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Exactly one year ago today, my father and I had a tremendous, wall-shaking, eardrum-bursting debate that quickly turned personal. It wasn't about any of the things that fathers and adult children generally argue over: finances or religion or career. Or even something little and petty, like who was cooking dinner that night.

It was about the future of the planet.

All weekend, my father had been spouting ominous prognostications about our world's future. There were too many people and too few resources. The Eurozone was on the brink of collapse. But, first and foremost, we weren't doing enough to combat climate change, and the consequences -- a rapidly warming earth, rising sealevels, conflict, famine, and disease -- would be dire. Even more gloomily, he believed that there was no solution: no alternative energy source that could satisfy our planet's vast demand for energy. The whole thing was hopeless.

Earlier that New Year's Day I had visited a small bookshop in the town where we were staying, and had bought a copy of The Geography of Hope, by Chris Turner.  The book discussed how various countries are adapting clean energy technologies to suit their individual needs, and argues for replacing fossil fuel energy not with a single "Holy Grail" of clean energy (like cold fusion) but rather a wide array of more conventional technologies: solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal. (Chris Turner uses the phrase "A congress, not a king".) One of the most compelling examples is Samsø, a Danish island that switched from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy -- within 10 years! (For skeptics who argue it's easy to produce wind power on an island, I point you to the example of not-particularly-sunny Germany, which set a world record one weekend in May 2012 by deriving nearly half its energy from solar. In fact, it's currently producing more solar energy at peak generation than it can use, and has been exporting the excess.)

I brought the book over to my dad, asking him to read a segment of one chapter. He spent about 30 seconds skimming the first page, tossed the book back at me in disgust, and declared unequivocally, "It'll never work."

I won't detail the half-hour long, loud, and emotional debate that followed. In the small cabin that we were spending the holidays in, there was little room to walk away from the fight -- which quickly degenerated from a debate into "Is not, is too." Neither of us had hard facts on hand to prove our point; my position was little more than "Human ingenuity and technology will triumph over any obstacle!" and his,"It's too much work and too expensive to get up to scale." Don't get me wrong; we were both passionate about environmental causes. Yet it was because of this very passion, I think, that he was arguing so viscerally. So angrily. He was afraid to hope. Afraid that I would be disappointed in my hope.

But the moment I remember most vividly was the moment he leaned over and, shoving his finger into my face, bellowed: "So what have YOU been doing to stop climate change, then?"

I had been doing quite a bit to help our world, I spat back, thank you very much. I'd just written over a dozen letters for Amnesty's yearly campaign. I donated to a number of causes, and posted almost daily on Twitter and Facebook to try to increase awareness of various issues. One of the big motivations behind my piano teaching career was to make the world a better place…since music can be such a force for change in young children's lives.

And, I went on, where was his approach going to get us? Were cynicism and pessimism going to stop climate change? Couldn't he at least try to keep hope alive, even if he felt powerless to change the world any other way? I quoted Vaclav Havel: "When a person tries to act in accordance with his conscience…it won't necessarily lead anywhere, but it might. There's one thing, however, that will never lead anywhere, and that is speculating whether such behavior will lead somewhere."

We finally stomped off to different rooms for the rest of the day. Neither of us ever brought up the argument again. Yet throughout the weeks and months that followed, the question kept resurfacing in my mind, try as I might to argue it away.

"What have you been doing to stop climate change?"

I'd always been environmentally inclined, but the more I thought about my Dad's question, the more I began to take an avid interest in reading and reposting articles about climate change. I signed up for the 350.org mailing list, and saw that on May 5th there would be a global "Connect the Dots" day of action. Was there an event in my city? I checked, and -- rather to my shock -- found that, though I lived in one of Canada's largest cities, nothing had yet been planned.

I had never organized a protest. Moreover, I didn't want to: it wasn't, as I thought, "my sort of thing". I begged and pleaded with God or the Fates to let someone more knowledgeable take charge. "Why me?" But as the days passed and no event was posted, I realized that if I didn't take the initiative…nobody would.

And I knew I would never forgive myself if I simply sat back, did nothing, and watched the world -- literally -- burn.

