By Rosalie Ruetz.
As with any divisive issue, there are numerous perspectives on climate change. One that has gained traction in recent years is “climate doomism,” the belief that, short of a miracle, nothing we do can prevent us from reaching a cataclysmic tipping point for the environment that will result in societal collapse.
Doomism believers tout that it’s too little, too late for the half-baked mitigation efforts that the governments of rich nations are managing to eke out. Instead, we should be focusing on psychologically and even physically preparing ourselves for the death of our society.
Doomism critics, meanwhile, see the philosophy as fear-mongering and a dangerous source of climate apathy. And they’re right—completely resigning to a doomed future does more emotional harm than practical good.
But still, I’ve seen how a diluted form of climate doomism has permeated the outlooks of young people, myself included. And truthfully, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
For one, it would be near impossible for many of us to not feel some degree of incoming doom. Anxiety and helplessness about our collective future are common to my generation because we grew up in the midst of the climate crisis.
This anxiety has even infiltrated one of the most basic human wants: the desire to have a family. Almost every single young person I’ve talked to about their response to the climate crisis mentions children. A 2017 study has become a regular talking point among young adults—it suggests that one of the top ways to reduce your individual carbon footprint is to have one fewer child.
It often feels as though the actions we can take on an individual level won’t make a difference; to have the same amount of impact as generations before us, we have to sacrifice so much more.
But these anxieties also point us in the right direction—if we truly hope to address the climate crisis, then we need to pursue deep institutional change, not just change on an individual level.
My work as a program assistant for the Friends Committee on National Legislation gives me hope. I see young people mobilizing across the world to call our governments to take bigger and bolder climate-saving actions. I see young people at the desks next to me that I already know will be the ones creating these institutional changes in just a few decades.
The sliver of doomism that has wedged its way into my generation’s heart calls us to think critically about what our futures will look like. We have seriously considered the worst-case scenario and decided that it isn’t acceptable. Despite our anxieties, an earth restored is attainable and I firmly believe that my generation will put in the work to turn things around.
Rosalie Ruetz is the Program Assistant for Sustainable Energy and Environment for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.