It can be hard to hold on to hope. California is burning yet again. Icelanders are mourning the death of Okjokull, a centuries-old glacier. One million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.
From our well-being to our wallets, we’re feeling the effects of a transformed climate. But we need hope if we’re to find the courage to act.
Instead, in newspapers, on our screens and at international conferences, fear is actively cultivated. Birth Strikers are refusing to have children until climate change is solved. Apocalyptic visions fill the pages of the New Yorker and the best seller list.
This fatalism has come with a dramatic rise in mental health issues around the world. As we try to wrap our heads around the threat of a warming planet, climate despair can set in. A certain level of anxiety is natural, even helpful, to motivate action. But despair sucks up the energy needed to find solutions.
We cannot let fear win. We need to channel that energy into actions that are achievable, however imperfect or flawed. There is still lots of reason to hope.
For years we heard that renewable energy technology was too expensive. Today, solar power is cheaper than grid electricity in China. This is a tipping point. Analysts predict that renewables will be the most affordable global energy source within the decade.
Meanwhile, science is pointing to more practical solutions, however unexpected—from evolutions in refrigeration technology to educating girls. Industry has agreed to replace high-impact HFC chemicals in refrigerators with natural alternatives, like ammonium, while consumers can have a huge impact by properly disposing of old units. Even girls’ education reduces emissions. Educated women take a more active role in their economic lives and implement better agricultural practices, helping foster resiliency to the impacts of climate change.
Then there are the more obvious solutions becoming more popular. Meat alternatives are now mainstream, a market solution that will help consumers cut their environmental footprint. You don’t have to go vegan, but scientists say eating less red meat is one of the most important steps individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint.
Finally, Amazon announced a Climate Pledge challenging businesses to be carbon neutral by 2040, a full decade ahead of the Paris Agreement’s goal. If more companies follow suit, global emissions will fall drastically.
Frankly, we know what the problem is, and we know how to solve it. Some tactics are personal, from switching to a plant based diet to installing rooftop solar panels. Others are systemic solutions for governments and big business, including investing in solar and wind energy and transitioning to sustainable and conservation agriculture by rotating crops, regenerating soil and managing cattle grazing.
Alarms are sounding all around us, but they don’t offer motivation. The impacts of climate change may be frightening, but studies show that when confronted with anxiety, people tune out. Given a choice between taking action or going about their lives, fear can make people put their head down.
We must counter apathy with stories that celebrate hope. And then we must act.
Celebrate Giving Tuesday with WE
Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.