“We’ll all be dead in 50 years, anyway.”
Dark humor like this seems harmless at first, but it instills a sense of political impotence. A byproduct of sensational headlines and other counterproductive media that claim the irrevocable status of climate change, this cynical attitude fuels complacency towards climate change in a group imperative to combating it: young people.
According to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey of 10,000 teens and young adults in 10 countries, three-quarters were frightened of the future due to climate change. Climate anxiety itself is a warranted reaction given the urgency of the issue; however, the dismissive nature of resorting to nihilism, especially nihilistic humor, only serves to embolden fear and paralysis. In order to communicate the importance of climate action effectively, we must first change the framework through which we view the environment.
For instance, while it might be easy to respond to disheartening climate news with generalized conclusions, such as that humans cannot coexist with the environment, this trivializes the circumstances of those living outside the comfort of a developed country. It isn’t living that harms the planet, but rather first-world consumption and the infrastructure that upholds and feeds the climate crisis. This narrow outlook provides a convenient solution to climate issues that merely implores us to consume more resources — battery-powered alternatives like solar panels and electric cars — instead of rethinking our holistic approach to the environment. Rather than viewing the natural world as an inventory of resources that we should use, we should seek a mutualistic relationship with the earth.
Neither personal responsibility nor corporate action offer a clear panacea to climate change, but this doesn’t justify resigning ourselves to complete fear. Corporations have no incentive to cut back on resource use, and every technological innovation instead goes towards maximizing how much can be produced from the total amount of resources.
Ultimately, climate pessimism simplifies a problem that requires thinking expansively — beyond the parameters of consumption. The most practical solution is to divorce ourselves from myopic nonsolutions prescribed by the powers that be, and instead, recenter our conversations around finding ways to bolster collective action for true change, whether that be reducing our apocalyptic rhetoric or by starting with our basic needs before technological innovation.