Reasons for Hope on Climate Change in 2021
Despite the onslaught of climate disasters, there is more momentum for political action now than ever before
Written by Matthew Hoffman
Climate disasters started early in 2020—and kept on coming. The catastrophic fires in Australia in early 2020 were a holdover from 2019, but they were soon followed by flooding in Indonesia, a super cyclone hitting the coast of India and Bangladesh, and then more flooding, this time in Kenya and wide swaths of Central and West Africa.
Next came the record-breaking fires in the Brazilian Amazon, South America’s Pantanal wetlands, California and Colorado, followed by a historic hurricane season in the Atlantic, including two apocalyptic hurricanes in Nicaragua and Honduras.
With terrible symmetry, 2020 ended with bushfires consuming more than half of K’gari, a World Heritage site and island off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
A popular refrain on social media notes that while 2020 was among the hottest on record and one of the worst years for climate disasters, it is also likely to be among the coolest and calmest for years to come. During a speech at Columbia University in December, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres put it bluntly: “The state of the planet is broken.”
But now is not the time for despair.
Hope Is Found in Uncertainty
All this bad climate news has the potential to generate climate despair, numbing those watching the next tragedy unfold.
Climate despair is a growing phenomena, noted in the popular media and in academic research in public health, education, ethics, and philosophy. Psychologists even coined the term “solastalgia” to denote distress caused by environmental damage and loss. Climate despair is feeling with certainty that “we’re screwed,” that the worst impacts of climate change are inevitable and can no longer be stopped.
Despair feels reasonable given what we’re learning about climate change and seeing in the news. But it is a temptation that should be resisted.
Rebecca Solnit argues that hope is found in uncertainty—that the future is not set. Even given torrents of bad news, there are a number of reasons for hope. And 2020 could indeed be the turning point.
It has to be.
Science, Politics, and Hope
To be clear, climate despair does not square with current scientific understandings. We are in trouble, not screwed.
Actions taken now and in the next decade, individually and collectively, can make a difference. The news on climate impacts and climate science may feel like a march of doom, but climate scientists argue that it’s not too late to act and there is uncertainty in the extent of climate impacts we have guaranteed ourselves. We have not reached the point of no return.
In some ways, climate despair is the new climate denial, dulling the sense of urgency and blunting the momentum for action. The discourse paralyzes when paralysis is what we can least afford. The discourse of despair strengthens the grip of the status quo and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Continue reading the full article here.
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