Why I'm Optimistic About Our Climate Future

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The Krafla Lava Fields in Myvatn, Iceland

By Maximilian DeArmon

In March 2016, future leaders gathered for a few days in Iceland - the land of Vikings, volcanoes, black beaches, lava fields, green moss, ice caves, glaciers and geothermal energy. These high school students were traveling with EF Education First to attend this year's Global Student Leaders Summit, which focused on The Future of Energy. My colleagues Missy Lahren, Theo Badashi, and myself were privileged to lead a workshop entitled "Filmmaking for Positive Change" where students created their own film treatment based on a social or environmental issue they cared about. We also screened a film we produced on renewable energy called The Future of Energy: Lateral Power to the People to highlight what is already happening with renewable energy worldwide.

On first arrival, my senses were awakened to see the youthful spirit and enthusiasm of both the participants and the facilitators around a topic that is usually quite boring - energy. Energy, something that is so fundamental to modern civilization, and yet somehow it's mostly overlooked unless it relates to electric bills, gas prices, engineers, or environmental activists. But there we were, with students who were ready to explore the possibilities of an energy revolution.

As we began to engage with the students and listened to them talk about the future, one thing was very clear - they were filled with hope. They were not only filled with hope but they were excited about the challenge. They were excited to create a new energy future and move away from the harmful use and production of fossil fuels. They see renewable energy as a way to be creative and solve problems. They see this energy revolution as a window of opportunity for technological innovations, job creation, and building a sustainable future.

The hope they feel is not unfounded or solely idealistic. All around the globe, governments, businesses and local communities are implementing 100 percent renewable energy and getting phenomenal results. Professor Mark Z. Jacobson at Stanford has crunched the numbers and shown that it is economically and technologically possible to reach 100 percent renewable energy globally by 2050; Sweden plans to become the first fossil free nation; Iceland is getting all of their electricity from renewable energy; Burlington, Vermont is already generating 100 percent renewable energy for its citizens; Hawaii has pledged to be 100 percent renewable by 2045; New York and California both have mandates for their States to be using 50 percent renewable energy by 2030; China is pushing for a renewable energy integration mandate; and, there are many more examples from around the globe that can be found at Go100Percent.org.

This shift away from harmful fossil fuels is not only good for the environment and peoples' health, but is proving to be financially beneficial as well. In 2015, global investments in renewable energy broke records at $286 billion while only $130 billion was invested in fossil fuels during the same period. Clean energy investments now outperform fossil fuel investments 2-1. In the U.K. wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce. The United States built more Solar than natural gas in 2015. Apple is running its worldwide operations on 93 percent renewable energy, and Google has a plan to get their operations to 100 percent renewable energy too. And recently, Tesla Motors introduced its Model 3 electric vehicle, which became the best selling electric car in one day, and sold 400,000 pre-orders in the first month of sales. It appears that the financial returns on renewable energy are now a wise investment and are on a path of exponential growth.

While the renewable energy industry is taking off, there's a simultaneous movement to divest from fossil fuels. Institutions around the globe have already pledged to divest a total of 3.4 trillion dollars from fossil fuel companies. And while natural gas produced by "fracking" is being sold as a clean energy bridge fuel, places such as France, Scotland, and New York have banned the practice all together, with many others placing heavy restrictions. After the successful international agreement made at COP21 in Paris, and an agreement reached by the G7 nations, it seems the end of the fossil fuel era is in sight. As energy specialist Diane Moss likes to say, "the question is not if we will transition to 100 percent renewable energy, it is how and when."

These are only a few examples of why I feel hopeful about the future. From what we saw in Iceland, future world leaders are ready to take on this challenge and create a sustainable world for all life on Earth. If we match these students' hope and enthusiasm with emerging technological innovations, financial incentives, and regulations on fossil fuels, we may have a chance at overcoming the ecological crisis we face.

For many decades we have focused on exposing the atrocities of environmental degradation with the hope that someone would listen. Well... now that everyone is listening... we can turn our attention to the solutions. We can turn our attention to the future leaders who are hopeful and ready to take ac-tion. We can turn our attention to rebuilding our social systems to reflect greater ecological and cosmological systems. This gives me great hope for the future of humanity and the entire Earth community.

Maximilian DeArmon is a philosopher, filmmaker, and planetary advocate currently working on his doctoral degree at The California Institute of Integral Studies. He's the associate producer of Changing of the Gods, and producer and co-writer of The Future of Energy film.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and EF Educational Tours about the recent EF Global Student Leaders Summit, which explored the future of energy in Iceland. The Summit Series combines educational travel with a two-day leadership conference, and asks students to tackle global challenges in places where those challenges are notably present or well-addressed. To view all posts in the series, visit here.