Finding Optimism in the Fight Against Climate Change

The following transcript, courtesy of CBC Radio, is from the October 24, 2023 episode of The Current, with Matt Galloway. The interview originally took place during the Vancouver Writers' Festival, which took place a few days earlier. If you wish to listen to it rather than to read the transcript, listen for the second topic in the recording of October 24th, 2023.

Guests: John Vaillant, Rebecca Solnit and Chris Turner

MG: Hello, I'm Matt Galloway and you are listening to The Current. It was in Vancouver at the Vancouver Writers Festival this weekend where I moderated a conversation about one of the most urgent issues of our times that is climate change. After a summer of disasters in Canada, a lot of people might be feeling unsteady, maybe even at times despairing. I spoke on stage with three people who have thought deeply about the threat that our world faces and what might be done about it, and perhaps crucially, reasons to feel hopeful in the face of that threat. John Vaillant is the author of Fire Weather The Making of a Beast. It describes in horrifying detail the wildfire that engulfed Fort McMurray in 2016 and what that disaster tells us about our relationship with climate change in the 21st century. Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than 20 books, including Hope in the Dark and A Paradise Built in Hell. She recently co-edited the anthology Not Too Late Changing the Climate Story From Despair to Possibility. And Chris Turner is a journalist and author who spent two decades on the climate beat. His most recent book is How to Be a Climate Optimist Blueprints for a Better World. Here's our conversation from Vancouver. John, I wanted to start with you. You and I spoke in May just when the book was coming out and the wildfire season had already begun. I wonder if you had any sense as to how awful it was going to be?

JOHN VAILLANT: In a word, no. I don't think anyone really could have imagined. I mean, there may be fire scientists and forest hydrologists and, you know, they've seen this coming. It feels new to so many of us, but it isn't new to people who've been on the file for a long time. But even, you know, I've been immersed in it now for seven years and never would have imagined that it would have crossed the continent. Australia calls those terrible fires they had back in 2019, 2020. They're Black Summer and Canada is, I hope, finally wrapping up its Black Summer, which is, you know, pushing five months now. It's it's new territory. It's historic territory. And I don't think anybody saw it coming with this kind of total conviction.

MG: You were in Ottawa last week and you gave testimony at a parliamentary committee, which was extraordinary. We're saying, I don't know many bits of testimony that go viral. This is, if you haven't seen it, 5 minutes of contained, informed fury about the world we're living in and what's happening. What was the reaction to that in the room?

JOHN VAILLANT: It is absolutely surreal to be in that space. There's about 12 amps in there and you've got your conservatives and your liberals. And then there's Charlie Angus, who brought me in there. He's NDP. I was absolutely bringing it, and so is Charlie. And what I get back, you know, this conservative lady is, you know, talking to be well about the arsonists, you know, and it just it's very disorienting. And you kind of wonder what's going to stick. And it really what's going to stick is the fact that we were there seeing the things that we were saying and that those things are now reproducible and shareable. And so articles were written. The National Post actually covered the grilling of Rich Kruger, who's Exxon brought in to keep Suncor profitable in some pretty rigorous ways that are very disconnected from the terrible fires that have been burning. And so he was kind of asked to explain himself and just unbelievable ethical, moral cognitive dissonance that was crackling in the room was very strange to be in. But because it's recorded, we get to now analyse it and share parts of it. And so I think that's its utility. Certainly nobody's mind was changed in that room, I don't think.

MG: One of the things you said was if we don't reduce emissions, we are going to make this planet uninhabitable. Rebecca, You watched that?

REBECCA SOLNIT: I did. I've rarely seen somebody sum it up in such a powerful way. I think, John, you said their business is fire. We have so many euphemistic and evasive ways of talking about fossil fuels, including not naming them. A lot of people don't know that neither the Paris climate treaty nor the Green New Deal actually say the word fossil fuels. And John just said it, as he does in his book, that their business is burning things. Their business is burning the fossil fuel, but their business burns everything ultimately.

MG: Chris, in your book, you talk about how doom is easy in some ways, but I think a lot of people feel the doom is on the doorstep. How worried do you think we should be about about what is to come.

