Optimism for 2018


President & Executive Director Philip B. Duffy

Lincoln’s statement about the civil war might apply equally well to the 2016 election: “Each party looked for a result less fundamental and astounding.” Following this surprising outcome, 2017 was an “interesting” and at times dizzying year. While one would certainly find no difficulty citing causes for concern about future climate and climate policy, there are reasons for optimism as well.

The Paris Agreement remains a good road map for controlling climate change. Even as the US announced its intention to withdraw, other nations are stepping up. Symbolic of this is that the only two nations who were not previously parties to the agreement—Syria and Nicaragua—have announced their intention to join.

And while the U.S. federal government steps back from the Paris Agreement and other climate policies, others are doing more. The Trump Administration’s abrupt reversal on climate policy has boosted the growing number of “bottom up” measures by cities, states, corporations, and others, to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. WHRC is setting an example by taking steps that will make our campus energy-neutral by early in the new year.

We also know that climate policies can help economies. It has always made economic sense to avoid the long-term harms from climate impacts, but recent studies have shown that climate policies – such as carbon markets – can actually have near-term economic benefits as well. If true generally, this would remove the most common argument against taking climate action. WHRC is forming a partnership with Tufts University to both design and analyze national and subnational climate policies, in order to maximize climate and economic benefits.

And while policies are helping, renewable energy costs have also dramatically decreased. This results in powerful market forces which encourage deployment of more renewables, and which the Trump Administration is unlikely to be able to counter.

Change can happen more quickly than expected. I often warn of “tipping points” in the physical climate system, but social systems have tipping points as well. We’ve recently seen remarkably sudden changes in attitude on issues like same-sex marriage, and climate change may be next. The availability of affordable renewable energy will help, as will (sadly) the growing prominence of climate change impacts.

And finally, nature can help. The ability of natural systems like forests and soils to contribute to solving climate change gets more attention than ever before, thanks in part to some high-visibility publications this year by WHRC and others. This added visibility is good for WHRC as well as for the future of the Earth.

Still, challenges remain! In particular, expected cuts in federal research funding will make the work of independent centers like WHRC even more important, but also more difficult to sustain. No matter what unfolds in 2018, though, our scientists will remain dedicated to our mission to develop and implement science-based solutions to climate change.

Thanks as always for your interest and support.