Every year on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. On this day, some Americans take time out of their busy schedules to celebrate the environment. But in recent years, positive messages about the environment have been drowned out by defeatist attitudes.
In 2020, one of the Oxford Dictionary’s Words of the Year was “doomscrolling,” defined as “an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of dystopian news.” It combines two core pillars of life as a young adult in the twenty-first century: pervasive social media use and poor mental health. It’s quite fitting, as our generation is uniquely plagued with fear for the future.
Generation Z overwhelmingly struggles with anxiety and depression in comparison to previous generations, especially about the future. A majority of Gen Z youth (75% nationwide) have experienced mental health complications related to climate change, according to Blue Shield of California’s second annual NextGen Climate Survey. According to The Guardian, four out of ten young people even cite climate change as a reason they’re hesitant to have children in the future.
In the digital age, we’re bombarded with negative news, and the lack of effective policies by our representatives on the issue of climate change specifically makes it worse. For example, the Biden Administration recently approved the controversial Willow Project, authorizing oil drilling in Alaska after previously pledging not to do so. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote that, “If Willow produces as much oil over thirty years as expected, the consumption of that oil would release the equivalent of 277 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere” — roughly 4% of U.S. emissions.
From social media to school, young people are being bombarded with one message over and over again: the future they’ve inherited is bleak. Many young people find themselves becoming “doomers,” an ideology described by The Washington Post as people who “believe that the climate problem cannot, or will not, be solved in time to prevent all-out societal collapse.” In an international survey from the University of Bath, 56% of people aged 16-25 agreed with the idea that “humanity is doomed.”
Even though doomers are often very knowledgeable about the devastating effects of climate change, their extremely pessimistic ideology leads them to embrace the same kind of life as climate deniers: one of inaction and a“delusion of normalcy” according to climate activist Margaret Klein Salamon. Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University, argues that doomerism is a tactic used by the same corporate interests that seek to prevent climate action in favor of making a profit. Instead of arguing that climate change doesn’t exist, they are now arguing that it’s too late to do anything.
Just like denialism, climate doomerism is alluring in that its believers get to kick back and live life as usual: why advocate or organize if we’re already too far gone? In an article by AP News, scientists across organizations, such as NASA and the United Nations, agree that doomerism is the wrong approach to take to climate change.
Simply put: the future is not set in stone. We still have time.
Those who profit off of climate change, such as fossil fuel corporations or carbon-heavy industries like transportation, haven’t stopped pushing for people to give up advocating for climate change policy. We can’t let them get their way. We owe it to ourselves — and the future — to have optimism and to put that optimism into action.
The work ahead of us will not be easy or convenient. On the contrary, many scientists around the world agree that addressing climate change will require a completely new approach to political, economic, and social organization. But if we never even try, we’ll never know how much better the future will be if we fight for it.
A well known proverb states that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” So plant trees and don’t lose hope — a tree planted late is better than a tree never planted at all.