CHRIS TURNER: The immediate reaction or the maybe the necessary first reaction to the climate crisis is one of panic, fear, terror, anxiety, worry. These are all not just legitimate, maybe necessary, but things like this summer we just witnessed. This is now the, you know, atmosphere and climate we live in and we'll continue to build a better world in. And so for me, I think it was it was more than anything a reminder of how difficult it is to feel like any progress is being made when the visceral reality around us, you know, is very easy to look at and I find hopeless. You know, the thing about the climate crisis is that the victories occur on different battlefields from the losses we see where we're losing. But all this summer, we continued to also build out a, you know, new clean world at an unprecedented pace. It's not in your face. You don't see it all the time. But we are making extraordinary progress on that front. And I think one of the very difficult kind of mental spaces that we are going to have to get more and more comfortable with is recognising that we are making great progress, even as the immediate world around us looks in some ways like it's falling apart.

MG: One of the most fascinating parts of your book, John, is it how you talk to people in Fort McMurray, residents, officials there, and document in some ways how very little changed in the wake of that fire. Why do you think that is?

JOHN VAILLANT: It's really shocking. I think a lot of us, at least on this file, have a feeling that, oh, and people go through these catastrophes, it's going to kind of create. Converts to climate action, to a more deeper conviction about, you know, climate change. And it's almost the opposite. And this has been one of the more profound things that I learned and it took seven years to do. It is people are really devoted and and loyal to their status quos. And so what the people that I interviewed, you know, dozens of people up there, all of their lives have been changed. Some of them have permanent respiratory issues. If they were firefighters, a bunch of them have PTSD, a bunch of them have other injuries. A bunch of them have just moved out of town. But they want to mostly what they want is they want their old life back and they don't want to go protest in Ottawa or they don't want to make any kind of major change. They really experience this terrible disruption and they want it back.

MG: Do you understand that?

JOHN VAILLANT: Oh, I absolutely do. And I actually it makes me understand Rich Kruger of Suncor also, because his whole life is built around the petroleum industry. And so now people are challenging and pushing back against that and saying this is actually carbon capture is not going to do it, pal. You know, we really have to decarbonise and for him, everything that he values, his whole sense of himself and his identity is built around the petroleum industry. So asking people to dismantle that or abandon that, whether they're a haulier driver or an executive, it's still, you know, challenging is a nice way to put it. I think, you know, it could be really threatening and certainly destabilising. Well then what will I do instead? And that's a profound question.

MG: Rebecca, do you think that we're willing to make that change? I mean, so, so many of us will have to change huge parts of our lives. The belief is and I just wonder whether your sense is somebody who you write about, you know, redefining abundance and thinking about abundance in a different way. Are we willing to make those changes?

REBECCA SOLNIT: And the first thing is, who's we? The richest 1% of human beings on earth have twice the carbon impact of the poorest 50% of humanity. And so that poorest 50% is is not the problem. I do think that we need to change the story. Every crisis is partly a storytelling crisis, and we're constantly told that we live in an age of affluence and abundance and this is the best it could possibly be and have another burger and drive a bigger truck. There's no inevitable about how we change the world to try and overcome the crisis, but there are definitely many versions in which there's more hope, there's more social connection. I think a world in which people aren't consuming so much as one in which they don't have to produce so much. AKA they have more time. And time in some ways is the ultimate luxury. I think obviously we need to dismantle the fossil fuel industry. We need to make a swift energy transition, but we also need to change how we measure abundance, how we imagine what the good life looks like, what we value. It's partly an imagination crisis, and those two things I think, are inseparable.

MG: Chris, do we need to dismantle the fossil fuel industry?

CHRIS TURNER: More or less? Potentially, yeah. And I don't mean that as a hedge, but if it were a very simple process, then I would describe the simple process and off we go.

MG: Because you write about that in the book as well. In terms of what's the role of that industry in helping to figure out what's ahead.

