How to Be a Climate Activist and Not a Climate Nihilist Despite All the Bad News
The weather in the summer of 2021 was severe in many parts of Canada, and the winter has not been much better. In other parts of the world, violent storms have devastated communities while warming oceans have been killing coral reefs and causing ice at the North and South Poles to melt. People might be tempted to despair and become climate nihilists, believing that there is no hope and that we are all doomed. However, being a climate activist instead of a nihilist can help people to keep on working for their future.
Have you ever been in an accident and later found that you had a hard time remembering what happened? Psychologists have found that people tend to disengage from anything that they find overwhelming, especially if they feel powerless to change the situation. Effective climate action requires cooperation from many different people around the world. This could make people feel too small and insignificant to act.
Despite the massive nature of the problem, climate activists should maintain their commitment to their cause. Opponents of the movement often try to divide the climate movement, turning people against each other or making them doubt what the are saying or the value of their actions.
These divisions can take many forms. Opponents of climate action might question whether people are really at fault for the damage to the environment. They might point out how little difference one person can make and try to discourage people from taking any initiative. Some climate action doubters might try to distract activists by drawing their attention to unrelated issues or keeping them occupied with defending every tiny detail of their philosophy. Dividing the climate movement is another tactic that can often be effective since people within the movement are then too busy fighting among each other to deal with the climate crisis.
The three tactics of discouragement, distraction, and division can be very effective. Research shows that in general, people are consuming as many resources as ever, despite knowing about the dangers of climate change. Sometimes, this may be due to an inability to find a better way, such as driving a car in a city with slow and infrequent transit service. Often, however, it can be merely an unwillingness to change, such as when people eat as much meat as they did before they learned about the climate crisis. Apathy can be a major problem in dealing with the issues.
You might experience some of these problems yourself, or you might see them in people around you. For example, a member of your family might see no problem with taking the car to a grocery store two blocks away to pick up two or three lightweight items. Someone else you know might eat mainly imported foods rather than locally grown ones or have a diet that is heavily based on meat and other foods that use large amounts of resources to produce. Changing those habits can be difficult, especially if the people fail to realize the harm that they are doing.
Situations like these ones might tempt people to despair and to give up on climate action. However, it is important to remember that each person’s actions are part of the whole. You can set an example by taking the bus or your bicycle whenever possible and by eating less meat. You can encourage your family and friends to buy local foods instead of imported ones and to support plans for reducing the spread of cities into farmland or wild areas. Together with your friends, you can lobby the government for better transit systems and the preservation of wetlands and other green spaces.
Being a climate activist can be difficult with the bad news that we often hear, but it is important not to give in to nihilism. People can make a real difference in the world.
Ambrose, Jillian. “’Hijacked by Anxiety:’: How Climate Dread is Hindering Climate Action.” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/08/anxiety-climate-crisis-trauma-paralysing-effect-psychologists.
Carlin, David. “How You Can Fight Back Against The 3 ‘Ds’ of Climate Inaction.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidcarlin/2021/04/21/fighting-back-against-the-3-ds-of-climate-inaction/?sh=16dd763118ae.
Kalmus, Peter. “Opinion: How to Live with the Climate Crisis Without Becoming a Nihilist.” https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-09-13/global-warming-climate-change-science-activism-jonathan-franzen.
Pölzler, Thomas. “Climate Change Inaction and Moral Nihilism.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281320581_Climate_Change_Inaction_and_Moral_Nihilism.