The narrative of climate doomism is that our planet is doomed whether we act or not. However, scientists overwhelmingly agree we are not doomed. But for many, their first encounter with climate change is fear. If learning about climate change is synonymous with hearing about predictions of our doomed future or the ever-increasing severity of natural disasters, it can alienate people from the conversation.
One example of climate doomism occurred in 2019 when climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered an infamous speech. She stated, “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel fear every day. And then I want you to act.”
This is a good example of climate change information that is meant to inspire but often was internalized as climate doomism — the kind of messaging that makes people feel it is too late to do anything about climate change, and when we need direct action more than ever to fight climate change, that is not the result we should be looking for when it comes to climate education.
Thunberg and other climate doomers may play an important role in the climate movement, and their contributions shouldn’t be discounted. Still, while her narrative may motivate a few, fear fails to inspire long-term action and creates unnecessary anxiety around climate change.
Climate catastrophe predictions are based on business as usual, meaning what our future would look like if we didn’t cut carbon emissions. Climate doomism often focuses on these predictions while leaving out the power we have to shape our future and change these predictions. Leaving out the possibility of fighting climate change plays on fears and shock culture. However, shock is viral. News about a potential climate apocalypse garners massive amounts of traction on the internet, so for many writers, the benefit of media attention versus honest storytelling is a price they are willing to pay.
Sean Youra, a writer for the Medium, described his experience with climate doomism, saying in part, “I increasingly found myself engaging with even more negative climate change content that became a sort of positive feedback loop where reading one scary-sounding article would lead me to an even scarier one …”
Youra is one example of many people led down the climate doomist rabbit hole. However, Youra’s story didn’t end there. Now a climate action coordinator and advocate against the dangers of climate doomism, he says, “This is a critical moment in time for humanity. Not in the sense that we’ll all die off in a few years, but rather that this is a moment in which we must act boldly and challenge the status quo.” The call for bold action couldn’t be more correct.
The action our planet needs will not be inspired by fearmongering, which is why climate doomism is so dangerous. It does nothing to help cut carbon emissions or avoid the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold of warming. People must feel empowered that their actions make a difference. To fight climate change, we must reduce our carbon emissions to avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. But, reducing carbon emissions is going to take a lot of work. And work won’t be achieved if we resign to climate doomism.
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In Youra’s words, we need “bold action,” a mix of individual actions, policy changes and accountability from large corporations contributing to carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, politicians are more likely to notice your work with a collective, such as local nonprofits or environmental groups, which is why joining community-based grassroots organizations is more important than ever.
There is still time to act on climate change. We can create a cleaner, more sustainable future for ourselves and our communities. It is time for us all to take control of our future.
Miles Kelsey is a senior at Florida State University studying geology and environmental science. In their free time they work as an educator at ReThink Energy Florida, an environmental nonprofit. This opinion piece was originally published by the Tallahassee Democrat, which is a media partner of The Invading Sea website (www.theinvadingsea.com). The site posts news and commentary on climate change and other environmental issues affecting Florida.