CHRIS TURNER: Yeah, and I think as John is pointing out, whether it's whether you're talking about the CEO of Suncor or you're talking about folks in Fort McMurray who went to build a, you know, what they considered a better life, it's understandable that there is an enormous amount of inertia in that status quo. And the energy transition we're going through right now is happening much, much faster and much more deliberately than anyone that we've ever experienced before. You know, these are processes that historically have taken hundreds, if not thousands of years to move from one energy basis to another at that sort of society wide or planet wide scale. And obviously doing that is going to, you know, disrupt a lot of stuff that people are invested in. And I say that mainly to say it's completely understandable to me that folks in Fort McMurray or in Calgary where I live feel very, very threatened by this. It's a challenge to their wellbeing. It's a challenge to their identity. So what do we do about that? Well, long term, we know we have to get as close to zero emissions as possible, as fast as possible. I think what we're seeing already, which is really encouraging, is that the position from which that status quo is defended is already giving ground. Suncor says it is going to be a net zero company by 2050 or whatever. What does that mean? Well, it doesn't mean much really, and I think that but they had to concede the point. And I think that that's where like when I talk about like needing to declare kind of victories in the middle of this chaos, it is no longer of no interest to the fossil fuel industry that this transformation is happening. It is no longer off their radar. It is no longer not a threat. They are now defending from a point of view of conceding that the transformation has to happen. They're not going to lead it. They're not going to. Accelerate it, but they're already giving ground. And I think that's important to keep in mind When we feel like nothing's being done, there's no progress being made. In addition to all the other stuff we're doing to literally reduce emissions, we are also seeing that status quo begin to shift in its own slightly weird, awkward, maybe slightly hypocritical way to kind of have. Joining us.

MG: John has a wry smile on his face.

JOHN VAILLANT: Yeah, they're not going to help, but I've been following the quotes of big oil companies CEOs through the summer, and my sense is they're all doubling down. And so this is not I'm not at all contradicting what you're saying because they are talking about 2050 that most of them will be safely dead by then. And so, you know, I don't know if this is what's happening, but my sense is they see the end coming and they're going to run the wheels off this thing. And that's where I get this kind of renewed focus and almost even abandoning greenwashing. Let's just you know, we're just going to actually really take care of the shareholders here. And that was Krueger's message that that's the reason he was called in to Ottawa, because he was So, you know, we're going to lay off 1500 workers and we're getting rid of our profitable renewables business. We're giving that to somebody else, and we're going to really focus on profits. And that's not just Suncor. That's my sense of what what big oil is doing in general. But I think that actually is an indicator that they sense time is limited and maybe I'm deluding myself, but that's my interpretation.

MG: Chris What about politics? Part of what is really fascinating in your book is the bit about when you ran for office and what you learned about compromise and playing the long game and what how, you know, nobody gets everything that they want. What did you learn about the political dimension of change from your experience in politics.

CHRIS TURNER: To maybe sum it up? Political institutions are intrinsically pretty slow moving and conservative not conservative in an ideological such conservative in a These processes take time. We have a bureaucracy that grinds along, so you learn that change is really, really hard and it's understandable that it moves at the pace that it does. It would be nuts to come out of that process and think, oh, you know, political leaders are going to set the pace of this. They aren't. People can, technology can, but you're not going to get, you know, a consensus of of of U.N. leadership emerging out of the next round of climate talks, saying we are massively amping our ambitions. We're going to move way faster than the never before, that, you know, it's asking an invertebrate to grow a spine. That's not what those institutions were built to do. And the good thing again, though, is, you know, as a lagging indicator, again, you can feel everyone trying to catch up now. I mean, probably the most important thing, I think in the last 20 years in terms of climate action for the planet is that so renewables generally, particularly solar, is now cheap and ubiquitous, but it was not driven by the U.N. or even by the German government, which had a big role in it. It was driven by, you know, opportunity and investment and technological innovation and competitive advantage. And nowhere in there was a climate declaration from the U.N. or any given government the driving force behind that.

MG: Do you understand why, Rebecca? I mean, as somebody who talks a lot about hope, when you hear of those big climate meetings, the climate summit, some people go and there are more lobbyists than there are political actors who are there, that people feel despair and feel despondent that they don't when the folks who might have their hands on the levers of power, people might not feel that they have their best interests at heart.

REBECCA SOLNIT: What tremendously powerful looking political bodies do is they don't begin the process of change. At best, they ratify it. The easy example for me is the US Supreme Court did not give us marriage equality. They did not hand it down from above. Millions of queer people came out of the closet, fell in love, got to be known and trusted and familiar. And so we had a completely different world in the world that criminalised being queer, treated as a disease. The culture itself changed so much that what was inconceivable a few decades before began to seem completely legitimate and realistic and in line with what the Constitution guarantees is. So they almost had no choice but to do it. But it was really the people who did the work. And I think that's how a lot of change really happened, that the institutions eventually caved to a new reality created by grassroots movements, the public's names, individual visionaries. They are not leaders. They are the very end of the process. They're sweeping up after our parade. So just as they will, they will not do it for you. They will do it when they have no other choice.

MG: John, you were in the room last week with those politicians.


