EMBRACING CLIMATE OPTIMISM: HOW TO OVERCOME CLIMATE ANXIETY AND TAKE ACTION

Header image by Max van den Oetelaar

The recent explosion of media headlines blaming extreme weather on climate change is difficult to ignore. The new buzzword is climate crisis, and it sells. As a result, we're constantly receiving messages that we’re under imminent threat.

With sensationalised headlines conjuring up panic and fear, news outlets and social media are crippling many with climate anxiety. But what we need right now is logical, smart thinking and climate optimism.

OUR DYNAMIC WORLD

Climate change refers to temperature changes in the earth's climate system. The earth is not a stable object, it's a dynamic living body, and over millennia the earth's climate has gone through many cycles of heating up and cooling down.

At the moment, we're on a natural cycle of warming up. The problem is that the average temperatures are increasing slightly faster than scientists expect, and this excess increase is due to human activity.

Our dependence on fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas has enabled huge strides of development in the world and pulled more people out of poverty than anything else.

However, at the same time, the greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, released from burning fossil fuels, put a significant burden on Mother Earth.

Ultimately, we need to replace our dependence on fossil fuels with greener options while still enabling people to get out of poverty.

The problem is if we are to reduce greenhouse emissions, we need innovative technology and engineering advances in science that replace our need for fossil fuels.

Climate change is a nuanced and complicated subject, and the stakes are high. In our decisions, we have to balance the survival of people living today with the survival of future generations for decades to come. It's a complex conversation that doesn't lend itself well to media headlines because complexity doesn't sell; big headlines do.

 Wind turbines in Bourneuf-en-Retz, France - Image by Thomas Reaubourg

SENSATIONAL HEADLINES AFFECT OUR MENTAL HEALTH

Sadly, today, fierce media competition demands attention-grabbing headlines and shocking stories of doom and gloom. These stories are often misleading and don’t paint an accurate picture of the situation. They also come at the expense of deep, nuanced and complex conversations around science, research, innovation, and action.

So what we end up with is a climate crisis narrative. A misleading narrative that leads us to believe catastrophe is around the corner and makes humans into cancerous, toxic parasites. It's a one-sided story that causes panic, fear, guilt, and anxiety.

CLIMATE ANXIETY

Climate anxiety is an emotional response to information about global warming. This heightened state of anxiety, also known as eco-anxiety, is associated with feelings of stress, grief, guilt, shame, powerlessness, doom, and desperation.

Unsurprisingly, climate anxiety disproportionately affects those already seeing the effects of our changing climate, such as residents of low-lying pacific islands and the Philippines.

But a recent study showed that 69% of Americans surveyed reported that they are at least "somewhat worried" about global warming.

However, it is the younger generations that are suffering from climate anxiety. Of those who engage with climate-related content on social media, 77% report feeling climate anxiety after media exposure.Catching a wave. Image by Annie Spratt

SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?

While climate change is something we need to take seriously,  Bjørn Lomborg, a statistician and author of False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, is optimistic.

In fact, he suggests that we should be far more worried if climate change were in the opposite direction! Lomborg says that we could not survive the planet cooling down as well as we can cope with it warming up.

Lomborg, a long-standing environmentalist heralded as one of the fifty people who could save the planet, advocates for approaching climate change with ingenuity, optimism, and a cool head. He points out that human beings are problem solvers, citing our engineering ability to reclaim land as just one solution to saving cities from rising sea levels.

While climate change is a concern, and we do need to act and adapt, other global issues like famine and water pollution are still posing an imminent danger to the lives of millions.

WHY CLIMATE ANXIETY IS DETRIMENTAL 

We know that heightened levels of anxiety over long periods have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Anxiety is a natural response to perceived threat, and it causes us to go into fight, flight, or freeze. But our bodies are only designed to be in this state for short periods of time. Perpetually living in this state is damaging to both our physical bodies and our mental health. 

What’s more, when we’re in this state we make irrational decisions because we lose our ability to think critically and find creative solutions.

Sarah Jacquette Ray, author of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, is concerned that young people are so anxious about climate change they're willing to give up democracy and human rights to combat global warming. This is a classic example of climate anxiety leading us to make irrational decisions.

APPROACHING CLIMATE CHANGE WITH A MORE GROUNDED AND EMPOWERED MINDSET

We risk making bad decisions if we are overzealous about fighting climate change just to relieve our climate anxiety. We must change our mindset by taking a more balanced and logical perspective on climate issues.

CLIMATE OPTIMISM

Climate optimism is just that. Climate optimism asks us to take a fresh look at what is going on with curiosity, excitement, awareness, hope, and courage. It asks us not to see humanity as a cancerous scourge of the earth but as the creative innovators we are. 

It's also not a denial of climate change. It's about being rational and clear-headed so that we can meet these challenges head-on, critically, and creatively.

Climate optimism is about believing in humanity. And acknowledging that human beings are creative at their core and capable of meeting each challenge with innovative solutions.

Enjoying the beach in Lefkada, Greece - Image by Nikos Zacharoulis

SO HOW DO WE MOVE FROM CLIMATE ANXIETY TO CLIMATE OPTIMISM?

First, we need to make that choice. We have to want to move from a mindset of anxiety to one of positivity, hope, and courage. And we have to make an effort to do that. And that can be difficult when we’re paralysed with fear and anxiety.

News and media play a significant role in inducing feelings of anxiety. We need to replace sensationalising media stories of devastation with real data and science because the two just don’t add up. Yes, climate change is real and has a negative impact but devastation is highly unlikely and human welfare is expected to increase. This article will help relieve your anxiety and boost optimism to get you started.

Immersing ourselves in content that highlights innovative technological advancements, like the amazing sustainable fabrics used at Koraru, helps keep us optimistic. The Climate Optimist, a monthly magazine, will give you a regular dose of optimism and keep you up-to-date on innovation, progress and climate action.

Anne Therese Gennari, author of The Climate Optimist Handbook, offers us four pillars to move from climate anxiety to climate optimism; Choosing Change, Dealing with Awareness, Creating Optimism and Becoming Leaders. Her beautiful approach encourages us to heal ourselves so we can heal the world. She encourages emotional resilience, change, action, leadership, and optimism.

The Climate Optimist Handbook by Anne Therese Gennari

CHOOSE CLIMATE OPTIMISM AND BE PART OF THE SOLUTION

From a place of climate anxiety, we are frozen and unable to think critically or find creative solutions to combat climate change. But from a place of climate optimism, we can adapt to our changing environment. We can make the necessary changes, create the necessary solutions and design the necessary technological and engineering advancements to carry humanity through this and into the future.

Written by Kirsti Formoso - Wellness Writer for Koraru
Kirsti Formoso is a wellness writer and researcher. She is passionate about holistic health and wellbeing. She has over 30 years of experiential knowledge in personal and spiritual development, and a Masters of Science in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. She is also a peer reviewer for two scientific journals specialising in Transpersonal Pyschology. When she’s not writing she can be found working on her vegetable plot, hiking in the mountains and breathing in all the wonders nature has to offer.

 

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