Courage for Climate
My idea of unwinding after a long day is doing the most anxiety-inducing doom scrolling I can before exhaustion drags me to sleep. It's bad for me. I’ve read about how it's bad for me, but in my experience staying informed has always come with a fresh side of climate doomism. Combating climate doomism means responding not with hope, but with courage.
Climate doomism is the belief that we are past the point of meaningful action and we, being all life on this planet, are doomed to extinction. Unfortunately, climate doomism has influenced some people’s climate perceptions. According to a 2019 Yale study, “89% were found to express some degree of doubt or pessimism about people's willingness to reduce global warming in spite of many reporting personal willingness to change their household conservation behavior.” Climate doomers of all generations believe all hope is lost, so naturally the counter response has been pushing hope on all fronts to encourage people towards climate action.
When I remind myself to seek out positive climate news, it usually takes this aforementioned hopeful approach with messages like, “We can do this!” and “All we have to do is work together!”. This approach does not sit well with me anymore. Older generations look to younger generations for hope, yet deprioritize intergenerational climate action. Politicians give messages of hope, yet stay in the back pockets of the fossil fuel industry. These messages encourage communal action, yet also oversimplify the issues at hand. So when I seek climate news I stray away from the frustratingly hopeful and begrudgingly consume the climate doomism for the sake of staying informed.
Something that climate doomism fails to acknowledge, though, is that it's ultimately a privilege to throw one’s hands up and say that nothing can be done about the climate crisis. Not only is this not true, but it undermines the reality of millions who face the consequences of climate change without having contributed significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
That being said, hope for a better future when you are not actively experiencing the worst consequences of a warming world signifies nothing without meaningful action. So I stopped looking to hope and started looking for courageous people acting in the face of uncertainty.
Kate Marvel, a NASA and Project Drawdown climate scientist, shared her experience as an expert that people look to for hope. Marvel consistently urged her students, myself included, to find courage as the focal point for climate action. We are already locked in for certain climatic changes and cannot ignore this reality, but as Marvel points out, we can grieve them. I grieve the world I was promised in my childhood. The gradual loss of the beaches and forests of my homeland in Brazil. The species we have lost to extinction. Even though it is easier to shut down, I try my best to sit with the emotions that come up, slow down, and listen to what my body tries to tell me.
The key word is that I try to tend to my emotions. Sometimes I just feel numb. This is where finding the empowering courage to interrogate that feeling has been most valuable in my climate action. I grew up with teachers, family members, and adults providing unprompted opinions about the climate crisis. They told me that entire cities, states, and even countries would cease to exist in the near enough future to impact my generation, yet distant enough to not impact them. To become an adult that not only handles the complex emotions that I’ve grappled with since childhood, but also channels all of those emotions into impactful action requires courage to acknowledge the following:
This problem existed before I was born
I participate in an unequal system, and
I cannot create a sustainable future on my own.
Navigating this reality is challenging to say the least, but it's necessary to remind ourselves of our priorities. Statistics are not just numbers, but meant to be representations of real people. Intentionality matters when it comes to accurately and effectively communicating the gravity of climate news and IPCC reports to a traumatized audience. Numbness and climate doomism could further push me into complacency, and complacency can be comfortable, but discomfort means identifying where hope is a privilege and courage is not a celebration, but a necessity.
Courage, for me, means acting not despite, but because of the confusion, anger, and depression I feel about the climate crisis. To let climate doomism paralyze me is to become complacent in the destruction of Earth and her inhabitants. I actively interrogate my emotions and strive for substantive climate action not because it's “the right thing to do,” but because I know climate action requires all of our cooperation.
Older and younger generations need to act together for a better future. Politicians need to admit that the climate crisis requires immediate action. Climate messaging requires courage, not hope. We need courageous action not because humans will look good as the saviors in this story, but because climate action saves our planet. Communal climate action starts small. It takes the courage of a few to motivate the action of many.