MG: Do you have much faith in political leaders to execute that change, drive that change because they are deeply involved in helping to shape policy?

JOHN VAILLANT: Who after? It was sobering being there. I honestly felt a little bit like everybody was on lithium and it was just a strange energy to be around. And then, you know, Charlie Angus was all fired up, the NDP guy from Timmins, Ontario, and he's a scrappy guy from a mining town. And then what I felt, you know, from others was just either just nurturing the status quo of the petroleum industry or a kind of timid, mealy mouthed, tender questioning, you know, don't mean to offend. But could you explain and we're past that and a lot of the world is also past that. And I feel like in that sense, you know, Canada is is following you know, is not leading in this regard. And I was, you know, calling that out. And I mean, this is where I you know, I really feel alignment with what you were saying, Rebecca. You know, I think people are going to drive it. I think business is going to drive it. And, you know, for example, in just Texas, you know, the Alberta of the United States is embracing renewable energy like that, some of the biggest oil wells in the world and the biggest oil fortunes in the world were made in Texas. And they are really leaning into wind and solar right now. At the same time that Daniel Smith is is putting moratoria on wind and solar and actually dissing Texan investors who are their allies, like who are wanting to bring billions of dollars of investment into Alberta, but for renewables and there's a money opportunity here that's being missed.

MG: And that was the mic drop at the end of your testimony, which was right now we are perfectly poised to embrace the greatest greenest energy opportunity the world has ever seen. You remember what your last words are? Yeah.

JOHN VAILLANT: Who's stopping us? But it's going to happen anyway. I mean, this is where you realise the number of projects and the magnitude of the projects and the speed of the rollout in so many places in the world is truly eye popping. And not just in China but in Scandinavia and in again, in Texas, sort of the last place you'd expect. You know, they go hard when they see a good idea and they see the dollars, they go hard. And so that that part is super exciting. And it's people in business and you can just see political movements and politicians running along behind to kind of grab the coattails and maybe take some credit for it at some point. But yeah, it didn't feel a whole lot of energy in the room that I was in.

MG: Chris, do we really have what we need to make this transition? One of the things that you'll hear from people is there are advancements being made, but the big sticky problems we're nowhere near yet and that we're betting on magical thinking or worse.

CHRIS TURNER: Yeah, no, it's definitely not magical thinking I reject.

MG: It's not magical.

CHRIS TURNER: Categorically. Yeah. We now so the energy transition as a phenomenon, it's interesting. I was I was just thinking the Paris climate treaty, which was by far the most successful of all of those. One of the architects of it was winning the rights to be on a French diplomat. And when she was looking back from five years on, she said, you know, that the way they designed it, one of the things was they wanted to create a sense of inevitability around the transition, that that was a huge piece of what they were trying to do by not getting too bogged down in numbers and technicalities. And I think that that inevitability has, in fact, emerged. It may take longer than we'd like. You may occasionally have the Daniel Smiths of the world on this issue.

MG: She's the premier. She won the election.

CHRIS TURNER: She is in the best she can do is not hand out new permits to yet more solar farms in southern Alberta for six months. That's not a winning position. Whether those solar farms go in and to Annapurna or somewhere else. She's losing that fight regardless because the technology, the sort of emerging suite of tools to build a clean energy future are now becoming cheap, ubiquitous, better than the alternatives. You know, I mean, here in Canada, Atlantic Canada is now Canada's leading jurisdiction by far for new heat pump adoption, much more efficient, much cleaner way to heat a home. Not because everyone in Atlantic Canada suddenly became, you know, super intense climate warriors, but because it's the cheapest, best, most efficient option for their home. And that is already emerging. And that bunch of technologies doesn't get us all the way. But the trickiest parts of the emissions picture long term, I would say look increasingly solvable.

MG: The reason why, despite all the reason that people use phrases like magical thinking is because you've said that there's no way that according to the climate models, we get to 2050 unless we include things like carbon capture and storage, which people will tell you at scale or not isn't really happening yet at the way in the way that it needs to. Work for us to dig ourselves out of the ditch.

