How to try and not get climate change depression

Rule 1: Be critical

I want to be happy and hopeful. That’s why I stopped looking at the “news”, basically don’t use social media (no facebook, no twitter, 15 minutes of youtube and instagram max.) and try and read good news.

But when you are critical, you dig and you uncover things. And often, they are nasty things. This happened when I read that article about regenerative farming here. The guy in it, Marc Barasch (a new age author) loves blockchain (the ledger system cryptocurrencies are based on) and thinks that they will enable new ways of financing “green deeds”, so that we can all keep consuming and “do good” at the same time. Win-Win.

I looked into the project he raved most about, the Ant Forest Initiative (also linked above). With 300 million users of the gamified payment system, they planted 13 Million trees.

A typical plantation has a tree planted every 3 metres in all directions, which results in 1111 trees per hectare. According to this study from Australia, tree planting costs (depending on the methods applied) can range from between $1763 ha−1 to $6396 ha−1. I don’t know what the assumed density in that study was, but 1$ to 6$ a tree is a pretty good range to cover what tree planting costs in a country with one of the highest minimum wages in the world. Imagine what it would cost in a country with low wages.

So planting 13 million trees (shrubs, look at the pictures) would have cost them between $13M and $80M. While making a profit of $10 Billion in 2018 (Alibaba). But hey, they are doing something, that’s better than nothing!

If one guy can plant 40 million trees, surely 7 billion people can plant one hell of a lot of trees.

See also my article “Are trees bad for the climate?”

Rule 2: Scale up your worries

Planting millions of trees sounds like a lot. Until you realise that it’s not even a drop in the ocean. Dr Crowther, a Yale Climate & Energy Institute postdoctoral fellow, developed a study that shows we need to plant 1.7 trillion trees to cancel out 10 years of fossil fuel emissions (240 per person). They also found that there currently are around 3 trillion trees on our planet.

So I guess we need to plant half as many trees as currently exist, don’t cut any (or plant even more to compensate) within ten years, every ten years, until we run out of space. That way we can keep doing what we are doing (but don’t emit more). It would also be great if those trees don’t catch fire and burn. Like in Canada, where their forests are actually net carbon emitters! Dammit!

To top it off and burst my bubble completely, scientists from the Potsdam Institute published a study in 2017 basically saying that we would need to plant all our agricultural land and half our forests with tree plantations if planting trees would be the only thing we do to aggressively capture carbon. It’s obviously a bit over the top, because we would be doing other things, like increasing soil carbon, switching to renewable energy and electrify everything, right?

Rule 3: Do the right thing

From the early days of Al Gore we were told that we could be doing something to stop global warming (that was in 2006). Every one of us can switch their light bulbs (he still talks about that in his sequel), use green energy and we should be alright.

The thing is, if you really, really want to change your behaviour and be an inspiration to others, society makes sure that it is going to be hard. This is because the framework of our society is organised in an unhealthy way. The right behaviour gets punished and destructive behaviour rewarded.

Everybody would agree that not having 2 metres of sea level rise would be a great thing (if you think about real estate values on beachfront properties, realtors should be massive greenies). Climate change should be a massive topic for conservative parties, after all, combating climate change is about preserving value.

Yet when the consumer has a choice, it is easier to choose the destructive option. Take flying, for instance. When we took a trip to Rome last month to visit family, we took the train. Taking the train (they use renewable energy to power it), cost us 200€ and 30 hours round-trip (1.5 hour delay each leg). Taking the plane would have cost 40€ and taken 4-5 hours (with airport transfer etc.). Where is the incentive to use the not-so- destructive option? A good example would be Ecosia, where you get two days extra vacation if you opt to not fly to your holiday destination and take the train instead.

But normally, when you insist on doing the right thing, you look like the idiot.

The benefit of tantrums

And looking like an idiot in front of others and yourself is a great way to be unhappy.
Society is like a parent. Its job is to make good rules for the children, so they grow up healthy and can make their own decisions. Decisions, that are to their own and the benefit of the wider society.

If our politicans don’t want to take responsibility like an adult and make some rules that reflect the scale and severity of our impacts and make the destructive habits look stupid, then we must nag them like the good children we are. Throw tantrums and be loud. So that society needs to think hard what should be rewarded, and what should be punished.

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