“‘It’s too late’ means ‘I just want to be comfortable for as much of my life as possible, because I’m already comfortable,’” Mr. Aiken said. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me, and I can continue existing however I want.’”
To ward off his own sense of doom, Mr. Aiken monitors his intake of climate news. He came up with a metric: Focus 20 percent on problems, and 80 percent on solutions. He’s come to understand that there’s a lifetime of work ahead, and concentrates on grass-roots movements and effecting local change. “That work fulfills me,” he said, “and keeps me optimistic about a future in which we can still survive and thrive.”
Kate Marvel, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, said that even she freezes up when she encounters fear-based climate messaging. But her own focus is on all that humans can still do. She pointed out the positive effects of federal clean air and water legislation and the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals, which helped to heal the hole in the ozone layer, prevented millions of cases of skin cancer a year and headed off even worse global warming.
“We are still facing very dire threats, that’s legitimate,” Dr. Marvel said. “But that doesn’t mean that no policy has ever been effective, and no progress has ever been made. And it certainly doesn’t mean that progress isn’t possible.”
Or, as Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate essayist and co-host of the “Hot Take” podcast and newsletter, said, “Look at all the lives in the balance between 1.5 and 1.6 degrees.” She was referring to the additional drought, heat, flooding and destructive storms that scientists say will result with every fraction of a degree of global warming.
For Ms. Heglar, as bad as climate doomism is, so is what she called “hopeium” — an unfounded optimism that someone else will come up with a magical climate solution akin to a silver bullet.
“Underneath doomerism and hopeium is the question of ‘Are we going to win?’” Ms. Heglar said. “That’s premature at this point. We need to ask ourselves if we’re going to try. We don’t know till we try if we’re going to win. Whether or not we do, it will still have been worth it.”
Audio produced by Tally Abecassis.