CHRIS TURNER: Yes. And ten, 15 years ago, it did not look like solar would be a major piece. And then it spent the last ten, 15 years plummeting in price, becoming ubiquitous, becoming much easier to install to the point where it is now the leading new source of electricity on all the world's grids. So if we're looking ten, 15 years out, which is kind of the time horizon for potentially fairly ubiquitous carbon capture or carbon removal of whatever sort that we come up with, do I think that we've built that better mousetrap for it yet? No, but we do have, you know, commercial scale, direct air capture being built in Texas, incidentally, by a by an oil company, which is very awkward. Let's leave that aside. But that is a viable technology. It's not anywhere near what it needs to be cost wise or scale wise. But none of this stuff was where it needed to be cost wise or scale wise ten or 15 years ago. And that's where the the optimism comes from is seeing a process. I don't think, you know, we did a really good job for the last ten years and now we're just sort of plateauing in carry on. I'm seeing a, you know, a rocket taking off.

MG: Are you as optimistic as that? I know you differentiate between optimism and hope, but when you hear about the potential and the way that Chris talks about technology as yet perhaps unproven, but he's very bullish on.

REBECCA SOLNIT: It, I'm smiling because you've done your homework so well and I read the books I can tell and some other things besides I distinguish between hope and optimism, because for me, optimism and pessimism are both confidence that they know what will happen. But people use optimism in different ways. And for me, hope is about a sense of possibility within the radical uncertainty of the future. The future does not exist. We are making it in the present with what we do or failed to do. And something that's really helped me understand how to look forward is looking back in 1973, Indigenous rights, the women's movement, disability rights movement, queer movement and the environmental movement were all these kind of young rough movements, still kind of framing their arguments, finding their language, building their power, etc.. But so many things that are good in 2023, or because people did things in 1973 without knowing even who they would become without even having a real blueprint for the world they wanted to make in 2073, made people look back and say, The people in 2023 couldn't imagine this moment, but blessings upon those who did everything in their power to make the world that we're in now. They made it better. We can look back and say that we can't look forward. And so we have to do what we do without knowing what it will do, which is really silly. Okay, Now I have sort of tied myself into a human pretzel. It should stop, but you all know what I mean. So thank you.

CHRIS TURNER: Before we leave the topic, if you don't mind me quoting Rebecca Solnit, If you open up how to be a climate optimist, you will find on the epigraph page a quote from her book Hope in the Dark, which has been a guiding light for me. I read it on a layover on my first trip to Denmark to go look at the first renewable energy island the Danes were developing in 2005 and sat in this pub glaze eyed and just page after page, flipping through it, thinking, Yes, this is why I'm chasing these climate solutions that I don't know what they look like and I don't know who's using them. But there has to be something out there that's better than this. And the line at the start is that it would be better if we were astonished all the time. But what we've got.

REBECCA SOLNIT: I didn't know that I did that. Case in point. Yeah. Thank you, Chris.

MG: The authors, Chris Turner, Rebecca Solnit and John Vaillant. We were speaking on stage this weekend at the Vancouver Writers Festival. Will continue that conversation in 90 seconds. Optimism and hope are good, but what if we are too late to actually solve this crisis? A question that we will discuss coming up. I'm Matt Galloway. You're listening to the Current on CBC Radio and the CBC Listen app. Stay with us.

MG: Hello again. I'm Matt Galloway and you're listening to The Current. This weekend at the Vancouver Writers Festival, I had the chance to speak onstage with three authors about one of the most pressing issues of our time. John Vaillant, Rebecca Solnit and Chris Turner have written and thought a lot about climate change, about hope and about solutions to the crisis, and we'll pick up that conversation which we began before your regional update. What if we're too late? Jonathan Franzen wrote that book First, an article called What If We Stop Pretending, which was about how we're already sunk, and if we just acknowledge that, then we could deal with things like mitigation. We could start to deal with the mess that we're already in. What do you make of that argument?

REBECCA SOLNIT: I find neither climate leaders nor frontline communities are full of people who want to give up and surrender. Obviously, it's too late for some things, no matter what we do. Ice will continue to melt, but we do have some control over how much it will melt. Sea level rise is inevitable, but how much it rises. But for lots of things, it's not too late. And why would you give up? You know, giving up to me is a dishonourable, lazy way to live. And you should live your life with valour. Should live your life with commitment. You should live your life knowing that you don't know what the future will look like. As Chris was saying. Ten years ago, we did not really have viable alternatives to fossil fuel the way we do now. It turns out if you love climate a lot, you have to look at graphs all the time and there are these graphs of implementation going up and these graphs of prices going down constantly. For renewables, the problems are being solved. And so, you know, obviously too late for some things. It's not too late for everything, and it's certainly not too late for all of us to commit to the future, which is what? Because we are making the future in the present.

