A Positive – and EcoOptimistic – Outlook

I recently came across this great post citing the reasons 2015 will be the year that changes the socio/economic/political world of energy production and thereby undermines climate denial. The post is by Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption, and presents some convincing evidence that it isn’t the politicians (though he cites the US/China deal) or the public, but the business world that will come around.

There has been a lot of discussion about not just climate denial but science denial. We’ve tried for years, starting perhaps with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, to convince the public by using science – and sometimes by using fear — that climate change is real. Many people have indeed been convinced, but it’s still less than a majority.

In Gilding’s post, he writes: “…science is now largely irrelevant in this process [of convincing people]. If the scientific evidence was going to shift the system, it would have done so by now….” He continues “What we have to look for instead is evidence of shifts in the human response, not the ecological one.”

The cover of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic

The cover of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic

He goes on to cite six reasons that the human – and especially the business – response is changing. I’ll list them here, but you should go to his post to read the explanations:

  1. The US China Climate deal – how change really occurs
  2. Collapse in oil prices [Which would seem counterintuitive, but many, including Gilding, have argued otherwise.]
  3. Solar price falls set to continue
  4. Market prices reflect economic disruption
  5. The political power of big business starts to shift sides
  6. Physical impacts accelerating and driving economic and security impact

While this list, without his explanations, seems a bit vague and jargon-y, it basically amounts to an EcoOptimistic outlook, that the economics of energy will cause businesses to come around to the realization that fossil fuels have no future economically as opposed to environmentally. “[W]hile many climate activists focus on the political power and influence of the fossil fuel industry, I see an industry scrambling to defend itself against overwhelming forces that will see it destroyed – not in a mighty moral crusade but something far more brutal and fast – the market turning on it.”

According to a Treehugger post, even the National Bank of Abu Dhabi — yes a Middle East bank heavily invested in fossil fuels — has concluded that “‘fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price’, and that the majority of the $US48 trillion needed to meet global energy demand over the next 20 years will come from renewables.”

This goes to the core of EcoOptimism: that, contrary to the public perception, there is a synergy between economic and ecological goals.

There is much more in Gilding’s post. Though he doesn’t refer to it, the issue of our unfortunate inability to think in the long term lurks in the background. We humans concentrate on short term needs and issues. Long term ones are too often not considered in our decision making, especially when that long term is intangible and may not be in our lifetimes. This explains why some environmentalists now emphasize what the impacts will be on our children.

Businesses, too, driven by quarterly profits and reports, tend to think in the short term. But they’re now beginning to see the long term issues. When your primary resource appears destined to become what Wall Street calls a stranded asset, that gets the attention of board rooms.

What Gilding does discuss is another barrier: realizing the scale of an issue, but not being able to cope with it and, therefore, ignoring or even denying it. “This is not climate denial but an example of “implicatory denial”, the rather bizarre ability of humans to accept a risk but then stop processing the implications, just because those implications are so overwhelming.” That’s where the economic influences take over. If convincing the public (and Republican electeds) through either science or fear isn’t working, perhaps newly enlightened businesses – especially those that contribute to political campaigns – can.

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