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The EcoOptimist’s Alter Ego — More News of Impending Doom

[EcoOptimism is not blind. We have our moments of despair. Occasionally, we’ll post a story that tries its damndest to ruin our day raise the alarum.] 

The Interwebs have been flooded, as it were, with articles and posts about the record melting of the Arctic icecap. In case you’ve missed the “deluge” (sorry), here are a couple of links – both from the respected site — along with some bullet points added by me to emphasize the significance of this:

‘Astounding’ Record Arctic Ice Melt May Make Weather Extremes More Likely

Earth’s Attic Is On Fire: Arctic Sea Ice Bottoms Out At New Record Low











Extent of Arctic sea ice, at a record low on Sept 16. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center via ThinkProgress.

This is not the same issue as the previous post from the EcoOptimist’s alter ego on the melting of the somewhat nearby Greenland ice cap, but is in many ways more insidious in the feedback loops it creates. It’s several-fold:

  • As the ice cap melts, it reflects less heat and, because ocean water is dark colored, absorbs much more heat, which in turn causes more melting … and you can see where this is going.
  • But it’s more than that because the warmer air over the arctic causes changes in the jet stream and contributes to an increase in extreme weather and “climate events” like drought, flooding and extreme temperatures.
  • The melting ice cap is also theorized to disrupt the Gulf Stream as colder, fresh water infiltrates the North Atlantic, but you all knew that, of course, if you saw “The Day After Tomorrow.”
  • And don’t forget that the melting Arctic makes drilling for the oil under it easier. It’s another “positive” feedback loop: melting allows drilling, which allows more burning of fossil fuels, which creates more warming, which….

The EcoOptimist’s first – -and very superficial – reaction is that we need to change the phrase “positive feedback loop” into something less, well, positive.

The more substantial and useful reaction is that environmentally frightening news serves to emphasize still more the need for optimism. The Alter Ego provides the stick and the EcoOptimist brings the carrot (organic, non-GMO, of course).

We return you now to EcoOptimism.

Optimism = Possibility

Can it be coincidence that, only two months after the launch of the EcoOptimism blog, Ode Magazine has changed its name to The Intelligent Optimist?

Uh, yeah, it’s coincidence. Much as I’d love to think we’ve already had that kind of influence, they’ve been around a lot longer than we have, and co-founder Jurriaan Kamp writes about the name change here. He relays a discussion about the renaming he had with Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, in which Zander says “I think of intelligent optimism as a discipline, the rigorous discipline to stay in the state of mind of possibility.”

As I write this, their new website is not yet fully launched and the “about” section is labeled “Under Construction.” That may be unintentionally appropriate given Zander’s point about possibilities: “The disciplined intelligent optimist says, ‘It’s too early to judge,’ and asks, ‘What’s next?’”

Possibility is always under construction.

But we can check back with OdeWire’s “about” page (OdeWire is their online component), which says “…OdeWire is always looking at the most authoritative news sources for stories that focus on solutions rather than problems, and on positive changes rather than negative ones.”

Not surprisingly, given the related names, there is a strong parallel between Ode/The Intelligent Optimist’s mission and ours.

EcoOptimism seeks to show how we can come out the other side of our concurrent ECOlogical and ECOnomic crises (ECOoptimism, get it?) in a better place than we started; that not only will the planet be healthier, but we, as individuals, as families, as communities and as a species, can feel fulfilled and be more prosperous.

Our emphasis on optimism doesn’t mean we are always optimistic. We see clouds as well as silver linings. (I’ve never quite understood the phrase ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’ Wouldn’t it mean that we see the silver outer lining rather than the storms awaiting us inside, meaning things look better than they are? But whatevs, as ‘the kids’ are saying these days.)









Regardless of occasional digressions from optimism (‘reality checks’ some might call them), it strikes me that optimism is the only productive route. In terms of environmentalism, the alternative pessimistic route would be adaptation – acknowledging that the sky is indeed falling and we’d better strengthen our roofs.

But does EcoOptimism imply that we not pursue adaptation, or its more positive variation: resilience? Not at all. That would put it in the category of one of my nemeses: the false dilemma. (Note to self: create comic book villain named “False Dilemma.”) We can – and should – work on both prevention or mitigation and adaptation or resilience. The vastly preferable path, in terms of both cost and disruption (“disruption” would be an optimistic/euphemistic description of the potential perils), is prevention. But it may well be that we are past the point of prevention of some ecological disasters. For instance it may be that climate disruption has already been set in motion and, therefore, it would be foolhardy to ignore the steps necessary to lessen the impact. Perhaps there are responses available there, too that are in the vein of EcoOptimism – adaptations that also improve our economy and lives, only without the ecological benefits.

The other appeal of EcoOptimism is its very nature. Fear is usually a great motivator, but it hasn’t been working here, probably because the things to be afraid of are too abstract. We aren’t directly experiencing them or have trouble ascribing seemingly isolated events to a larger picture that we’d rather not see.

Fear motivates in crises like war or epidemics or severe weather (as opposed to climate) where the danger can be felt or easily anticipated, or where we have experienced it before. Ecological disruption falls into none of those categories and that means we need a different motivator. If not fear, then the motivator needs to be desire, which is where the purpose of EcoOptimism comes in.

Optimism is also a nearly genetic part of being a designer. (Non-designers are welcome; it’s not an exclusive gene pool.) Designers look at a thing or a problem and immediately start imagining what could be. Pretty much by definition, that’s optimism. It also means that, in the eyes and minds of designers, things are always “under construction.” There are always possibilities.

Introducing the EcoOptimist’s Alter Ego – News of Impending Doom

EcoOptimism is not blind. We have our moments of despair. Occasionally, we’ll post a story that tries its damndest to ruin our day raise the alarum. 

This one’s a little less timely than future ones will be because we didn’t want to dilute our optimism too early in the blog.

“Nearly all of Greenland’s massive ice sheet suddenly started melting a bit this month, a freak event that surprised scientists.” That’s the lede from a USA Today/AP article. From the gist of the reports, I’d call that more than “a bit.”

“Scientists Say They’ve Never Seen Anything Like This Before” was the quote from ABC that Climate Progress led with (though I couldn’t find that quote on ABC’s site), followed by “NASA reported today some truly shocking findings on the melting of the Greenland ice sheet this summer.”

NASA’s website headlined: “Satellites See Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt.”












We return you now to EcoOptimism.

Sleeper No More

I promised there’d be shorter and sometimes less weighty posts intermixed with oh-so-profound lengthier ones. So at the risk of undermining EcoOptimism’s high principles, here’s the first:

Not sure if it technically qualifies as EcoOptimism, but this is definitely optimism of some sort. (Well, the Woody Allen sort, which means it must incorporate at least some undertones of irredeemable pessimism.) The house from Sleeper has been renovated and updated with lots of high tech goodies, some of which address energy efficiency.

The house was sold in foreclosure in 2010, for less than half of its 2006 purchase price, so I guess we should go easy on the optimism aspect.

At the very least, it makes me want to rewatch Sleeper.