Good News and Climate Change (Yes, You Read That Right!)

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 12: Activist shout during a demonstration near the Arc de Triomphe at the Avenue de la Grande Armee
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 12: Activist shout during a demonstration near the Arc de Triomphe at the Avenue de la Grande Armee boulevard on December 12, 2015 in Paris, France. The final draft of a 195-nation landmark agreement on climate has been submitted at the United Nations conference on climate change COP21, aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions and keeping planetary warming below 2.0 degrees Celsius. (Photo by Agung Parameswara/Getty Images)

Excuse me if I take a flier today and write an introduction on the good news about climate change. Yep, the good news. It would, of course, be easy enough to do the opposite. When it comes to climate change, gloomy is a cinch. Just about any piece on the subject is likely to depress the hell out of you. Did you know -- as I learned only recently from a New York Times article -- that sea levels rose at a rate of 1.7 millimeters annually during the previous century, but from 1993 on, that rate has nearly doubled to 3.2 millimeters? Later this century, scientists estimate that it could be "16 millimeters a year, or about six-tenths of an inch" -- at least three feet by century's end and possibly worse, depending on what's melting and how fast. If you're a coastal dweller as I am (the eastern U.S.), that should give you pause, and if you live in a coastal area of China, you should be getting nervous. But I did say good news, didn't I, and it is the weekend that 195 countries reached a climate agreement in Paris, isn't it? So here goes.

Let's start with the divestment movement. In Paris recently, the heroic 350.org announced a startling figure. More than 500 institutions representing $3.4 trillion in assets have agreed to get rid of all or part of the fossil fuel investments in their portfolios. That represents a big leap forward for divestment. And this is just one aspect of a growing global climate change movement that wants to point us toward the exit when it comes to the age of carbon and is proving that it can't be ignored. And speaking of carbon emissions, here's a little news flash from the atmospheric front lines: it's just faintly possible that those emissions are peaking ahead of schedule. Despite a modest global economic recovery, for the last couple of years greenhouse gas emissions have flat-lined and they may even fall by a modest 0.6% in 2015. Don't dance a jig yet. This may not even be the "peak emissions" moment, but if not, it could be coming more quickly than expected.

On a planet getting hotter all the time, this isn't exactly nirvana-style news, but add this in: it had been hoped that somehow the negotiating nations of the world gathered in Paris these last two weeks might agree to the goal of keeping the prospective rise in temperature on planet Earth to 2 degrees Celsius. As it happens, climate scientists have increasingly been warning that even that number could result in devastating environmental disruptions. To the surprise of all, the aspirational number now mentioned in the Paris agreement is 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Humanity has already fossil-fueled the temperature upward by about a degree since the industrial revolution began.) Of course, agreeing on such a figure is one thing. Coming anywhere near achieving it is another.

Still, good news and climate change are not normally associated, so let's give a tiny cheer for these glimpses of upbeat news this week, as well as for the agreement just reached, and then consider what's positive in the long-term outlook for all of us. There, too, as TomDispatch's invaluable energy expert Michael Klare suggests in "A New World Beckons," there's a green glow on the horizon amid the gloom when it comes to renewable energy sources. So don't pop that champagne cork yet, but don't write us off yet either!