Climate Optimism

Cause for climate optimism | Litterless

To work on issues of climate change (like I do) or to worry about issues of climate change (like we all do), is to live in the strange land of a hope that can feel doomed, the knife edge of optimism and despair.

My mood swings up when kind readers leave comments here about the small changes they've made in their own lives, when going to a friend's house and seeing their compost bin has come to be more the rule than the exception, when a Zero Waste Chicago event is packed with folks who want to learn about how to reduce their impact on a daily basis.

My mood swoops down when I read about the current EPA gutting the Clean Power Plan, when I pass a trash can full to the brim with Starbucks cups, when I think about all the promises made and broken (Paris, etc). That sick feeling of fear and anger in my gut is one I know too well. I'm sure you do too.

Truth is, you might be surprised at how loosely I follow the environmental news these days. I read articles about zero waste, plastic pollution, environmental justice, and the Chicago environmental space. I don't read much about what's happening in our National Parks, what's happening in the current EPA, the current science on climate change. To do my environmental work, I have to believe there is cause for hope, or how else could I work at it?

It's a balance: knowing the severity of the problems facing us is both utterly galvanizing and utterly demoralizing. You might find yourself more motivated the more you learn; I've found that the more I learn the more I feel paralyzed. Instead, I've given myself permission to keep my fears to one side and let myself dwell in the possibility and hopefulness of change. I've found it easier to work on the environmental problems right in front of me, in my life, in my community, when I don't force myself to bear the burdens of the entire world all at once. Not just easier, I suppose: that focus is the only thing that makes my work possible.

This is all to say: here's an essay on how climate journalist Eric Holthaus balances on the knife edge of climate despair. It's rare that I hear folks speak frankly about this, and I appreciated his honesty. In the spirit of kinship, here's a little bit of my own. Onward we work, because and despite it all.

Photograph from an Introduction to Zero Waste workshop we gave in Chicago last September.