So I organized the protest -- which turned out to be a success, and amazingly fun. I made it a priority to seek out and repost and retweet climate change and clean energy petitions. And I became a donor and supporter to groups -- like 350.org, Avaaz, and Leadnow -- seeking action on climate change, and with the membership base and reach to make real change happen.

And then in November, I began writing a series of poems which I posted here: about Christmas, yes, but also the environment and climate change and our current state of the world. And what the future might become if we act now…and what it will become if we don't.

Because I realized after that argument with my father: feeling hopeful is not enough.

Oh, it's a lot better than cynicism or pessimism. And it can inspire others to act and to live in a more positive way. Yet if it is used as an excuse for sitting on one's hands and letting the world go on its way, it has defeated its own purpose.

The purpose of hope is to inspire us to act.

It is as silly to sit around making hopeful predictions as to sit around making pessimistic ones. In Havel's words, neither will lead anywhere, not in and of themselves. The truth is that all predictions -- cynical or optimistic -- about our world, have a central flaw: that we ourselves create the future we are trying to predict.

I know today many feel powerless. Hopeless. Apathetic.

A greater and more pernicious lie has seldom been told, and so widely believed. We are not powerless. We are the creators of the future. Nobody else will determine what happens to human society, to our Earth, except us.

We saw it, in Canada, when Canadians joined together to defeat the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline -- at one time thought to be "inevitable". Americans saw it when, despite corporate election spending and the war on voters and an endless stream of lies, voters joined together to re-elect Obama and stand for marriage equality. Or in Pakistan, where a country came together to decry extremism and demand education for children in poverty after a schoolgirl was shot in the head for wanting to learn.

It is we who create the future. And no matter what, you will help create our future. Either through your inaction, or your action. There is no "neutral" choice. No opting out. You are part of the future.

Don't make a New Year's Resolution this year. Do a New Year's Action to help our planet. Don't try to be hopeful. Do something hopeful. Join together with other hopeful people…like me. Let's make 2013 the year that we, together, take back our planet.

Thank you, Dad, for our New Year's argument last year. Thank you for making me think.

Even more, thank you for pushing me to act.

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Comment Preferences

  •  And thank you for taking action. You and other (6+ / 0-)

    activists make the world a better place.

    "When faced with darkness, be the light."

    by Leslie Salzillo on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 04:57:03 PM PST

  •  A good lesson (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, glorificus, Eowyn9, worldlotus

    not to always avoid a good argument.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 05:00:32 PM PST

    •  Yes, well said! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady

      The problem with most arguments is that the participants go in, absolutely convinced of their own position and wanting to "convert" the other to their way of thinking.

      Debates, discussions, and arguments can be very productive and fruitful, though, if one or more of the participants goes in with an open mind -- not necessarily to be won over to the other position (though this can happen) but simply willing to consider new ideas and to learn.

  •  demand recession then (0+ / 0-)

    we have been brought to where we are by the consumption habits of even a small fraction of humanity (give or take, maybe 2, maximally 3 out of the 7 billion of today). So, honestly, the call "(personally) do something to stop clmate change" has to amount to "consume less" for someone of that fraction (all of us here). So, with the US economy consituted by consumption to 70%, one would have to call for a recession. And indeed, if humanities emissions have shrunk at any time at all, it was during recessions like the recent big one or the Soviet collapse, or wars.

    So, you are calling for people to opt to become what´s called "poor" in today´s society. Who will take you up on that?  

    I have seen a graphics while ago where per-capita CO2 emission was plotted against a social welfare indicator (not GDP; one of the various attempts at defining an actual well being indicator). That gave a distinct curve - at first, well being rises very rapidly with CO2 emission; then there is an inflection point, whereafter per-capita emissions rise rapidly for only marginal improvement in well-being. That that is so might be general knowledge. However, the country most close to the inflection point was Cuba. So, if one wants to balance between the well-being of the people, and the climate issue, one would have to call for people to reduce their consumption levels to that of Cuba. Who´ll take you up on that?

    Other than that, one could conclude that the best thing a high-consumer could do for the climate would be to remove him/herself from the situation. That what you want us (me) to conclude? (That´s about where I am today).

