Walking the hope tightrope
How to get the climate change movement back on track
THE FOSSIL FUEL industry thrives on fatalist climate change messaging and, so far, they’re winning
For many Americans, Fourth of July weekend is the summer kickoff. Some of my best childhood memories of barbecues and pool parties often entailed long road trips. No social media to scroll through on a family car ride, no depressing newsfeeds, just the relaxing distraction of wondrous landscapes, wildlife, and the road ahead. It was a magical, blissful era frozen in time.
Now that I have children, a 21st-century summer means watching them get pummelled with news of ferocious storms, catastrophic droughts, and horrific fires at every turn, even in their TikTok feed. For adults, the 24-hour news cycle is equally ubiquitous. It suffocates our ability to converse about anything other than the latest Washington calamity.
This conundrum pervades activist and stakeholder spaces. Spaces that once harvested aspiration are now cynical and depressing. Policymakers who campaigned on hope and change are fleeing office. This is understandable, perhaps even unavoidable, as we have long been under duress. The Trump administration’s divisive damage and the pandemic have left us scarred and battered. COVID-19 shattered lives and livelihoods, keeping us from our loved ones, and, tragically too often, forcing us to say goodbye long before we had hoped to. Let’s face it: many things we cherish have been shattered in some way, reminding us how delicate we genuinely are.
We have subconsciously trauma-bonded as a species and now should have more in common with our neighbors and international allies than ever before. Perhaps lessons of the pandemic will spur a world-united front to combat climate change. This shared awareness could be our superpower; if we could only talk past differences and harness it.
Successful movements are built on a common story and lead to collective prosperity. Social mobilization experts say movements don’t succeed because they are “right,” but through compelling arguments rooted in lived experiences. As we stumble out of our pandemic lockdown, we must not forget the lessons learned and chart a new path based on our shared goals. Now more than ever, we require a movement that unites and influences positive messages and policies. Most people do not want to join the “end of the world club” because they are motivated by hope, engaging in coalitions that provide belonging and positivity.
Currently, my beloved climate community of policymakers and advocates are exhausted by backward decisions like West Virginia V. EPA and Biden’s proposal to unleash oil drilling in Alaska and off the coast of Mexico. Even Massachusetts’ regulatory agencies look to seal our fate and lock us into a fossil-dependent future simply because they cannot conceptualize a fossil fuel-free world. While I too am guilty of succumbing to defeatism, now more than ever, this moment calls for collective action, not collective agony and despair.
Walking the hope tightrope won’t be easy, but it is necessary. We must divorce ourselves from the relentless, unbalanced, and debilitating climate crisis news cycle. As much as you know what is wrong, make sure you know more about what is right. Then act on it. To that end, it is imperative that the climate movement message – and that of all social movements – is fighting for something, more than fighting against.
Lastly, adaptation dialogue has yet to appear in the climate movement and, as a result, is absent in policy. As a whole, climate movements in the United States avoid adaptation conversations, opting to solely align their mission with mitigation. Too many believe that talking about adaptation gives the impression the movement has surrendered. This approach is misguided. If we first discuss adapting to what is already occurring, we empower each other with viable solutions to problems that are otherwise daunting. It will advance, not surrender, the climate movement by inviting participation and contribution from other stakeholders previously sidelined. And we need all hands on deck.
With resources less abundant in a hotter world, and the threat of sea-level rise, we must rethink how and where we live and what we consume. Such change will create opportunity. Opportunity creates prosperity, and prosperity can catalyze hope and the unification of communities. A new world is coming. We will either shape it or it will shape us. It could be humanity’s greatest triumph, as the story of our destiny has yet to be written.
Cabell Eames is the political director of the Better Future Project/350 Mass and Mass Action/Mass Renews Alliance.