Should We Be More Optimistic About Efforts to Combat Climate Change?

Should We Be More Optimistic About Efforts to Combat 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 swell of young people who are focusing on fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around:

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

With the war in Ukraine prompting a push for ramped up production of fossil fuels, they say it’s ever more pressing to concentrate on all the good climate work, especially locally, that is being done. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to move on 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. “The science says things are bad. But it’s only going to get worse the longer it takes to act.”

Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.

If awareness about the climate crisis has never been greater, so, too, has been a mounting sense of dread about its unfolding effects, particularly among the young. Two-thirds of Americans thought the government was doing too little to fight climate change, according to a 2020 Pew study, while a survey last year of 10,000 teens and young adults in 10 countries found that three-quarters were frightened of the future.

There is also growing consensus that depression and eco-anxiety are perfectly natural responses to the steady barrage of scary environmental news. Stalled climate legislation in Congress along with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its implications for the environmental crisis, has done little to help.

Yet people like Ms. Wood, and her thriving community of climate communicators, believe that staying stuck in climate doom only helps preserve a status quo reliant on consumerism and fossil fuels.

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

Kristy Drutman, 26, began airing her frustration on social media under the handle @browngirl_green and soon concluded that many communities of color, already affected by climate change and environmental devastation, lack “the time or privilege to get lost on climate doom,” she said. “They have to focus on solutions,” she added, “because their survival is literally on the line.”

Philip Aiken, 29, who hosts the podcast “just to save the world,” said that privilege is also baked into the attitude of “it’s too late.”

“‘It’s too late’ means ‘I just want to be comfortable for as much of my life as possible because I’m already comfortable,’” Mr. Aiken said. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me, and I can continue existing however I want.’”

To ward off his own sense of doom, Mr. Aiken monitors his intake of climate news. He came up with a metric: Focus 20 percent on problems and 80 percent on solutions. He has come to understand that there’s a lifetime of work ahead and concentrates on grass-roots movements and effecting local change. “That work fulfills me,” he said, “and keeps me optimistic about a future in which we can still survive and thrive.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

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

  • The article reported that Ms. Wood has created many TikTok videos debunking extreme examples of climate doomism. Was any of the information new to you? Did they offer a sense of reassurance?

  • The article states that people like Ms. Wood “believe that staying stuck in climate doom only helps preserve a status quo reliant on consumerism and fossil fuels.” Do you agree? Should we be more optimistic about efforts to combat climate change? Why or why not?

  • Have you taken any actions — big or small — to protect the environment and combat climate change? What were they? Have any of the young activists featured in the article motivated you to start? Which ones, if any, were most inspiring?

  • There is debate over what role individual actions play in the climate crisis, given that large corporations and world governments are responsible for the overwhelming majority of planet-heating carbon emissions. Do you believe that individuals can make a difference? Have you witnessed an example? Can social media efforts like the ones described in the article lead to real change?

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

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.