    Avaaz—meaning "voice" in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—launched in 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.
    thats the tragedy of progressive politics of today. If the other three billion living in relative poverty today would be elevated to even modest well being, according to how we do it today, that would amount to instant ecocide of the planet. It is not viable, and no amount of wishing can change that. What is needed is not that they be elevated. They need to be protected from integration into the global destructive economic system. What is needed is that we ourselves be cut down to a size that is compatible with a livable planet. We need to develop (downwards), not they upwards.

    In all seriousness, while I am not a fan at all of the despotic nature of the Cuban regime, I really do think that their level of well-being is what should constitute our aim point. They are not destitute.

    we ourselves create the future we are trying to predict.
    Yes, start here then. With us, not Pakistani or anyone. While Taliban are thoroughly detestable, they are not endangering hope for the planet. By their mode of living, it can take three hundred years, and then still someone can stand up and liberate the human spirit amongst them. We here destroy hope. We - our, Euro-American-Chinese consumption is it that ensures that only the ashes of a depleted planet will remain for our successors to survive in. So, lead the way and opt for what is called material poverty in the US. That and only that matters. Liberation can come at any time among humans; democracy was invented by people of shocking poverty (to today´s eyes). So, renounce consumption. That is what an American of today (or a European, or Chinese, or Indian) can do. No more, no less.
    •  Your position depends on some questionable (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marsanges, worldlotus, radarlady

      assumptions.

      First of all, you're assuming a false dichotomy: either (a) continue our current Western consumer-based system, totally unaltered or (b) all become "poor". What happened to (c) use technology to adapt our current system so that it is both comfortable and green?

      To take a neutral example: my current city is in the process of switching over from a bus-based to a light rail-based system of public transit. Neither is more comfortable, or "affluent" than the other (though the light-rail system will be able to accommodate more passengers). But the light-rail system is by far "greener."

      Another example: right now most city roofs have nothing on them. If we place either solar panels or "green" roofs on these buildings, this will cut emissions and/or reduce the CO2 in our air (by increasing greenspace) at literally no cost to us beyond the basic cost of the solar panels/building materials -- which are dropping rapidly.

      We need smart, creative solutions, not "black and white" solutions. We need to use every ounce of ingenuity we have and work together to combat climate change -- not resign ourselves to "destroy the Earth, or cause a global recession" type of thinking. An economy based on green jobs would be just as affluent as an economy based on fossil-fuel jobs (and by the nature of these industries, would likely place far more of the profit in the hands of the workers than fossil-fuel jobs do -- since sunlight and wind are not "owned" by any person or country). But it would be a lot better for our environment.

      •  more examples (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        global citizen

        (1) I saw a year ago that Sevilla in Spain was nearly self sufficient in electrical energy, due to their constructing advanced CST plants there. (Torresol). That gave me some hope for a while.

        (2) Germany (dear to me: I am German) , the one at least marginally hopeful exampe of a society that seems to give deefossilisation a serious push:

        Use of solar energy reached a new all-time high in Germany in 2012, as (the industry association) announces: the output of the 1.3 million solar installations in Germany nominally covered the electricity demand of 8 million households ... The proportion (of solar energy) in electricity generation has increased by a factor of four within three years while the price of new installations has shrunk by 50% ...
        However, in the same article:
        According to the industry, photovoltaics currently covers about 5% of total electricity demand.
        I am not blind to technological substitution. However, if you look at the scale of the savings/replacements that are being realized even in a country like Germany that is leading the industrial world in this issue, then one has to acknowledge - it is not sufficient; and not only gradually not, but by orders of magnitude not.

        The definite measure to test this remains the cumulative CO2 output of humanity. This is a curve that has not only been continuing to rise all the time, but has actually steepened considerably so in recent years due to development of China (and some others). I will gladly give you all you want on the feasibility of a technological soft landing if this curve once begins to show even some deceleration and reversal.

        The issue I have with your appeal is not that I wouldnt underwrite it. It is where you say:

        What happened to (c) use technology to adapt our current system so that it is both comfortable and green?
        Honestly, I can not see the "comfortable" part. What gives you the idea that an economy that fits in the sustainability limits of the planet would be "comfortable" according to the material standards of today? Just recently, another watch group (Beat me if it was the World bank or someone of that caliber) reiterated that we at current - with our current distribution of wealth - use ca. 1.4 times the sustainable ressources of this planet. Even if you did not do anything to improve the material lot of the poor 1/2 of humanity, that means that you would have to reduce the ressource usage of the non-poor half (us) by somewhere on the order of 50% if you wanted the total to be sustainable. Please realize the dimension of that change.

