If you’re feeling hopeless about climate change, you’re not alone. While climate reports are meant to be sobering wake-up calls to inspire change, people are increasingly left feeling helpless. Serving as a much-needed antidote, climate optimism is turning apathy to action.
Anyone who’s fallen into the treacherous depths of climate news knows how heavy it can be. Doomsday press has led to an increase in climate anxiety, with 40% of Americans feeling “helpless” about climate change according to a 2020 survey by Yale University. Climate anxiety is even emerging in therapy rooms, which is why Washington-based therapist Andrew Bryant launched Climate & Mind to “help improve understanding and discussion about how humans cope with climate change and other ecological crises.”
To help keep people emotionally healthy and proactive, a new rhetoric of ‘climate optimism’ is spreading among environmentalist circles. It turns out, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic even while being realistic. Here’s 10 of them:
1. Because the pandemic is helping the urgency to change
Remember bird flu, swine flu and ebola? Over the last century, there’s been a significant increase in zoonotic diseases due to deforestation bringing wildlife closer to towns and cities. 60% of emerging infectious diseases are caused by wildlife coming into contact with humans. Think monkeys in Indonesian streets or pigeons in Europe. While we’d rather the pandemic didn’t exist, actions are being taken to prevent future pandemics including reforestation and regulating wildlife trade, which will also help stem climate change.
2. Renewable energy is surpassing coal in the US and UK
The continuing rise of wind and solar power was enough for renewable sources in the US to surpass coal according to 2020 figures released by the Energy Information Administration. While Biden is seeking a 50% carbon cut by 2030, the UK also has its sights set on a green industrial revolution, announcing a plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
3. Federal climate action is happening
After 185 countries protested climate change in 2019, The People’s Climate Vote in 2020 found that 64% of people consider the climate crisis a “global emergency.” 120 countries have committed to net zero emissions by 2050, with China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, also committing to carbon neutrality by 2060.
“There’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic even while being realistic.”
4. Coal is on its way to becoming “uninsurable”
The number of insurers withdrawing from coal projects more than doubled in 2019. According to ‘Insure Our Future’, whose annual report rates the top global insurers on their fossil fuel actions, at least 35 insurers with combined assets have begun retracting from coal investments. If this trend continues in the coming years, coal is on the way to becoming uninsurable.
5. Climate literacy is increasing
The reach of David Attenborough’s global climate testament ‘A Life on Our Planet’ has no doubt positioned the climate emergency a little closer to the mainstream. Films like Seaspiracy, 2040 and Big Weather are serving to increase mainstream understanding of the complex issue of climate change.
6. Fossil fuels appear to be going in one direction
Studying energy markets since 1971, Philip Verleger is optimistic about climate, stating that climate predictions are made on the assumption that fossil fuels will remain as they are, but believes they’ll inevitably be gone.
Big coal relies on investors and insurers who are increasingly turning their backs on the industry. To stay in business, BP and Shell have announced a move towards renewables. BP proposed a tenfold increase in renewables while declaring they’d slim down on oil production by 40% in the next five to ten years.
“Optimism can be a powerful tool for turning apathy into action.”
7. Banks are waking up to climate change
As floods, fires and natural disasters increase insurance premiums, banks are realising funding activities that increase carbon emissions like conventional farming and coal mining is a form of self-sabotage. From April 2021, for example, the Central Bank of Brazil declared aims to improve climate risk management rules, as well as requirements regarding social, environmental and climate responsibility.
8. Electric transport is increasing fast
According to a new report by BloombergNEF, car companies have 15 years to phase out petrol and diesel vehicle production and replace it with electric transport for there to be a chance of hitting net zero by 2050. While this is a huge goal to meet, we’re already making progress. There are currently 12 million EV passengers and 1 million commercial vehicles on the road around the world with trends predicted to rise. Whether or not we manage to phase out petrol vehicles in time is another story, but with growing climate action, our current electric vehicle transition rate may increase to required levels.
9. Carbon capture projects are on the rise
Tree planting is a natural and proven system for storing carbon and it’s happening worldwide with Ethiopia planting 350 million trees in a day, the UK planting millions of trees over the last decade and an Indian state planting 50 million trees in one day. Planting kelp has also been discovered as an even more effective carbon capture system than trees. While carbon capture projects help, the true solution is to stop emitting new greenhouse gases by meeting net zero targets in transport, fossil fuels and other big carbon emitters.
10. Because it’s the only way to inspire big action
Optimism can be a powerful tool for turning apathy into action, which is why many environmentalists promote its importance. Though it shouldn’t be the kind of optimism that keeps us complacent. “Yes you should be hopeful but can’t sit back and relax and think it’s all going to be okay because there’s a lot to be done,” Emma Eskew, founder of climate communication service Earth Minutes, tells Extinction Rebellion. “This optimism should really be used as a mindset to frame your action more so than to frame your relief or comfort. It should still be taken with the most urgency.”