The state of the environment in California — as in the country — is grim this summer. A record heat wave. The state’s first recorded tropical storm in 84 years. Another dangerous wildfire season is coming. There is no end to bad news. What’s the best way to deal with our collective climate anxiety?
Some might say keep a positive attitude. In fact, if you’ve read articles on the environment lately, you’ve surely heard arguments in favor of “climate optimism”, the idea that humanity will find a way to undo the damage it has done before. to achieve social and biological collapse. , often referred to as “climate pessimism”.
There are two motivations behind this kind of positivity. The first is the sincere belief that things will work out. The other is practical: the idea that a positive attitude is the best way to motivate people to devote their time and resources to climate solutions.
Or, perhaps more accurately, that climate cataclysm is as dangerous to the movement as climate denial. As Financial Times columnist Pilita Clark recently wrote, “pessimistic thinking is dangerous because it breeds paralysis and disengagement, which is precisely what the forces of climate inaction seek.”
But given the extreme weather events we are witnessing month after month, I cannot bring myself to embrace climate optimism. I consider myself realistic and, in reality, there is very little reason to believe that everything will be fine.
The disastrous effects of environmental destruction are accumulating far faster than anything we do to address them. Focusing on unhappiness is crippling, but promoting a false sense of optimism has real consequences. If people believe that life on this planet will continue to be comfortable, they will be less likely to make meaningful changes in their lives, whether it’s having lots of children, eating meat, factory farming or driving SUVs.
Of course, most people would rather not think about climate catastrophe, but the only way to avoid catastrophe is to stop clinging to the best of times.
“Scaring people into action doesn’t work,” writes Hannah Ritchie, an Oxford environmental researcher, in her argument about balancing climate catastrophe with complacent optimism. She criticizes sharing exaggerated doomsday scenarios as a tactic to make people care.
But the thing is, we don’t need to stretch the truth to express how dire the situation already is. This year is on track to be the warmest on record, and climatologists like Kim Cobb of Brown University warn that “in another decade, this will most likely be considered a relatively cool year.”
Communicating that things are bad and getting worse isn’t alarmist, it’s just honest. There are legitimate reasons to be afraid. If we cannot admit this, we will not be able to respond adequately to the crisis.
It is not impossible to be realistic, even pessimistic, and to act at the same time. For example, it is far from certain that meat grown from cells grown in the laboratory rather than slaughtered animals will ever hit the mass market. In fact, there are many reasons to believe that cell-grown meat will eventually fail.
Yet if we can find a way to do this, making meat in breweries could eliminate the need for factory farming and the detrimental effects it has on the environment. We can be realistic about the obstacles – and even the likelihood of failure – without prematurely neglecting this effort.
I feel the pull of optimism. It makes everything so much easier. Pessimism is exhausting, as is action, but we have no choice. To tackle the climate crisis, we don’t need naive faith in success: we need enough fear, hope and compassion to get things done.
Brian Kateman is co-founder of the Reductiontarian Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the societal consumption of animal products. ©2023 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.
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