Finally, a Climate Change Silver Lining: More Rainbows


A Role in Our Wellbeing 

Kim Carson was sitting on her porch one day in the Manoa Valley in Honolulu, Hawaii, sipping her coffee, looking at a rainbow—a common occurrence in the valley—and thinking about how climate change affects so much of our lives.

That’s when the question hit her: Would climate change have an impact on rainbows?

Carson, an assistant professor at New York University, tackled that puzzle with a team of researchers in a new study in the journal Global Environmental Change. They assembled data from images of rainbows on Flickr to map out occurrences around the world. Then they built a model to estimate how rainbow occurrences would shift under different climate change scenarios. They found that by 2100, rainbows would occur 4 to 5 percent more often.

Rainbows need three conditions to appear: clear skies, a certain angle of the sun and rainfall. Climate change affects two of these conditions with rain and clouds. 

The researchers found that locations that are expected to have less rainfall in a warmer climate, such as the Mediterranean region, will see fewer rainbows, while places that expect more rainfall, like high elevation locations where snowfall will shift to rain, will see more rainbows. 

Research on rainbows and climate change may not be as essential as studying its effects on food, water and survival, Carson said, but she believes the natural beauty of places can have a role in our wellbeing. 

“I think if you’re in a place where you’re getting more rainbows, maybe it really doesn’t matter to some people, but maybe it could actually improve some people’s lives,” she said. “And in other cases, if you’re losing something that you had previously, that could be a type of negative impact of climate change on the non-material components of our lives.”


The Case for Climate Optimism

Being a professional climate activist means confronting a lot of tough realities: climate change is happening, it’s bad and a lot of people are not doing what is needed to slow it down. For Anne Therese Gennari, this led to a lot of anger. 

But after one hot-headed outburst, all she could do was let go. In a moment of angelic clarity, she realized her mission: to be a climate optimist.

In her new book, “The Climate Optimist Handbook,” Gennari, an author and speaker, makes the case for why we all should be more optimistic about climate change, with tips for reframing perspectives, becoming more comfortable with change and practicing optimism. 

Inside Climate News recently discussed the book with Gennari. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You dedicate the book to your daughter, who you are about to give birth to. How has your experience of being pregnant and preparing for motherhood influenced the way you think about climate change? 

I totally respect people who don’t feel comfortable or safe having kids, because I’ve been there. For many reasons, it just didn’t feel right. And then something shifted inside me and I started to tune in more and really listen to what feels right. If I were to let go of my fear, what is my body telling me is the right thing to do? I think, right now, we need to be more human, not less human. And I think ignoring our inner desires is actually just putting us further away from the solutions in a way. And when I first found out that I was pregnant, I just landed. It was like this most grounding experience. It made me decide that this book had to come out. 

I was prepared to get a lot of pushback from people, especially in my field, because there’s a lot of stigma on having kids, especially for climate activists. But everything I’ve heard is like, “Wow, this is the most climate optimistic thing you’ve ever done.”

You declare in Chapter 1 that “this book is not about climate change.” Where did you center this book?

Really what the book is about you. It’s about us. It’s about the person behind everything, the person who has to live through the next few decades, who has to go through all these changes. I think we have to recognize that a lot is asked of us right now. And I think the only way we’re gonna have a chance is by recognizing that all of us play a part. We are all important, and not only can we all contribute, but we also are going to have to go through this. And so it asks for courage, asks for curiosity, and I think it asks for community, because it’s going to be the biggest shift humanity has ever gone through and that’s always scary. But it can also be incredibly exciting when you start to look at it that way. So that’s what the book is about. It’s about the person behind it. And I think you can read the book and not really give a sh*t about climate change and still feel like you gained something from it because it really is about becoming healthier, happier, more grounded, more resilient and more optimistic.

You spend a lot of time talking about a future that is better. Can you paint a picture for me as to what this future looks like to you?

