A relentless stream of natural disasters coupled with intimidating goals for emissions reductions and an uncertain future can create what the American Psychological Association calls “eco-anxiety”: the state of anxiety and depression over climate change.
Such feelings of fear and grief can be relieved by more complete and balanced information and channeled by action at the individual level — but especially in concert with others.
News media sensationalize the potential for a catastrophic total collapse of the planet and our civilization.
Katherine Mach is a member of the IPCC (the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and one author of its emissions goals. She protests that “the 1.5-degree goal has achieved an absoluteness in … societal dialogue that’s not in line with scientific fact. The world will not end if we pass 1.5 degrees …” Other climatologists (those at NASA, for example) share this stance.
This is not to discount irreversible damage to the planet, nor the suffering of our fellow humans, both current and future. But we know that it is possible to change the current warming trajectory and blunt devastation — and that this shift is underway.
Renewable energy is now seen as the economically “smart” choice, worldwide. Corporations and institutions are transitioning with impressive speed to solar and wind power — and some companies, like Apple and Google, claim to have reached zero emissions already. The U.S. military, the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world, reduced its oil consumption by 20% between 2007 and 2015.
Major banks like UBS and Citigroup are investing heavily in solar, a market that Deutsche Bank estimates will be worth $5 trillion by 2035.
A carbon tax, the fee imposed by government on companies marketing fossil fuels, is one highly effective way to curb emissions. Fully forty countries now employ such a tax, and dozens more among the 194 countries committed to the Paris agreement are working toward it.
And China, which surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter, has launched a national cap-and-trade carbon emissions market with help from the Environmental Defense Fund.
In addition to changes in fuel use, carbon sequestration programs are in progress. Germany’s Bonn Challenge, the world’s largest reforestation program, aims to restore 865 million acres by 2030.
It is important to note and celebrate such evidence of progress in mitigating climate change.
Finding community and engaging in collaborative effort is a highly effective way to generate hope. As evidenced by the burgeoning of renewables, pro-environmental organizations and efforts flourish. These cut across the social spectrum, drawing an array of members who share climate concerns and the desire to act on them.
Another source of encouragement is America’s history of orchestrated and effective action in response to threats, such as its recovery from the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, World War II mobilization, repair of the ozone hole and lead paint mitigation and bans. Culture is malleable, and norms can shift rapidly once a critical nucleus of subscribers to new patterns is reached — consider, for example, smoking and recycling.
Fundamentally, the climate crisis can be seen as an opportunity to work toward both climate justice and social equity. Worldwide accessibility of renewables enables industrializing nations to bypass carbon fuels for their development. Several indigenous groups in the U.S. are creating reservation-owned solar utilities (featured as a cover story by “Rolling Stone” magazine), including Minnesota’s Red Lake Band.
The emergency also offers a chance to review values and priorities and replace our emphasis on growth and acquisition with an ethic of sustainability. As we identify increasingly as members of a global community, such moderation feels satisfying and apt.
The above factors and coming responses to the climate crisis from across the globe can help us cultivate a grounded and realistic hopefulness.
Scandia resident Rita Erickson is a cultural anthropologist who studied household energy use, environment, and consumerism in Sweden and Minnesota. This article follows a series she did on Climate Reality Project Leadership Training. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.