Make the environmentally friendly decisions you can, and don’t shame yourself or others for what is not feasible
Davis has seen some pretty idyllic days in the past few weeks — it’s been perfect weather to go for a walk in the Arboretum, get some work done in the Kemper Courtyard or take a nap on the Quad. But for many, including the members of the Editorial Board, this unseasonable pleasantness has been accompanied by a consistently increasing anxiousness about what our future and the future of our planet will look like.
We see and react to information about climate change all the time. And our reactions are not limited to anxiety, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2021. The survey indicated that social media users who are millennials or Gen Z are not only more likely to engage with content about climate change but are also more likely to express anger in addition to anxiousness. There was a higher percentage of both millennials and Gen Z motivated to learn than any of the three categories of older generations, but a higher percentage of people from younger generations are anxious about the future than are motivated to learn more about climate change issues.
The time has come (it in fact came a while ago) for there to be significant action at national and global levels. Despite COP26 being deemed the “last best hope for the world to get its act together” by the U.S.’ climate envoy, the climate conference frustrated many, including the Editorial Board. A Nature article even led with the headline, “‘COP26 hasn’t solved the problem’: scientists react to UN climate deal.”
With such news along with recent weather, a longer fire season in California and the heat waves and extreme floods last summer, it is no surprise that young people are anxious and angry about inaction. The climate change narrative has evolved in recent years to identify the culpability of corporations and large institutions, but we recall our elementary education focusing on individual action like “reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Nihilistic outlooks about climate change are on the rise — this isn’t surprising, according to climate writer Mary Annaïse Heglar, because individual actions can feel meaningless against the emissions from corporations. Living through COVID-19 hasn’t helped either; due to the pandemic, young people reported significant degrees of stress surrounding academic or career goals, dating and even “having fun.”
Climate change is scary, and we all have every right to be terrified. But along with that, we need to recognize that though systemic change is the only way to guarantee a livable future, there are actions we can take.
Individual actions such as minimizing meat consumption (even if it’s just on certain days), choosing public transit over driving and opting out of fast fashion can also help; some action is better than no action, and doing what you can within your means is an excellent starting point. These actions can also help people feel more in control through overwhelming circumstances, and that is not an insignificant benefit. Judging yourself and others harshly for not committing to impractical change, however, helps no one and is counterproductive to finding lasting solutions.
At this point, many of us are fully aware of the outsized role corporations play in emissions — we cannot and should not ignore that. That being said, it’s not just the individual versus the corporation. It seems like there’s a lot we can’t do, but for some peace of mind what we can do is help educate others about sustainable habits and support community efforts to foster an attitude of environmental consciousness. Experts recommend community support to help push for long-term solutions while allowing people to share the burden of climate-related despair.
Donating to local mutual aid organizations in the form of time or money, organizing within one’s community, attending marches for climate activism and participating in “Buy Nothing” groups (in which people exchange goods and services for free) are a few other ways to build and strengthen community while advocating for sorely needed change.
In processing the assorted emotions that come with climate change, it’s also important to consider how climate change disproportionately impacts (and will continue to disproportionately impact) those already facing socioeconomic inequalities. Organizations such as the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program exist to address harmful practices that exacerbate environmental injustice.
The idea of consumer-driven sustainability is inherently flawed, but where we can, we should try to make changes with regard to companies we support. Voters should make their voices heard at the ballot. There are ways for us to push for the institutional change the planet desperately needs.
As we make our way through these stressful times, it’s critical that we take care of ourselves and those around us — we can’t push for an upheaval of climate-destroying institutions if we are burnt out. The members of the Editorial Board are trying, and we encourage you to as well.
Written by: The Editorial Board