Season for positive change
By Peter Schlosser
“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” Pablo Neruda
It seems there is always a “season” upon us. Some are good, some are less so. Graduation season. Tax season. Fire season. Monsoon season. Sometimes seasons shift, oftentimes they overlap. But it can always be the season for positive change.
We, human beings, are changing our Earth systems, and not necessarily for the better. The April report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Mitigation of Climate Change,” indicates it will be almost impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and it will take great acceleration in the reduction of fossil fuel use and carbon capture technology to achieve limiting the increase to the upper limit of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) outlined by the Paris Climate Agreement. And how we contribute to these negative outcomes is far from equal: across the world, 34–45% of global consumption-based household greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to just 10% of households (predominantly based in the Northern Hemisphere). Allowing for a future of opportunity, rather than sacrifice, is on borrowed time.
And yet, I can see reasons for something that resembles hope. I maintain the conviction that humans have the capacity to do great things. We created a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. The cost for onshore wind and solar energy has been lowered dramatically to a point where it is cheaper than that produced by burning fossil fuel. The IPCC report highlighted that some places have had success with policies that enhance energy efficiency and reduce rates of deforestation. The scientists behind the report also found that digital technologies, including sensors and AI, can improve energy management and promote low-emission tech. Here at ASU, Carbon Collect and the Global Futures Laboratory have “planted” the first MechanicalTreeTM , a passive carbon capture system–technology that is absolutely necessary as we seek to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. We are training and graduating students in a college like no other–one that is dedicated to sustainability, complexity and innovation. The faculty and leadership are dedicated to preparing students for the greatest challenges of our time. Our commitment to a thriving future for all was recognized last month when the university maintained its №1 spot nationally and moved up seven spots to No. 2 globally in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings (see more about this below).
Change isn’t necessarily bad nor good. Humans can make different choices than in the past that will keep the functions of our planet’s life-supporting systems intact without sacrifice. One can argue that if we do not, we will move toward the ultimate sacrifice: self-regulation by the planet. Such a scenario would lead to major reorganizations of the Earth system and immense impact on humankind with suffering at scales not seen before. It is up to us to make the changes necessary to move toward a positive pathway by tapping into our knowledge, ingenuity and community–it is up to us to create a season for positive change.
Peter Schlosser is the vice president and vice provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University. This article first appeared in the Global Futures: Now newsletter on May 18, 2022. Sign up for the newsletter at globalfutures.asu.edu/gfl-newsletters.