MG: John, what do you make of that? I mean, what 200,000 Canadians is that the figure had to flee their homes this summer?

JOHN VAILLANT: Yeah, 200,000 Canadians on the road.

MG: So given that, is there not an argument to be made that we should be focussed on some sort of disaster planning on figuring out what we're going to do with this, because the number could go up next year and probably will.

JOHN VAILLANT: It could go up. I mean, here's the thing that I feel like we forget and I feel like the discourse pushes us into forgetting, and that is we're really quite sophisticated people and capable of carrying more than one idea at a time and pursuing more than one agenda at a time. So mitigation. Fire plans? Absolutely. I got the best letter from a guy from Harrison Hot Springs. Ten or 12,000. It's an absolute fire trap. There's only one road out. And he read my book and he brought in the coots as these great fire chiefs from Slave Lake. And they are changing the culture of that town right now. They're coming up with this very elaborate ten point mitigation safety plan. And so that's super exciting. But the other thing about it is this astounding, otherworldly resilience that is integral to the earth. And so in absent in Fort McMurray, which burnt to the ground to the point that even steel, warped and steel doesn't melt until 2700 degrees Fahrenheit, absolutely apocalyptic, otherworldly temperatures place burned, you know, was simmering for days. And then I got a photograph from an insurance agent, you know, of this graveyard of of crumbling concrete and ash and thrusting up through the ash are these tulips yellow and red with green leaves. And it was like nothing had happened that, like, the whole neighbourhood was gone and these flowers waited it out and they kind of, you know, tap their toe and eventually it's okay, let's do this. And an update came and it was so victorious and beautiful people planted them without knowing. And so to me, there's a real lesson in that, you know, you really don't know what's going to happen. No one had that plan for those tulips. And yet there they were just kind of shrugging it off. So that to me, that's planet Earth. And and that's kind of the default mode in my understanding of where we're lucky enough to live as abundance and flourishing is what it does when you're not killing it actively. So if you stop killing it, it's going to want to do this thing that is really beautiful and that's, you know, that's why we're all here.

MG: Rebecca What astonishes you now?

REBECCA SOLNIT: I'm kind of a slow mo astonishment person. I think part of why I'm relatively cheerful because I feel like a lot of people, like, something really good happens and then they're over it 10 minutes later. I'm actually astonished by the energy revolution and that it has been so transformative, so unseen, so gives us. It's a way out of a lot of our climate problems and so invisible because it happened too slowly for most people to see it. So I'm astonished by the commitment of people in the climate frontlines, the climate movement. I'm astonished by the venality, the shortsightedness, the greed, the willingness to destroy the world for next quarter's profits of the fossil fuel industry. And there's you know, you can be astonished in both directions. I'm astonished by the moral beauty of half the world and the moral ugliness of the other half.

MG: What do you say? You have a teenager, right? I do. And I ask this in part because of the conversations we've had around our table. Which are you did this, Your generation did this. We're going to have to fix this problem. What do you say to that generation about where they can find what you call it? Plausible optimism.

CHRIS TURNER: Plausible optimism. Yeah. And where you find plausible optimism is that I began in 2005 on this. That's when I kind of formally started dedicating all of my journalistic time and effort that I could to looking for climate solutions, not knowing what I was looking for, not knowing how it would go if I had found all these little green shoots, all these little tulips coming up through the dust and ruined like as John said. And if I'd found them, you know, oh, they're doing a little bit of this in Denmark and this in Germany. And oh, there's you know, there's amazing green building in Thailand. I'm going to go see. And if all of that had been just one offs and demonstration projects that went nowhere and whatever else. And then I came to my kids and said, Hey, here's your tool kit, good luck. That would not be plausible optimism, plausible optimism as being able to go to them and say, look, the climate that you're going to have to do this against is really going to suck sometimes. And I'm sorry, but the tools are there now. Your generation can pick them up and build a better world with them. Maybe they're not all there, but there's genuinely a bunch of stuff that I saw as these little green shoots 20 years ago that now works and works so well, in fact, that, you know, as I said, you know, even even the fossil fuel industry has had to kind of concede that that stuff's working now. Now they'd just like to fight it. But the speed of it and your generation can overwhelm that easily.

MG: Do they buy it safely, halfway?

