Ok…. you guys, the amazing folks who have been working on raising climate awareness for decades but you are feeling a bit tired and fed up with it all… this is for you…a dose of climate optimism.
I initially wrote a version of this post to a friend on Facebook who has been engaged with raising awareness about the climate emergency for many years. In the face of climate denialists and the massive changes in our energy use that we need to action pronto to protect our planet, my friend was feeling disheartened and possibly making some other people feel disheartened too. So I wrote a climate optimism piece in rebuttal. Since then i have felt I needed to share some of these ideas with others on other platforms like twitter, and in real life. 🙂 I see a need to spark climate optimism amongst people who can get disheartened with the effort over many years of trying to wake people up to the climate emergency. I think that everyone needs to be uplifted and reenergised as we hit crunch time in the climate protection fight. We need to energise and nourish ourselves so we can move forward and help make the changes to society’s energy use and follow the sustainable practices that are required. I feel that I have some insights into why we should be optimistic. So here you go:
Dear tired climate activist,
I am going to have to start rebutting you and your gloominess as actively as I do my climate-change denying pals. Humanity is not doomed. It’s in dire peril, I admit, but I am on the case now and I am pretty sure that I am part of a growing movement of awareness-raising, solutions-focused, info-graphic wielding, general public. I am also part of a growing movement of engineers and non-pure-scientists sensitively taking up the technical concerns of how we are going to protect our world.
If you look at your comments, even when you write gloomy things, you do sprinkle hope throughout… so as a fellow scientist I encourage you to update your executive summary/one liners! Put the hope up front. We have to lead with hope for the future we want and love for the things that we cherish and want to protect. These are powerful forces. My father is a Professor of Economics, and he gave me some great advice when I first started engaging with the climate emergency. He suggested that I acknowledge the scary realities of the situation, and then focus on the solutions. I have found this to be a great approach to keep my energies focused.
Looking for inspiration and motivation? As i state in my presentation on talking to kids in age appropriate ways about climate and environment it’s up to us adults to find our optimism to enable the kids voices to lead change. Young people are one of my greatest sources of hope as they know A LOT about climate and can even teach adults about it. Many of them learn about the science in school, and they understand how important finding solutions to protect our climate is, because it’s their future we are working to protect. But we all need to be teaching ourselves more about the solutions, which will require more than just renewable energy and reducing resource use. I feel hopeful for and inspired by youth-led climate action like thisiszerohour.org, aycc.org and MANY other groups of amazing young people who share personal stories and articulate social-justice based climate solutions.
Want to know where to find out more about potential solutions? How about Healthy Climate Alliance ? Yes, we have exceeded safe atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. We are going to need to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and invest in ecologically sensitive geoengineering, optimal land-use, or other techniques to remove carbon from the atmosphere. It can all be a bit daunting and scary I know, but it’s also exciting and challenging to engage with potential solutions. Not even climate scientists are experts in climate rehabilitation so I encourage you to check out Healthy Climate Alliance or similar. Or do a search for a carbon drawdown / negative emissions conference close to you. You should also check out drawdown.org and their 100 solutions to reverse global warming. I feel fortunate that the start of my climate activist journey coincided with the release of Project Drawdown’s body of work, with a road map and inspiration to get to the point where carbon in the atmosphere will drawdown.
I feel that as an engineer + ecologist + science communicator I am well poised to help the world make some of the big and tough decisions we are going to have to make. Confronting climate change, its mitigation and adaptation is not without grief. We have already lost amazing animals and people to our changing climate. But there is hope that we are going to turn this around in the next few years, because we have to. As part of that we need to make sure people are all doing their part to make and inspire change. The biggest challenge still appears to be getting global action, getting enough people on board to instigate major shifts in how we generate energy.
Please have a think about how you talk about climate. Leading with “we are all doomed” without a reference or link or any need to say that in the first place is going to switch people off from trying to make change!! It is ok to coast and to give up (preferably while still eating predominantly plant-based diets and reducing, refusing and reusing waste) when you have been struggling so long to get the world to listen. But please don’t be an agent to make people tune out, as I blame an article I once read that was a bit too gloomy for disempowering me when I could have been forging ahead.
For every gloomster there is a hopester. Maybe that’s what a hipster really is. None of this “good one humanity” business, please. There are so many bright, bright lights and inspiring people that we have to keep seeing the light. I believe that the pursuit of joy and happiness, building hope and leading with love, rather than running from the darkness, is going to get us through.
Don’t let the global warming deniers get you down. We can solve this despite the deniers. We just need to activate the believers who are not doing enough to make change, we need to turn some more of these slackers (slacktivists?) into activists. We don’t need to convince everyone to pay attention to climate, just enough people.
Like a university student who does their best work the night before an assignment is due, i believe that it is now that we are noticing global heat waves, and seeing our precious coral reefs bleaching, that we are going to see a global movement for change. Just in the nick of time, but building on all the work that has gone before.
My friend Dr Tammra Warby paints a picture of a kind of solutions focused optimism that helps you find solutions even in dark times. It is this optimism that I champion. One driven by the ability to seek out and cherish what we love, that my favourite author Regena Thomashauer writes of – using pleasure to have our way with the world. For I believe in imagining the world we want. Then we work towards that. Don’t dwell on the dangers. Acknowledge them, and then cherish what it is that we are protecting, and protect it. Our kids’ future. The kids of the future are all of ours. We are all parents, aunties, uncles, friends, teachers, carers for our future loved ones.
Addendum: #climateoptimism in an ongoing pursuit. For me, when I discover new angles on the challenges facing us in the efforts to protect the future for those we love, I just seek out new solutions. For the moment, my efforts towards solutions are focused on talking about climate action and the need to invest in renewables, carbon capture and climate adaptation… tomorrow I might need to focus on something else, on something more. Here are some articles and links to resources that provide optimistic (though sometimes confronting!) food for thought, written by some of the climate optimists among us.
Links to articles by some of the climate optimists among us (updated August 13th 2018):
Dr Erle C. Ellis
About the author:
Dr Heidi Edmonds is an ecologist / environmental engineer with a PhD in freshwater ecology who is currently a freelance research scientist while raising two young children. As a science communicator and a mother, she is especially interested in making climate science and climate action accessible, simple and easy to understand for more people. Check out her blog at climatekiss.com (www.climatekiss.com)