Amid the daily deluge of bleak, enervating news about the effects of climate change, we’ve been noticing a strain of defiance: messaging that engenders energy and activism rather than despair and paralysis. Many are the work of young GenZers, born between 1995 and 2009 (give or take a few years) who have formed something of a movement: Climate Optimism. They reject the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. And they are getting some serious press like this from The New York Times’ “‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late”:
…people like Ms. Wood, and her thriving community of climate communicators, believe that staying stuck in climate doom only helps preserve a status quo reliant on consumerism and fossil fuels. Via social media, she and her fellow “eco-creators” present alternative narratives that highlight positive climate news as well as ways people can fight the crisis in their everyday lives.
Along with allaying their own eco-anxiety, they have found a growing audience hungry for what they have to say.
Nineteen young activists have created EcoTok, a “platform for good” on TikTok. Instagram has daily posts via #climateoptimism and individual channels like Zahra Biabani’s whose somewhat awkward Ted Talk has been gaining serious traction (tangible examples from 7:06 on):
We’re not naive. We know the details and the data that speak to the devastation of the climate crisis like the back of our hands because it’s our future to inherit. But we also know that the future we deserve cannot be built on the unstable foundations of fear and anxiety. It must be built with one of the few infinite resources that we have on this finite planet: hope.
So we choose climate optimism. We choose to fight for the future that we deserve.
To accompany this post, we chose the work of Finnish artist Antti Laitinen who makes complex, beautiful, and disturbing images in Nature, using trees and forests mostly. He cut up a tree to rebuild it himself, nailing the parts together Frankenstein-style, and showed the impossibility of duplicating nature’s fabulously complex and elegant design. In two videos, he treats trees like marionettes, pulling the strings to make them sway, collapse, reanimate. “I have turned a tree into a marionette. With strings I tried to imitate real wind.” Living trees subjugated by art and will.
There are those who do not share the climate-optimist’s view. We were recently given a copy of How to Blow Up a Pipeline, saboteur and climate activist Andreas Malm’s manifesto urging revolutionary change by “the strategic acceptance of property destruction and violence.” For Malm, playing “nice” hasn’t worked.
But we are heartened by the young looking to find a new path through the mess we’ve created. We’re thinking hard about how we might engage with it in our own lives, realizing that we have given up hope of effecting change. To mitigate our climate anxiety, we like this view from Laura Chávez Silverman, Founding Naturalist of The Outside Institute in the Upper Delaware Valley, devoted to fostering a greater connection with the Earth through nature immersion and education:
While we cannot bury our heads in the sand and need to be aware of what is happening with our planet, we must become adept at holding two realities simultaneously. The world is still full of beauty. The birds still give voice to their songs of celebration. Rain still falls from the sky. There are places we can go to remind us why we choose not to buy plastic water bottles or walk rather than drive—or whatever it is you do to feel of service to this Earth. These places are often right outside your door, where trees exhale oxygen for you and the sound of running water soothes your weary soul.
Mary Oliver put it this way in her poem The Fist:
There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course
if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get
your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
for a thousand years now,
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—
Instead: such patience!
to let us continue!
little by little,
only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
Behold, how the fist opens
From Thirst: Poems (2007 by Beacon Press