In the days right before this last, zen week of family time and no email, I read a few news items about the sorry state of our global commons. From the real costs of extreme weather ($52 billion in damages in the U.S. alone in 2011) to massive dangers in the melting of the global permafrost (which could quickly account for 15% of global emissions), the news was not good. Add in the failure of global climate negotiations, and it’s hard to stay positive about our future.
And yet, there is so much progress (see my top 10 stories of 2011 for more on both sides of the equation). In those same couple of weeks pre-holiday, Yale e360 published a great story about a big utility CEO, NRG’s David Crane, and his compelling, reality-based case for green energy and electric cars (he also, much to my great enjoyment, called those who say they don’t believe climate change liars). Another story, a New York Times piece, described how the latest iteration of the age-old Coca-Cola/Pepsi war is about which company has the greenest bottle.
Fossil fuel CEOs taking climate change seriously, companies competing head-to-head on green, and from my top 10 list, companies like Patagonia and Unilever seriously pushing the envelope on sustainable consumption…these are pretty good signs.
And while I was mulling all this, I took an eye-opening family trip to ski in Great Barrington, MA last week. There’s no natural snow right now — so the ski industry knows that the climate is in fact changing. The vacationers get it as well…some folks on the lifts told us that you’d have to be crazy to not believe anymore. But even so, I was surprised to see how much the region appeared to be embracing green.
For example, the two restaurants we picked randomly both had significant environmental efforts. The first, Barrington Brewery, uses solar power to brew the beer and the second, Four Brothers Pizza, captures its used cooking oil to produce energy. Also, on the way into town, we drove by the Berkshire School and saw the largest private school solar array in New England (a stunning 2 megawatts covering 8 acres).
I choose to see all these microcosms as harbingers of the future. The full logic of green — the economic, environmental, social, and moral imperative — is dawning on everyone from joe skier to fossil-fuel CEOs and local entrepreneurs.
Of course at the macrocosm level, the brutal facts coming out of the scientific community are not pretty, and staying positive is hard. So I choose optimism — we’ll get a lot more done if we believe that our species will in fact get its act together.
But of course it wouldn’t be a New Years’ resolution if it were easy!
(Andrew Winston advises businesses and writes about sustainability green business issues. He operates a blog, “Finding the Gold in Green“.)