Maintaining Optimism in an Era of Overwhelming Environmental News

Maintaining Optimism in an Era of Overwhelming Environmental News

Environmental Wellbeing

By: Cassie Freund

Cassie Freund is a PhD candidate in Miles Silman’s lab in the Department of Biology. She studies forest recovery after landslides in the Peruvian Andes.

Recycle. Drink from a reusable water bottle. Carry cloth bags in your car for the grocery store. Walk or bike to work. Eat less meat. Plant a tree.

Every day we are bombarded with ideas for ways that we can be a little more environmentally friendly. Some require minimal lifestyle changes, and some – like eating a couple less hamburgers a week, or driving less – might require seemingly larger sacrifices. Doing one or more of these actions probably makes you feel really good. I know I silently congratulate myself when I remember to bring my reusable bag to the grocery store so I can walk out without any extra plastic bags.

It is easy to feel like you’ve “done your part” once you start bringing your stainless steel mug to Starbucks, but research shows that focusing on these relatively small changes can actually erase our collective political will to make the really big structural changes that will actually be needed to prevent large-scale climate change. If we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, like severe heat and cold waves, sea level rise to levels that would wipe away most of our state’s beloved Outer Banks, and increased prevalence of tropical and tick-borne diseases, we as a society will soon need to make some tough political and economic choices. And those choices will require courage, political will, and discipline beyond what it takes just to swap out your lightbulbs.

The good news is that things are already starting to change as more people understand the realities of what it will mean to occupy a changing climate. The other piece of good news is that human ingenuity got us in this mess, and it can also get us out of it.

Saving ourselves from the worst effects of climate change will take a leap of faith, and faith runs on optimism. It is easy to feel defeated and pessimistic about what future Earth will look like, and you have a choice: will you throw in the towel and continue on with business-as-usual, or will you be a citizen that lives the spirit of Pro Humanitate and pushes for the types of big structural social changes that we need?

This month as you work to improve your environmental well-being, don’t give into the narrative that we have to choose either a healthy economy or a healthy planet (because I promise you, without the healthy planet we have no economy). Don’t just cross your fingers that technology will save us. And don’t beat yourself up if you get to the store and realize that you left your reusable grocery bag at home. Instead, do your research on which political candidates will make the best choices for our planet. Do communicate your desire for a healthy Earth with your wallet, by investing in green energy or donating to visionary NGOs. And do talk to your friends and neighbors about the environment and your hopes for the future.

One last suggestion: we in North Carolina are blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes on the East Coast. If you need a boost of inspiration to live more sustainably – whatever that means to you – it is always good to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.


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