Look Beyond the Headlines

By John McIlwain

“Only the contemplative mind has the ability to hold the reality of what is and the possibility of what could be.” -Richard Rohr

Reading the headlines these days is a sure way to experience fear and despair. This is especially true about climate change and the environment. After all, what good news is there when Scott Pruitt is finally forced out of the EPA only to be replaced by a coal lobbyist! Headline news like that offers little in the way of hope or optimism. So do we just give up, shrink back in despair, ignore what we read, and just go on with our lives?

The headlines, however, are not all the news. Dig behind them and you will find much that is positive. Here are a few recent examples:

Thanks to rapidly dropping costs for solar and wind power, REN21-The Renewable Energy Policy Network reports that in 2017, globally, “Solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity installations … add[ed] more net capacity than coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined.”

The New York Times reported on July 15, 2018, that:

The average retail price of electricity in the United States is little changed from 2007, and, adjusted for inflation, prices are actually lower today. This comes as the power sector has reduced carbon dioxide emissions during that same period by 28 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration [E.I.A.].

Wind turbines supplied nearly 15 percent of [Texas’s] electricity last year, up from 2.2 percent in 2007, according to the E.I.A. … Over that time period, the state’s retail electric prices fell to 55 cents per kilowatt-hour, from 10.11 cents, before adjusting for broader inflation.

Reuters reports:

“the Trump administration wants to…streamlin[e] permitting [for off-shore wind turbines] and carv[e] out vast areas off the coast for leasing – part of its ‘America First’ policy to boost domestic energy production and jobs.”

The ISO Newswire reports:

On April 21, 2018, the lowest demand for electricity from the New England grid occurred in the middle of the day, not the middle of the night as is usual, due to the growth in solar PV panels tied to the grid.This was an historic first for New England. Meanwhile, California has been adding 2,000 megawatts of solar capacity in each of the past three years, and at one point in April 2017, 64 percent of all electric power on the California grid was solar or wind generated. Its grid is now struggling with how to manage periods of oversupply from solar and wind.

Behind the grim headlines, the world is shifting. Yes, the process of weaning ourselves from carbon is imperfect, and too slow. That said, the shift is happening around the planet, driven by industry, national governments (except for the U.S.), and in the U.S. by state and local governments. Individual choices are driving it as well; from the cars we buy to the solar panels on our roofs, and even in what we consume each day.

So is the glass half full or half empty? The answer is “yes,” it’s both.  That leaves it up to us to choose how we see the world.

We do need to honor our sense of fear and despair, and face them with courage and mindfulness in order not to be driven by them. Remember that underneath is the deep love we have for our planet, and our natural, heartfelt desire for the wellbeing of all life.

As Rohr says, it takes a contemplative mind to hold both “the reality of what is” and “the possibility of what could be,” namely a sustainable, renewable future. The future is not predetermined; it lies in our hands. It is a more powerful choice to see the glass half full despite the headlines, to chose to focus on the broader reality of the changes occurring around us. Optimism is often a choice that requires courage, but living with a sense of possibility for the future brings aliveness and can propel us into positive action, something despair never can.

John McIlwain is an advisor to the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior program.

Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash.


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