Amanda Little in Bookforum:
LAST SPRING, A THIRTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD COLLEGE DROPOUT–TURNED–ENERGY EXECUTIVE named Billy Parish came to talk to my journalism class at Vanderbilt University. The course focused on climate reporting, and Parish had recently been profiled in Fortune magazine as a young virtuoso in the solar industry. Students wanted to hear his perspective as an innovator: What did he consider the most important untold story on climate change? “Easy,” he said, “it’s the story of our victory in progress, the story that we’re winning—not losing—the climate battle.” Most progressive journalists hate to talk about actual progress, Parish went on to argue, so they spend their time mewling about what’s not getting done on the climate-legislation front. Science writers, meanwhile, nitpick about important but arcane details of atmospheric warming in parts per million and other mind-numbing measurements. The skeptics, for their part, continue to chant, like skipping records, their groundless but vehement doubts about the problem’s very existence. Little wonder that Americans turn a deaf ear to this issue.
Maybe they wouldn’t, Parish argued, if they could read more climate literature that matters—stories about how America is actually innovating and adapting in response to this crisis, even as global treaties have languished and climate legislation collects dust on the shelves of Congress. Parish waxed technophilic, telling stories about new carbon-cutting innovations on the horizon: wind turbines designed like jet engines, not propellers; fuels made from algae and batteries made from viruses; nanotech solar cells that are smaller than gnats and can be integrated into paints, shingles, and glass. He explained that the cost of solar energy has come down 80 percent in the last five years, and solar production has grown more than 50 percent a year. “We’ve got to stop acting helpless,” he said. “We’ve got to start telling the stories of why we’re winning.” As a budding entrepreneur, Parish is notably prone to enthusiasm. But his argument stayed with me, and after his visit I began to see climate literature a bit differently, dividing it into two categories: The first, and overwhelmingly the largest, includes stories of conjecture about climate change itself—about whether it’s happening at all; whether humans are to blame; how severe the problem is or isn’t; how catastrophic the impacts may become. The second, and much more intriguing, category focuses on the tangible, practical ways we’re beginning to adapt: stories about innovators who are trying, against vertiginous odds, to get technologies and strategies in place that can make our transition to a low-carbon economy not just possible but seamless.