Combating Hopelessness as an Environmentalist
Feelings of climate anxiety are skyrocketing, but optimism can persevere.
It is very normal to feel uneasy about the state of the world. With the government removing crucial environmental legislation in the United States, it seems as if we are just moving backward in this fight.
However, in these unsettling times, there are ways to remain positive and hopeful about the future of the world, even in the wake of climate change.
Never Undermine Your Changes and Contributions
There is a lot of negativity circulating and, maybe you can do “more”, but let’s try to focus on how you are altering your lifestyle and habits for the betterment of the environment.
Every sustainable thing you do is good and helpful and you should be proud. It may seem like it will never be enough, but all we can do is our best to minimize our environmental impact.
Some examples of small endeavors, but meaningful changes I see people making include:
- Refusing plastic bags, containers, straws or cutlery at grocery stores and restaurants, reusing “single-use” items, and providing their own reusable options
- Switching to walking, biking, or public transportation to minimize automobile emissions that contribute to air pollution and global warming
- Investing in reusable cotton swabs, bamboo toothbrushes, soap tablets, water bottles, or washable makeup pads to reduce plastic and paper waste
- Cleaning with towels or rags instead of opting for disposable paper towels and tissues
- Practicing proper composting techniques
- Buying second-hand clothes, furniture, and appliances to give these items a new life
No contribution is insignificant. Try implementing some of these ideas into your life to make a direct impact and spark valuable environmental change.
Read About Scientific Success Stories
This is one of my favorite ways to stay positive. The world seems environmentally bleak now, but there are examples of substantial progress in the past!
I remember when I first learned in-depth about the story of ozone depletion and the Montreal Protocol in a class during undergrad. I felt so incredibly inspired as an environmentalist.
The history of the discovery and recovery of the ozone hole is fascinating. In the 1970s two scientists, Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, published a paper on how CFCs (chemicals commonly used in refrigerants and aerosols) were destroying stratospheric ozone and depleting the ozone layer. The ozone layer is important for protecting humans against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, so ozone depletion is very dangerous.
This research sparked international change extremely quickly in terms of how environmental policy usually functions. By 1987, less than 20 years after the researchers had published the initial report, 56 countries agreed to the Montreal Protocol, an international commitment for slowly phasing out CFCs to protect the ozone layer.
This was an amazing global feat and demonstrates how science can directly spark environmental change! The ozone hole is at the smallest it has been since its discovery and continues to shrink.
Using this scientific success story as a precedent, it shows how climate science has the power to bring the world together and one day, hopefully, create international environmental policies to mitigate climate change.
Educate Yourself at Home (Or Further Your Education!)
There is so much information about climate change and the environment online, much of it entirely free and ready to read, listen to, or watch!
Learning more about these issues can help you feel empowered to make informed decisions on how to best reduce your carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. Additionally, these resources can keep you up to date on the latest politics, pieces of legislation, and events to stay engaged and educated.
Some great options to check out are:
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has great climate change resources for a wide variety of audiences from kids to adults to scientists
- Similarly, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers climate information and news
- Yale University has an awesome list of 7 Global Warming Documentaries to watch
- If you are into podcasts, there are some really interesting and scientifically-based ones available for listening
- There are an endless number of books on climate change and the environment, I personally like this recent list from the New York Times
While going to school for an environment-related field may not be for everyone, many schools have undergraduate and graduate majors connected to climate change, sustainability, ecology, and more if you are interested in furthering your education!
Be Active in Environmentally Focused Communities
You do not have to dedicate your career or education to the environment to become active in climate narrative! Across the country, there are so many non-profits and environmental organizations working to spread awareness and create sustainable changes. These groups can be an amazing way to learn, help, and talk to people about these environmental issues and solutions.
Two comprehensive websites for finding organizations are:
- Mother Jones’ A Guide to Environmental Non-Profits — this is fantastic for discovering organizations by specific categories, depending on what you’re interested in or curious about
- GuideStar’s Directory of Charities and Non-Profit Organizations — another great way to look through thousands of groups by field and learn about new organizations
Attending events, protests, and meetings promoted by these organizations or volunteering for a cause you are passionate about are all awesome ways to get involved and help that hopeless feeling.
Have Faith in the Next Generation
Young children are the ones growing up in these times of environmental turmoil and will have to endure climate consequences for the rest of their lives. I recently wrote a post about climate change curriculum in K-12 instruction and how important this type of education is:
Environmental Bills Promoting Climate Literacy
Several states are attempting to pass legislation mandating climate change curriculum in K-12 instruction.
With this powerful knowledge embedded in children from a young age, educators will prepare their students to take on climate change and work towards improving our planet.
In 2020, New Jersey became the first state to implement a mandatory climate change curriculum!
Now, imagine if all other states follow. These children will become much more environmentally literate and aware, compared to previous generations who lacked this curriculum.
It is entirely okay to feel overwhelmed and stressed about climate change.
These tips help me ground myself and stay focused on simply becoming more conscious about my environmental impact. That allows me to put climate change into perspective. It’s not a one-person problem. But, everyone doing their part, whether that's reusing more items, educating themselves, attending protests, or teaching the youth, these actions create wonderful changes for our natural environment. All of these acts are truly inspiring and reassuring to witness.