How to remain hopeful in the face of climate change

Vanessa Chris Cameron
6 min readAug 12, 2021

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It’s weird, coming face-to-face with your nine-year-old self.

My dad recently went to great lengths to transfer old home videos to an email-able format and — among the list of gems that have slowly infiltrated my inbox in recent weeks — is a video of a miniature me, practicing my very first speech on The Environment.

I remembered the speech but didn’t remember the details. Most notably, I remembered the shock and sadness that kind of took root and grew over the years after researching this topic. But I didn’t remember my initial reaction: hope.

That’s what strikes me most about this silly nine-year-old girl bouncing across the screen. As she recites her lines about aerosol cans and Styrofoam containers — as she pleads for her classmates’ help — you can tell she’s actually hopeful. The sadness hasn’t kicked in yet. Rather, she genuinely believes the world can change — and that this one small act will make a difference.

With the recent release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, I’m trying my darndest to channel that nine-year-old spirit. But adopting the hope of a nine-year-old when you’re on the other side of 40 isn’t as easy as it sounds. Not only have I watched these scientists’ warnings go ignored for decades, but the pandemic has left me feeling depleted. Energy to do anything is hard to come by these days. Hoping the world’s leaders will all simultaneously wake up and turn this ship around? Well, I’d be lying if it doesn’t feel downright impossible.

Virtually everyone is feeling it

But wallowing in the futility of it all — or hiding in my air-conditioned house and pretending the world isn’t heating up outside my door — isn’t exactly serving me well. I’m prone to something Google describes as “climate anxiety” — apocalyptic visions that usually find me late at night, making it impossible to sleep. I’ve had it since I was a kid — probably around the time that Environment speech failed to change the world in the way I had hoped — and it creeps back from time-to-time, usually on unseasonably warm summer nights.

For the longest time, I thought my condition was an anomaly — no one in my circle seemed to be quite as worked up about the future state of the planet as I was. But, according to my late-night Google research, as the effects of climate change become more evident, that seems to be changing. More people are feeling sad about losing the version of the planet they knew as kids. They’re experiencing grief as they witness their natural environment — their home — change before their eyes. They’re worried about facing an uncertain future — one many believe we’re ill-equipped to navigate. These are things the world’s top scientists concur is actually happening — and something that’s only natural to be deeply concerned about.

But is that a feeling we just have to live with — or is there a way to reconcile it and move forward? Is it still possible to hang onto hope, even when we know better? According to Thomas J. Doherty, PsyD, a psychologist from Portland, Oregon, there is a way to work through these feelings. The key, he says, is to “validate, elevate, and create”:

a) Validate whatever problem you’re facing — in this case, climate change — and stare it straight in the face.

b) Elevate it, lift it up, and recognize that it’s a big deal — one that’s important and worthy of your concern.

c) Then, look at it from all angles, brainstorm creative solutions and act on them.

Knowledge is power

This really resonates with me. For the longest time I would try to stick my head in the sand — I would ignore the headlines, quickly scroll past the articles. If I did ever speak about my worries of climate change — like the time I admitted to my boss that my long commute was weighing on me, due to its impact on the environment — I was usually met with blank stares. Or, worse, scoffs. So I stopped talking about it.

The act of validating my worries is surprisingly liberating. When you can acknowledge that something’s bothering you — and it’s okay that it’s bothering you — it becomes easier to forge a path forward. In my case, I started educating myself about the topic. I mustered the courage to read the frightening articles and uncover the facts — and the truth made the entire situation surprisingly less frightening. Through the process I learned that political involvement was one of the most impactful things I could do in the fight against climate change. So I volunteered for my local Green Party chapter.

It was a really simple step — and hardly world-changing. But once I surrounded myself with people who shared my environmental concerns, I realized it wasn’t something I had to keep hidden. Not only could I freely talk about it, but I was introduced to new ideas — and practical solutions — through that process. Basically, I not only found the community I needed to join the climate movement, but it also allowed me to rediscover hope. Not my nine-year-old style of hope, though. Something Ashley Cunsolo, a health geographer and founding dean of the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies in the Labrador Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, calls “gritty hope”.

“It’s hope that’s earned. It’s not this kind of Pollyanna hope of ‘Oh, well, hopefully the government does something’,” she says. “It’s about communities coming together and saying, ‘This is really awful. What are we going to do about it?’”

Changing the world takes work

Gritty hope is essentially hope born out of empowerment. You feel like you can make a difference — because you’re well-aware of the enormity of the problem and the solutions available to change course. You know what needs to be done, and you’re on a team with the same goal in mind.

And, in my experience, this kind of hope really helps. After joining the Greens, I slept like a baby. Until we endured our third school closure and the pressure of balancing home schooling, a full-time job and the mental health of my family (and myself) became too much. I had to collect myself and take a step back from everything, including the Greens. But now the climate anxiety is back — which makes me wonder if that’s my sign to put another (heavy) foot in front of the other.

If you, like me, are feeling low in the wake of the IPCC report, I invite you to lean into that emotion, sit with it and validate it. Acknowledge that this is a giant, terrifying problem. And then, when you’re ready, dive in and explore it.

This can be as simple as

· Mustering up the courage to read the IPCC report in its entirety — or simply reading a summary from the Associated Press.

· Following some solution-driven social media accounts — like 1MillionWomen and OneCanadaProject

· Learning more about the different political parties’ stances (and track records) on climate change — including your Green Party candidates and platforms. Vote for leaders who represent your values — or volunteer to help leaders you believe in get elected.

· Reading books like Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth or Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which offer alternative paths to the road we’re on.

· Finding your tribe — whether online or in-person. Just find a group that aligns with your values and join them. It will lift you right up.

Once you get the wheels in motion, see where the journey takes you. Perhaps just learning about being a carbon-responsible individual is enough to give you peace of mind — but maybe you’ll find other opportunities to lend your talents, and make an even greater impact. The goal is simply to turn our gritty hope into gritty action — and throw whatever weight we can muster into steering this ship in the direction we want it to go.

Maybe our actions will be enough to force our political and business leaders’ hands and allow us to avoid the worst-of-the-worst case scenarios. But, then again, maybe it won’t. Only time will tell. Bottom line? There’s no harm in trying. I mean, what have we got to lose?

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Vanessa Chris Cameron

I’m a b2b copywriter and hot mess mom with a passion for sustainability.