        Show me where an industrial country of today realizes such a reduction of its footprint while maintaining subjective wealth.

        My point here is that it does not do to go around with unrealistic promises. We have to be up front and honest. Above all with ourselves. Because what is required from us is just not comfortable.

        The one thing that we need to do, post haste, is to separate the concept of welfare and wealth from the level of consumption and material use. And we need to do so because we need to shed that material use. Yes, by all means try to preserve as much of it as possible by better technological means: I am very much aware of the horrible waste that is included in the american way of living - look at your eating habits for a start. You could reduce your carbon footprint significantly by simply eating normal food instead of this stuff that kills you slowly to boot (ask beach babe in fl about that). But we cant go around and tell people "oh we´re gonna get down the carbon cliff without anyone hurting". It will have to hurt because it will have to be a real change, or else it will be futile.

        Realize that if we do not get a world wide reduction of CO2 emissions in 10 years from now, thereafter we will have to have a global emissions reduction by 10 % year over year if we want to have a chance to keep within the 2degrees carbon budget. And that while we have not had a global emissions reduction of any significant size at all since WWII. Also please realize that if we dont manage to keep near the 2 deg, we will set in motion CO2 emissions from changes in the natural cycles that will take the matter entirely out of our hands. And that those changes will then act to reduce the sustainable capacity of this planet - putting us in an even more hopeless situation.

        I dont believe that it is useful to let people feel good in the imagination that we could get out of this mess in a "comfortable" way. Yes we will need all technological ingenuity we have to get out of it at all, hurting like hell. We´ll have to talk to people (ours, not anyone else) to get them to willingly shoulder that hurt (like thy did in WWII times).

        So, you can rightly ask me, "what then? What would you"? and my answer would be - consumption taxes. Starting with a carbon tax - and a real one; I have seen numbers offered on the order of several hundred dollars per ton. This is normally a highly regressive tax and flies right in the face of progressive thought. Hansen thinks it can be done equitably by tax and rebate. I am not sure of that. The outcome has to be that people of limited financial means are forced to make choices that effectively reduce their carbon (generally: consumption) footprint. That rich people would unjustly be able to accomodate that better is bad but better than the wholesale pauperisation that awaits us all if we didnt do anything. Choices have to include where we live, how we travel, how we get our food (and what), the rate at which we use commodities, the types of appliances we have - the whole spectrum of consumer society. To effect this, prices must go up, and severely. If it has to have any effect, it will have to mean long lasting recession in the US (or here in the EU, and certainly in China). I can think of no other means of steering peoples choices than taxation - it works. And yes large scale steering is needed. It will come. The earlier it comes, the easier it will be on everyone. If it comes when CO2 is at six hundred ppm then you can say good night to all welfare.

        •  There will be some loss in comfort, but (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eowyn9

          there are many things wherein that loss of comfort is small and some where there is a gain. For example, we could in some cases have more liesure in trade for less stuff. It would be a very great gain in comfort for some if they had a three day weekend. Also not driving or not driving much is a big gain in comfort. I almost never drive except within my small city. Otherwise I take the bus or train. Huge gain in comfort and time to do other things as I travel. Yes there will be some comfort costs too, but pretty trivial compared to drowning or starving.

          We have only just begun and none too soon.

          by global citizen on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 06:11:09 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Even your Tip Jar is green! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wenchacha, Eowyn9, worldlotus, marsanges

    Seriously though, good on you for thinking through your problem and taking action.  I think I was probably happiest (ecologically speaking) when I was volunteering at a nearby recycling site.
    Since then I've experienced some dramatic carrer path changes and financial downturns that I haven't been able to shake.  On this New Year's Day I'm rethinking  - at 50 - what I want to do to help improve my own position, as well as to help leave a better world for my grandchild(ren).

    -7.38, -5.38 (that's a surprise)

    What is the sound of one hand clapping? Just listen!

    There are no luggage racks on hearses.

    by 84thProblem on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 06:47:08 PM PST

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