Column, Opinions

Considering a More Positive Outlook on Climate Change

Generation Z is anxious—more anxious than preceding generations. And Gen Z is particularly anxious about climate change.

Climate anxiety is the by-product of a well-intentioned, worldwide movement to advocate for a better environment. Environmental advocacy makes us more aware of the threats posed to our planet, but deeper consideration of these threats can lead to climate anxiety. 

The environmental movement is undoubtedly necessary for humans to confront the ecological impacts of our industrialized and globalized society. Schools and media have promoted this movement by informing our youth about the dangers of climate change and the history of how humans have harmed the environment.  

A survey in 2021 found that 84 percent of 16 to 25-year-olds were at least moderately worried about climate change, and 59 percent were very or extremely worried. 45 percent of respondents even went as far as to say that their feelings about climate change negatively impacted their everyday lives. 

While I agree with the intentions of the environmental movement, I think our generation’s fear of climate change is overly pessimistic and lacks positive foresight. 

I don’t say this to challenge the firm scientific consensus that climate change is real and requires immediate action. Instead, I want to offer a more optimistic outlook on our present environmental issues than the overwhelmingly negative one being fed to us by the education system and media. 

Four in 10 Americans believe we are currently living in the end times. Of course, not all doomsday beliefs stem from climate existentialism—artificial intelligence, epidemics, and religious scripture all contribute to this figure. But nevertheless, there remains a tangible, lingering fear among my peers that the environment will not be in adequate shape when the time comes to raise kids of our own.

This concept of a doomsday is nothing new to humans. From the Mesopotamians to the Old Testament to the Y2K conspiracy, people from all different time periods and schools of thought have feared that doomsday was imminent. In a sense, it is comforting to know that we are not at all different from past humans in our fear of the end times.

Imagine that the 200,000 years of modern Homo sapiens’ existence is a 100-page book. Gen Z would only take up about half of a sentence on the very last page. It would be very unlucky if the book abruptly ended on our half of the sentence, or even on one of the sentences immediately following ours.

It is in our nature as humans to overestimate the size of our microscopic lifespans in the grand scheme of human history. This is out of necessity—we need to fight to sustain our existence and not take it for granted. But if you are up at night worrying about whether you should have kids because the world might end in 20 years, remember the book analogy and how unlikely it is that you—or even your kids—will see the end of the world.

While this perspective can be comforting, it doesn’t change the fact that we are facing serious and sizable changes to our planet at an unmatched pace. But if the climate crisis really is the doomsday scenario for our society, we have exponentially more knowledge and technology to combat it than any humans before us have. And while the pace at which governments, corporations, and people are utilizing this knowledge and technology to fight climate change is too slow, it is bound to speed up when things turn for the worse.

Think back to World War II, when the United States converted commercial factories into manufacturing plants to produce the war machines that defeated the Nazis. This incredible and rapid adaptation began after we entered the war, though in hindsight, it would have led to an easier and quicker victory if it had begun in advance. Sometimes, it takes an increase in pressure to initiate action, and the pressure surrounding climate change is surely increasing. 

As climate change continues to pose a larger and larger threat to us all, we will inevitably utilize our resources and industrial capacities to solve it. Not to mention, there are likely innovative solutions and remedies to carbon emissions and environmental harms that we haven’t even invented yet. 

So be aware of the climate crisis. Advocate for change. Live your life in an environmentally responsible way. But don’t let the negativity consume you. Remember that humans are adaptive and a far more resilient species than we give ourselves credit for. Don’t worry about the book of humanity ending on the 100th page—think about the ways we can ensure our story continues for generations to come.

December 4, 2023