scientists use climate data and statistical analysis to arrive at this conclusion while fundamentalist Christians refer to the Book of Revelations.

      Colorado Bob

      Oct 21, 2013 at 9:58pm

      "Get ready little lady, hell is coming to breakfast"

      Lone Wati the Outlaw Josey Wells.

      Rudy Haugeneder

      Oct 22, 2013 at 8:23am

      I have two very good looking adult children entering what used to be known as middle age but no longer quite is, who enjoy life and are still very optimistic about the future and their place in it. However, neither has chosen to marry or have children, yet, and may never do so. As pensioner who is supposed to want to be a grandparent, I am glad they have so far chosen not to and are now at the age where it is not likely to happen. Both are environmentally aware, love the outdoors, and, when asked, are NOT very optimistic about the global environment they both agree we are destroying at a hectic pace. There you have it: they are optimistic about the near and middle future but pessimistic enough about the what happens after a quarter century to not want to bring children into it, although they've never actually said so aloud.

      What goes up....

      Oct 29, 2013 at 1:36pm

      ...must come down. So, don't worry, guys and gals!
      There's a deflationary collapse coming, the likes of which the world has never, ever, ever seen.
      It will solve ALL these problems so swiftly, that the experts, and the worried, and the activists, and the idle, and the "green" bourgeois, and pretty much everybody won't even know what hit them.
      All these problems are about to vanish, so here's a good reason to be optimist. Cheer up!

      tom horton

      Oct 30, 2013 at 10:09pm

      there's a difference between optimism and hope. the former means to be feeling good about our prospects while the latter means you can see how we might improve them. After writing about my native Chesapeake Bay in Maryland for 40 years, I have long since lost my optimism; yet I can still hope. So it's okay to be pessimistic, indeed it's honest in many cases. Hope's not so easily abandoned. You wrote a good piece.