April 29, 2019

The Sunny Side of Climate Optimism

Joan Nodelman

About the Author

Joan is a specialist in governance, education and risk management with over forty years of professional practice. She is committed to helping clients achieve their organizational objectives and goals through holistic risk management.

The 1930s song, The Sunny Side of the Street, made famous by jazz singer Louis Armstrong has a special meaning for me, as it is a perfect description of the sunny side of climate optimism. I am an optimist. Consequently, I seek the positive in every situation. The song resonates for me, as it maintains that there is a positive side to even the bleakest of situations. The song affirms that it is better to focus on the positives than to dwell on the negatives in life. As the song says…

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worry on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street


Dorothy Fields / Jimmy McHugh

My optimistic outlook may seem strange for a professional risk manager. That is to say, don’t risk managers always focus on the worst outcomes, the things we don’t want to happen? I find comfort and guidance from evolving enterprise risk management (ERM) over the last decade.

The Sunny Side and Enterprise Risk Management

Two standards dominate enterprise risk management, ISO 31000 and COSO ERM. The standards agree that risk can lead to both negative and positives outcomes.

COSO states that:

Management can identify opportunities for the entity and unique challenges associated with current and future opportunities …

While, ISO outlines as a similar view:

The purpose of risk management is the creation and protection of value.

ERM recognizes owners set up companies to earn profits. With this in mind, managers run the company to create value. In our work, we often speak about sustainability in growth. Thus, we know the danger of expansion without concern for existing assets.

With ERM, companies can stay on the sunny side of the street, even in difficult times. For example, both staff and equipment need rest to recover from intense activity. Staff need time off for health and productivity. Similarly, machinery takes ongoing care to support good service. Firms that meet these needs are stronger, buffered against bad times, and more successful.

The Sunny Side and Climate Change Optimism

Often, we focus on the negatives of climate change, weird weather, and catastrophic events. However, I believe that human success as a species relied as much on a larger brain as on developing opposing digits. We can learn from past errors and snatch victory from defeat.

I am optimistic. For example, I remember that the natural world follows cycles; birth, growth, aging, and death. Thus, natural forests follow cycles that involve fire, allowing for a rebirth, like the phoenix of legend. Unfortunately, this is a threat for the folks who live in communities close to the aging natural forest and suffer from the ravages of wildfire.

Finding the Sunny Side – Some Examples

I may sound insensitive, so I will explain my optimism with two real-world examples. Fort McMurray suffered a devastating loss from the 2016 wildfire. The property damage and disruption to people’s lives was terrible. However, the fire also cleared the way for new growth and easier construction of a new power line. The fire was tragic, but there was some good, easing an otherwise bleak picture.

In another example, recently, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) built a 44 MW solar power station on the site of the old Nanticoke plant. OPG did this project with the Six Nations and Mississauga First Nation. The project transformed a coal power plant to renewable solar. Certainly, OPG’s action was practical and showed real climate leadership. I am encouraged by innovative climate action like this. I believe that OPG took a walk on the sunny side of the street. Thus, even when focusing on important climate change matters, there is room for optimism.

Springboard to the Future – The Sunny Side of Innovation

The Sunny Side of Climate Optimism

Human progress is like a relay race. At each stage of the race, we build on the success, or failures, of earlier stages to advance. Every human achievement draws from the success, or failure, that we experience in earlier stages of the race. We need to reduce our use of fossil fuel to deal with climate change. But, just like the relay race, developing lower greenhouse gas alternatives must draw on the achievements, and shortfalls of older methods. Someday, we hope to achieve low or zero greenhouse gas emissions and I am optimistic that by building on earlier progress we will succeed.

The ever creative human mind continues innovating. Thus, new technologies will leave coal and oil behind. For now, we build the new, renewable, energy sources by spring boarding off of tried-and-true fossil fuel alternatives. In this way, we shouldn’t condemn older technology, but should use it as a foundation for the new. The basic techniques and skill sets are the same. We can build on this to speed up the growth of newer and more sustainable energy sources.

The human population continues to grow. As a result, there are more of us, and we live longer, leading to ever more crowding and demands for resources. Thus, we must embrace innovation that promotes a sustainable way of life. Part of this picture is the changing climate. I am confident we are clever enough to find solutions to be resilient to the extremes of climate change and promote a less carbon intense future.

Back to the Sunny Side of Climate Optimism

I used to worry. For sure, I see a lot of negativity in the press and social media. But I have returned to my eternal optimism. I have found the sunny side of my climate optimism.

As the old song says…

I used to walk in the shade
With those blues on parade
But I’m not afraid
This Rover has crossed over

We have the skills and ability to meet the tests we face. Thus, with confidence, patience, and cooperation, I am optimistic that we will successfully deal with our climate dilemma.

Call to Action

Set your objectives. Ask questions. Plan using the present to springboard into the future. Do you see the sunny side of your street?

You are not alone. We are here to help. Make climate resiliency part of your business strategy!

We provide ongoing commentary on these issues. Feel free to contact us, we are always happy to discuss your climate, risk and resiliency.

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