This is where my imagination goes. Take a city for example, because I think the cities are where the most change needs to happen, and also where we have the most opportunity for change. And in the future city, I wouldn’t say it’s quiet, but it’s noisy in a different way. It’s not noisy because we have all this industrial noise and cars and pollution. It’s noisy because you now have music and people talking and birdsong. So it’s a whole different kind of energy to the city.  It’s much greener, so the walls and rooftops are covered in greenery. And old roads and parking lots have been repurposed into gardens and flower beds and walking paths. And we have fast electrical transportation that enables people to get around without having to waste time being stuck in traffic or finding parking. And I think people are just happier because we have more nutritious foods, which gives us more energy because of this better system. We’re more effective with our time, and we have more time to spend with ourselves and our families and our friends. So that means we are also more productive at work, but with less hours. And it’s pretty simple shifts honestly that make a tremendous difference. And I think the community has a whole different importance to how we operate in the world. I just see walking in the city with fresh, clean air. It’s fairly quiet aside from all the culture and life that you would expect in a city. It’s just a very enjoyable place to be, honestly.


Eco-Labels on Menus Work

Sustainability labels on menus can lead people to make more environmentally conscious food choices, a new study found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, surveyed 1,400 people who were each asked to order a meal from a menu with three choices: beef, chicken or veggie burrito. The participants were given one of three versions of the menu: a control menu that simply laid out the options, a “social nudge” menu that labeled the veggie option as the “most popular,” and a eco-label option that included a traffic-light style sustainability chart that labeled the beef burrito as red (least sustainable), chicken as yellow and veggie as green (most sustainable).

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They found that people who were shown the eco-label were more likely to choose the veggie or chicken option over the beef option compared to the control group. The social nudge label also caused people to change their choices, but the eco-label appeared to be more effective, the study found.

About 90 percent of respondents said they supported the idea of having eco-labels on food menus, the study found. 

“If they’re buying these products, they deserve to know as much information about the products as possible,” said lead author Katie De-loyde, a research associate at Bristol.

When deciding the sustainability of each item, the researchers took into consideration greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and impact on biodiversity involved in the production of each of the three options. Beef production is well-known to be a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions, a huge consumer of water and contributes to deforestation and land use changes that affects biodiversity. 

The simplicity of the traffic-light style label makes this easy to implement on real food menus. This can be a way to educate people on how to make climate-friendly choices, De-loyde said. 

“We’re not asking people to give up meat and dairy, just reduce their consumption, which could be easily done. The amount of plant based food there is at the moment is crazy and delicious,” she said. “I think if people are given that information, and we can nudge them in the right direction, it is such a relatively inexpensive way to reduce climate change.” 


Algae, Loaded With Vitamins and Minerals

With a growing global population and an increasingly urgent need to make agriculture more climate friendly, some experts are pointing to algae as a solution. 

Algae is quick-growing and loaded with vitamins and minerals essential for the human diet. It can be farmed and used not only in feed for fish and animals but also directly consumed by humans. 

Charles Greene, professor emeritus at Cornell University, said he and his colleagues were inspired by the success of the plant-based food market to investigate whether algae could be a viable food source. “Algae are a lot more nutritious than many of the terrestrial plants that they were using in these products,” he said. “That got us really interested in looking at the potential of algae to sort of meet the nutritional demands of the human population.”

Greene and others argue in a new paper published in Oceanography that the cultivation of algae can help meet global protein demand projected for 2050. Algae has uses beyond food as well, including as a biofuel, an additive for cement and in production of biodegradable materials. 

Algae can be farmed in onshore facilities near coasts and, unlike traditional agriculture, does not require fertile land or freshwater, Greene said. The space required for cultivation is small compared to the output of production.

In the paper, the authors argue that algae agriculture could thrive in the Global South, especially along Africa’s coasts.

“That’s kind of an exciting opportunity, because it means that we have this opportunity to introduce a new breadbasket for the world in the Global South,” Greene said, “at a time when much of the Global South is under tremendous economic pressure and climate change is impacting it.”

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