Fighting climate change with optimism
Shifting from fear to inspiration.
Our free weekday posts are made possible by paying subscribers, who also get exclusive access to our Saturday deep-dives into living better online.
I’ve already told my therapist to get ready for my inevitable climate change spiral. Unless... —Kate
The most fascinating part of the pandemic to me wasn’t the beginning, or when the vaccine was developed, or even when I got vaccinated myself. It was February 2021, when Covid cases in every U.S. region, regardless of vaccination rates (which were still extremely low), were declining sharply in similar ways. Epidemiologist Natalie E. Dean broke it down on Twitter, and came to a surprising conclusion: individuals had simply changed their behavior. They were distancing, wearing masks, and staying home. The thing we had been saying—that all it takes is each person doing their part—was proven true.
I think back on this when I need a dose of optimism about another world-changing event that requires a similar level of collective action: climate change.
“Optimism” and “climate change” are not two words you normally hear together. I’ve spent the past five years hurriedly scrolling past the doomsday headlines that are counting down to the point of no return. If I were to actually reckon with what’s happening, I would immediately bump up against the online narrative that it’s too late anyways. We’re fucked. And there’s no action I could take that would make up for the damage being inflicted by companies, anyways.
“The most harmful lie being spread about climate change today is not that it is fake,” Emily Atkin, writer of Heated, wrote in a recent newsletter. “It’s that nothing you can do can help save the world.”
Atkin is part of a growing army of online activists taking a different tone in their coverage of global warming, prioritizing hope over fear. My discovery of this genre started when I read an earlier piece by Atkin about how news outlets tend to approach even good climate news from a negative lens.
“There will be more opportunities to get it right in the future; more good days for the planet are coming,” she wrote.
Reading those words inspired more interest in sustainability for me than any anxiety-inducing headline ever had. That small flicker of hope—that good climate news exists and the future isn’t as doomed as it seems—prompted me to engage in the online climate change conversation for the first time, subsequently stumbling upon other voices that made me feel energized, rather than paralyzed.
Now, with a stable of level-headed and motivational online figures reliably appearing on my social media feeds, I’ve been making sustainable choices much more consistently in real life. I drop off compost every Saturday at a local farmers market, keep a reusable cup in my tote bag, and attempt to source homewares and clothing second-hand before I turn to IKEA or a fashion chain. I’m excited, not dismayed, by how much more there is I can do to help.
The idea that individuals are powerless in this fight is a lie that only serves the companies and governments who profit from climate-destroying measures. In fact, a majority of individuals making the same choice is quite literally the most powerful force we have, something that companies—which are also made up of individuals, by the way—don’t actually have the power to stop. If I can feel this way, then maybe you can feel this way after seeing these resources, too. The something the two of us can achieve by making sustainable choices is indisputably more than the nothing we would be doing if we gave into the narrative that it’s not worth it.
Here are the people who’ve inspired me, and will maybe inspire you, too.
Jocelyn Longdon, founder of Climate In Colour
“Being able to find hope and take action regardless of the doom of environmental destruction and climate emergency filling our screens is essential—now more than ever,” Longdon writes in a recent Instagram post. “Apathy, demoralization, and eventually inaction are gold dust to those in power, whose interest lies in the continual plunder, extraction, and oppression of the planet and people.”
Alaina Wood, @thegarbagequeen on TikTok
The comments on a TikTok by Alaina Wood proved I wasn’t alone in my hunger for a new narrative on climate change. Wood’s video lambasted posts that claim it’s too late to save the planet, and the comments were a collective release of anxiety.
“Oh my goodness this sounds dramatic but I cried the other night because those posts have made me so anxious about the future,” one wrote.
La Manna campaigns for fair fashion, pioneering the concept of the old outfit of the day to combat consumption and encourage people to get creative with the clothes they already own instead of constantly shopping and purging.
Rachel Ama, vegan recipe creator
I am the last person to come to for tips about eating healthy. I still eat meat, and have to trick myself into eating vegetables by sneaking them into other foods, like I’m a dog. But after listening to Ama on La Manna’s podcast All The Small Things, I ate vegetarian for three days straight in an attempt to experiment and learn what vegetable-forward meals I like enough to start incorporating into my daily routine. Ama’s casual, joyful perspective on healthy eating in her upcoming book One Pot, Three Ways has me even thinking I could try vegan one day, too. One day.