Should we be more optimistic about efforts to fight climate change?


How often do you think about climate change and its impact on the planet? Does the crisis fill you with existential dread? Or do you have faith that humanity will be able to adapt?

In “‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late”, Cara Buckley writes about a wave of young people who are focused on fighting climate doomism, the idea that it is too late to to change things :

They believe that focusing solely on dire climate news can sow terror and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the war in Ukraine prompting a ramp-up in fossil fuel production, they say there is growing urgency to focus on all the good climate work, especially at the local level, that is underway. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to shift to solutions,” said Alaina Wood, 25, a sustainability scientist who communicates much of her climate messaging on TikTok, the most popular social media platform among young Americans. “Science says things are bad. But it will only get worse the longer it takes to act.

Some climate advocates call the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies a “Okay Doomer”, a riff on “OK Boomer,” Gen Z’s rebuttal to patronizing the elderly.

While awareness of the climate crisis has never been greater, so has growing fear of its effects, especially among young people. According to a 2020 Pew study, two-thirds of Americans believed the government was doing too little to address climate change, while a survey last year, out of 10,000 teenagers and young adults in 10 countries, three quarters were afraid of the future.

There is also a growing consensus that depression and eco-anxiety are perfectly natural responses to the constant deluge of scary news about the environment. Climate legislation stalled in Congress, along with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its implications for the environmental crisis, have done little to help.

Yet people like Ms. Wood, and her thriving community of climate communicators, believe that getting stuck in climate catastrophe only preserves a status quo dependent on consumerism and fossil fuels.

Via social media, Ms. Wood and her fellow “eco-creators” are highlighting positive climate news. They also encourage their followers to take environmental action in a variety of ways, from picking up trash and participating in climate strikes to not giving up hope:

Kristy Drutman, 26, began venting her frustration on social media under the handle @browngirl_green and quickly concluded that many communities of color, already impacted by climate change and environmental devastation, didn’t “have the time or the privilege of getting lost in the climate,” she mentioned. “They need to focus on the solutions,” she added, “because their survival is literally at stake.”

Philip Aiken, 29, who hosts the ‘just to save the world’ podcast, said privilege is also built into the ‘it’s too late’ attitude.

“‘It’s too late’ means ‘I just want to be as comfortable as possible in my life because I’m already comfortable,'” Mr Aiken said. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I have nothing to do, and the responsibility slips away from me, and I can continue to exist as I want.'”

To ward off his own sense of doom, Mr. Aiken monitors his consumption of climate information. He offered a metric: focus 20% on problems and 80% on solutions. He has come to understand that he has a lifetime of work ahead of him and is focused on grassroots movements and achieving local change. “This job fills me,” he said, “and keeps me optimistic about a future in which we can still survive and thrive.”

Students, read whole articlethen tell us:

  • How concerned are you about the future of the planet? Do you have a nihilistic or optimistic outlook? If you suffer from “eco-anxiety”, how have you dealt with it?

  • The article reports that Ms Wood has created numerous TikTok videos demystify extreme examples of climate doomism. Was any information new to you? Did they offer a sense of comfort?

  • The article says people like Ms Wood ‘believe that getting stuck in climate fate only preserves a status quo dependent on consumerism and fossil fuels’. Do you agree? Should we be more optimistic about efforts to fight climate change? Why or why not?

  • Have you taken any action, big or small, to protect the environment and fight climate change? What were they? Did any of the young activists featured in the article motivate you to start? Which, if any, were the most inspiring?

  • There is debate about the role individual actions play in the climate crisis, given that big business and global governments are responsible for the overwhelming majority of carbon emissions that warm the planet. Do you believe that individuals can make a difference? Have you witnessed an example? Can social media efforts like those described in the article lead to real change?

Want more write prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can integrate them into your classroom.

Students aged 13 and over in the US and Britain, and 16 and over elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by Learning Network staff, but remember that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.


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