REBECCA SOLNIT: It's very popular to frame. The older people did nothing, and now young people should do everything, which I think dumps an unfair burden on young people while they're still young and we're still alive. And for starters, there are a lot of older people doing it. I feel that divide itself is kind of toxic and not accurate. I mean, like there is a kind of generational segregation, I think in a lot of North America that's really destructive. And I think Intergenerational Elegy is good for movements and everything else.

MG: When you think about it and I'll start with you, Rebecca, because you think about hope, when you think about what that world might look like, how do you frame that? What do you imagine if we are able to come together with intention and purpose and urgency to try to tackle this? What's the world that you hope for?

REBECCA SOLNIT: I don't have a clear vision of it, but the example I use before you can move towards a better future without knowing exactly what it will look like. I feel like we're all we can do for the future. Future is some blueprints and pile up building materials that will get built gradually in a way we absolutely can't imagine that.

MG: That uncertainty is hard, though, right? It's really hard to live in that uncertainty, isn't it?

REBECCA SOLNIT: Apparently it is for a lot of people. I find it reassuring because it's full of possibility if you think you know exactly what the future looks like. You're essentially trapped. There's one version. It's inevitable. There's no wiggle room. There's no change. So uncertainty has a kind of freedom and possibility to it and a kind of responsibility because we're making that future. It does not exist.

MG: Chris, what does that future look like for you?

CHRIS TURNER: I would say it'll be the same model that's always been. People will continue to be wonderful and fallible and our political systems will continue to fail us and sometimes lift us up. There will be all the usual stuff. What I would say is I would bet on the default settings of a generation from now looking a lot better from the point of view of the climate, by which I mean, you know, if you aren't really thinking about things, the, you know, the transport you use, how your home is lit and heated, the kind of work you do, all that stuff, the baseline settings on those will be much better. They will be low, if not zero emissions, hopefully zero, but at the very least low. The increasingly attractive and desirable and stable looking choices will be the ones that are the cleaner choices. I think we're already kind of almost at that point. So that kind of switch in the default setting, that's the I think that's the most important change I see hopefully occurring in the next whatever decade, two decades.

MG: In your heart of hearts, where you hope for that better future, what does it look like for you?

JOHN VAILLANT: Oh, I mean, it's going to be a both hand, you know, it's going back to that, you know, being able. The whole two ideas at once. And there are going to be places that are we're going to be negotiating with intense heat for the rest of our lives, and it's going to change agriculture. But there is going to be agriculture. You know, there's going to be food and water. I really do feel like we're in a 2007 smartphone moment with renewable energy. You know, there's in 2006, they didn't have them. And in 2009, 11 year old kids had them, you know, and there was this incredibly rapid uptake. And, you know, we're dealing with a global energy system. So it's going to take longer. It might take a generation, but it is happening with astonishing speed, and that is super exciting to me. And then the other thing, the the upside to these really painful indicators that we're getting from planet Earth is the petroleum age. It allowed us to create an illusion of distance and separate from the the rhythms and the needs of the planet. You know, to the point that we were able to kind of roll over it in this very protected way. And what the earth is now telling us is we can't do that. And and so as painful as it is, it's also really getting our attention. And I think it's an invitation to reacquaint ourselves and renegotiate and develop a more kind of collegial, egalitarian relationship with the planet. And and there's so much possibility and knowledge in our species and in the land for ways to to to reconnect, to heal and and to create something more stable and enduring. You know, we've been through 150 years of incredible instability. That's normal to us because we were marinated in it. But it isn't normal. It was an experiment and the results are now in and we now need to I think we can go forward with this incredible renewable energy explosion, but we need to go back in terms of reconnecting to earth systems and and how it grows and how it holds water and how it processes heat. And we can do that. We did it before. So it's going to be again, this both end of of looking back and remembering whether it's traditional burning practices or different types of agriculture that are better at holding water and then this incredible new burst of energy possibility. So it's super exciting time and really glad to be here for it.

MG: I feel less scared.

JOHN VAILLANT: Right now, more hopeful. Right.

MG: It's great pleasure to have all three of you here with us on stage to talk, as I say. But one of these issues of our times. Thank you very much. John Vaillant is the author of Fire Weather The Making of a Beast. Rebecca Solnit, the co-editor of Not Too Late Changing the Climate Story From Despair to Possibility. And Chris Turner's latest book is How to Be a Climate Optimist Blueprints for a Better World. We were speaking onstage at the Vancouver Writers Fest on Sunday.