Optimism over Doomerism.
Why holding on to hope can galvanize us all towards a brighter future.
When we explore the effects of climate change, it can, at times, feel hopeless. Doomerism (a term often used in conjunction with news of extreme weather or rising sea levels) is the mindset that the climate crisis is beyond repair—and that we must all settle with the irreparable consequences.
It’s a word that encapsulates an increasingly common feeling of nihilistic powerlessness, summed up by writer Jonathan Franzen in a 2019 article for the New Yorker called ‘What If We Stopped Pretending?’, where he recommends that we should just all “accept that disaster is coming.” “Call me a pessimist, or call me a humanist, but I don’t see human nature changing anytime soon,” says Franzen.
While the severity and urgency are high—settling into this fatalistic feeling, and disengaging from our planet entirely, will get us nowhere, and only aids and abets the interests of fossil fuel industries and others benefiting from the status quo. “We cannot go back to the old normal of inequality, injustice and heedless dominion over the Earth.” Said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, at Columbia University last year. “Instead we must step towards a safer, more sustainable and equitable path. The door is open; the solutions are there.”
“We must step towards a safer, more sustainable and equitable path. The door is open; the solutions are there.”—António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
In a 2022 study by Yale University, it’s clear that as a society, we’re more aware than ever of the impact and seriousness of climate change. We are leaning heavily towards a clear, agreed consensus that global warming will harm future generations, that it’s already harming people in the US, and that action must be taken—from more research funding for renewable energy to increased support from congress. Yet, despite this, we’re seemingly reluctant to talk it through with each other. We’re quiet in our concern, discreet in our disquiet—64% of us rarely or never discuss the subject of global warming with our peers.
Worry, confusion and withdrawal are natural, normal responses to negative news about our planet. When these feelings come to the surface, however potent they may feel, we must remind ourselves of the innovative and uplifting work happening all over the globe to combat climate change. In 2020, renewable energy generated more electricity than coal for the first time in 130 years in the United States, while just this year we’ve seen NGOs and nonprofits carry out incredible work; from The Ocean Cleanup who are extracting plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, who are reintroducing extinct short-haired bees by working with landowners and farmers throughout the UK.
Escaping the feedback loop of negativity we see across social media can be tricky—but it doesn’t mean that we’re not making progress. In the YouTube social commentary video ‘Stop being a climate doomer’, the narrator reminds us that “good news doesn’t generate headlines like bad news does,” and that “the data shows we’re heading in the right direction, and the world needs to keep the momentum going.”
When we seek out optimism and positivity, we can inspire each other to take action, drive change and encourage innovation. To create a safer, better planet, we must acknowledge the challenges, but never settle—it relies on us to create a brighter, equitable future for everybody.