Ask Umbra: Is there hope in this world?
Send your question to Umbra!
Q. Dear Umbra,
I am an up-and-coming millennial looking at this world and I often wonder — is there hope for us on this planet? I realize this is a loaded question, but I was after your honest opinion as someone who has been at this longer than me and might have seen a few things. Thank you.
A. Dearest LL,
Might have seen a few things? Why just this morning I saw a pair of wild turkeys walking down the middle of the street as if they owned the place. But those are probably not the things you mean.
I appreciate loaded questions, especially from up-and-coming millennials such as yourself. Now for my little secret: I am by nature hopeful. I have to be, since I spend my days encouraging people to make greener choices and be wiser citizens of the planet. If I thought they weren’t following through, or that their personal and political actions didn’t matter, my entire reason for being would evapotranspirate, wouldn’t it? Nobody wants to see what I look like as a vapor.
But even the most hopeful among us must acknowledge that we are, to use a technical term, in deep doo-doo. Climate change is here, it’s real, and it’s wreaking havoc. We no longer have time to fiddle around. As my colleague David Roberts puts it, we do something or we’re screwed. (I encourage you to take some time to watch David’s delightful video elaborating on this point.)
The good news is, people are doing things. Stroll with me for a moment down the Boulevard of Maybe We’ll Be OK After All, where we find a few reasons to be optimistic:
- People of all stripes are speaking up. Under the deft leadership of veteran activist (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben, the group 350.org is spearheading a global climate movement that’s getting bigger and louder all the time. Earlier this year, tens of thousands of protesters descended on D.C. This group is active in 188 countries. There are other groups out there too, from Climate Parents to Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, and recent polling shows that most Americans believe (finally) that climate change is a problem. You are not alone.
- Kids are super smart(er than us). You do not say where on the millennial age range you perch, but I must inform you that you are already old compared to the next up-and-comers. Who appear to be a bunch of serious overachievers: All around the world, young people are inventing things, convincing companies to change their practices, sticking it to world leaders, and generally raising a ruckus — have a look at a few of the most inspiring examples we’ve spotlighted here in Grist. Turns out younger generations are greener generations, hooray. And if an 11-year-old can stand up to Big Oil, there must be something you can do.
- Not all politicians are corrupt, greedy lunatics. Or so I’ve heard. This is a tough climate in which to push for action on climate, but that doesn’t stop some of our elected officials from trying. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are among them. Secretary of State John Kerry is a climate hawk now in a powerful position. President Obama is talking a good game, as are other prominent leaders like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. What happens next is partly up to all of us. Tell your representatives you want them to act on climate change. Then tell them again.
- The world is full of innovation. Driverless cars? Yes. Pee-powered generator? Absolutely. Soup pot that charges your cell phone? Why not. The mix of human ingenuity and accessible technology is making this century of ours a pretty astonishing one, and smart people are working hard on ideas for stabilizing the climate, from energy storage to geoengineering. Though we humans have a propensity to really futz things up, we are also pretty committed to the idea of surviving as a species. Turns out that can be an excellent motivator.
Those are just a few hopeful signs — perhaps your fellow readers will chime in with others. And you, LL, give me hope, because you’re thinking about the mess we’re in. Keep thinking, keep speaking up, keep doing what you can — and let’s keep hope alive. Otherwise, we’re sunk.