Staying optimistic in the face of climate change

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

For the greater part of the past year and a half, a big share of my life has been dedicated to climate change. In my personal life, I have engaged in conversations, written articles, and taken online courses to expand my knowledge on the topic. In my professional life, we have been helping companies to measure and reduce their carbon emissions.

Climate change is not a particularly joyful topic. It encapsulates so many others such as poverty, racism, population displacement, as well more widely the existential threat our species is facing. It is important to never forget that climate change disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and people of colour. Climate change exacerbates social and racial inequality. In this context, ignorance is bliss but it is definitely not a solution.

Most recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nation’s body in charge of assessing climate change science, released its sixth report, “The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change”.

When you read the report, you understand why more and more individuals are experiencing climate anxiety. It is angst relating to feelings of fear or worry due to climate change and the effects it is having on the world. Climate change has indeed been recognised by the American Psychiatric Association as a threat to one’s mental health.

Since reading the IPCC report (the summary for policymakers of course, not the entire 1300 page report), I have definitely been struggling, with my mental health taking a hit. I have been feeling distressed by the scale and implication of the issues we are facing. These social and climate issues will increase exponentially, albeit to varying degrees depending on how we respond to the climate crisis.

Here are three things I find to be true:

These are some of the thoughts that have been haunting my mind. However, here are three things I find to be important:

I get a lot of hope from a story by Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist, women’s rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

A forest is hit by a devastating fire. All of the animals are forced to flee and watch in despair as their home is being destroyed by uncontrollable forces. All of a sudden, they see a hummingbird dashing to a river to collect a drop of water as it tries to put out the fire, drop by drop.

All of the other animals stand by feeling helpless, even the elephants which could carry much greater quantities of water. They tell the hummingbird: “What do you think you can do? You are too little, this fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.”

The hummingbird tells them; “I may be small and insignificant but I will do the best I can. I can always do the best I can.”

At the end of the day, we can all be hummingbirds. One hummingbird won’t put out the fire. Millions may. Even if the fire isn’t put out, at least we will have done the best we can. The forest in which we were all living was at least worth fighting for.

Paralysis in the face of climate change cannot be a solution. We all need to take action, no matter how little or insignificant these actions might feel to us.

I’ll leave you with a quote from my colleague David Turner as he highlights perfectly the importance of facing the realities of climate change, worrying about these realities, but most importantly, taking action at whichever scale we can.

“So, after all that, why be motivated to take action? Because if we don’t do something to lessen the impact, the inevitable impact on future generations, then what is the point of existing? Whatever we do, whatever incredible action we take, we have affected the climate, the Earth, and the ability of billions of people to live in places they have called home for thousands of years.

All we can do now is work to lessen that impact as much as possible and work towards the long-term. Frankly, I believe that it is our responsibility; our duty. It is important to take in the big picture of things, even to worry about them and think about things. It’s important to feel negative thoughts. It’s then important to put it all to one side and focus on the problems that you can actually affect. Take things day by day and enjoy the small wins.”

David Turner, Carbon Accounting Technical Lead at Emitwise

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Pierre-Louis Godin

Pierre-Louis Godin

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Always looking to learn more about environmental sustainability and climate change. I'll mostly be writing about these topics!