Gooooooood Friday!

The importance of good news, and what constitutes it, and how to get more of it!

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

The idea of ‘cheerful news’ makes me want to dunk my head in a vat of soup. When John Krasinski launched Some Good News at the onset of the pandemic, there was no bowl of bisque big enough. I know I’m being a churl, but there is literally nothing more grating than bad good news. I don’t want to hear cloyingly uplifting emotional stories. I want the good news to be usefully good. I want it to be good news that points at greater news, and not a false dash of aberrational cheer amidst the bleakery. 

So needless to say, when my hometown hero (he has a tenuous connection to TO, I swear), David Byrne launched Reasons to be Cheerful a few years ago, I was not so sure. But he’s the real deal, so naturally his criteria for good news makes dashingly good sense.

I think what grates about most good news outlets is their number 4ness. Isolated good deeds are rarely repeatable. As DB says, “we’re not all billionaires. The idea needs to be scalable and replicable.”

Indeed. If you can avoid the toxic ‘good vibes only’ strain of positive news, there is a place for rosy tales of things gone right. At work we share positive energy transformation news on our social channels, in an effort to help illuminate a greater narrative of change, across a thousand micro and macro inflection points. The goal is not to artificially elevate the good (at the expense of biodiversity falling off a cliff, and myriad other terrors too great to type without giving myself a panic attack), but instead to chart a course forward. And given the range and quantity and slant of news being reported, and the difficulty we have in parsing it, the stories we choose to highlight are meant to help pull out key events that are worth noting, significant milestones in an epic collective narrative experiment that we hope will have a happy ending. These positive stories support a pragmatic approach to climate. I’m a cautious climate optimist, because there’s really no other choice.

The idea of course is not to share climate news based solely on its goodness, but instead to illuminate the meaningful good news. An interesting solar project is cool. But a huge solar project in the middle of oil country, with a ridiculously low kw/h cost, is meaningfully good. Often it’s about deep context and scale. What is the significance of a large multinational company’s surprisingly ambitious net zero commitments? 

This is all a grand wind up to share a feeling that I’ve been harbouring for the past week. Which is that the meaningfully good feels suddenly imbued with a deeper validity. In the past week alone, China has pledged carbon neutrality by 2060, The UK has pledged to ban gas vehicles by 2030, and California has offered to do likewise by 2035. Yes, all of these pledges could be stronger. Yes, all of these commitments have wrinkles, snags, and very valid questions of viability. Yes, things are pretty dark and there’s no guarantee that we can stave off the feedback effects of warming oceans and melting ice. And still. This is kinda huuuuuuggeeee.

I write about the flip so often in this newsletter that I’ve probably given you whiplash, but the importance of all these big commitments is that they are flipping the norms. And as these norms flip, the language changes, and the pieces on the global board of climate chess move quickly. It’s naive to think climate isn’t a key part of this fight for supremacy, and I like the transparent gamesmanship of it all, because there isn’t time for anything else:

Of course these maiden bold moves are focused on emissions not intersections. And I’m sympathetic to the argument that a world that is exactly the same as the one we have now except decarbonized will still be superbly shitty. But I’m also optimistic that the things that need to change to catalyze the same sort of table-flipping when it comes to social change could likewise be a few bold moves away. And also, there IS some seriously important not just emissions stuff baked into Biden’s climate plan. Good, good, good. 

THIS WEEK

Talk positive climate, and tell me how it goes! I’m lately out of my habit of posting positive climate news on my FB, but this week I will be back at it.

LAST WEEK

How are you taking care of yourself as we head into Winter (sorry, I know this prompt was a bit Northern Hemispherist!)

I love this winter plan from A:

First of all, I have a cat named Posey, and she is always finding ways to snuggle up and get cozy so I am looking to her for inspiration. Right away that means more warm blankets, naps and snuggles in the sun. I am nine months pregnant and one week into maternity leave with my first baby, so I am very aware that we are headed into what will be a particularly challenging winter and am trying to be proactive to combat postpartum/COVID depression.

As an overall approach, I have been able to frame some amount of isolation as a positive. While it would be great to know we could spend this winter seeing friends, bopping out for errands and going to storytime at the library, the idea of having fewer social engagements and being more present with my newborn is also appealing. Less visitors, less shame in slow days and a messy house.

I am also going to buy a new cookbook all about cookies (my favourite dessert), so I can try out some delicious new recipes and give some away as gifts. I am going to make sure I have cozy nursing clothes, including socks, and plan to put out a call for new-to-us puzzles since often you really only do them once but they can be such a great non-screen activity to pass the time.

Books, babes, banter?

I’ve signed up to organize an All We Can Save circle (book club). The book is a beautiful compendium of climate writing by women, edited by the powerhouse team of Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson. If you’re a lady in Toronto (it’ll be mostly online, but I hope we can meet in a park in spring!) and would like to join our circle, we’ll read a little bit of the book and meet online every week or every other week to discuss.  I’m thinking it might be fun to do art together while we draw, though this is not required. If you’re interested in participating, please drop me a line. Hoping to start in a week or so!

 People dancing

Hope you are happy and healthy,
Sarah

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