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A dark-haired woman holds back an industrial machine against the backdrop of the Amazon, she reaches out of frame for the hand of another to help. Illustration by Walker Gawande.

How to inject some optimism into your climate doom diet

Curiosity and wonder are good anecdotes against fear

Our latest piece, “Getting in the room,” shows how young activists in Brazil have refused to be cowed by overwhelming attacks on the environment and democracy in Brazil. Can we take a page out of their book?

How can we overcome dread and move towards action?

Lately, the media seems to be reaching a fever pitch of bad news about the climate, with new dire predictions coming daily. Even those not fully tuned in can be confronted with viral videos of avalanches, trains surrounded by a ring of fire, and flash floods turning a pleasant swimming outing into a nightmare.

But despite the constant drumbeat of dread, I’ve found that I’ve become more optimistic since working with our authors at Unbias the News, not less. Because all around you, not always going viral, are people working incessantly for a better world. Like in our latest story by Marina Martinez, profiling three young women who are working for climate justice in Brazil. They are remodeling democracy to look more like them and fighting to get in the room to counter the voices of racism, patriarchy and environmental destruction.

After reading that article, you may have the unfamiliar feeling of mild optimism for the future. Want to keep that feeling going? Try these tips- they worked for me. 

Break out of your news bubble

The entire world is experiencing increased climate chaos, but it doesn’t hit evenly: countries in the Global South are likely to be most effected, at least initially. And within countries, women and vulnerable minorities are disproportionately at risk. Yet, legacy media often fails to capture the perspectives of these communities, reflecting a larger bias towards the views of the white, the wealthy and the western.

But interestingly enough, the news coming from the most vulnerable regions often isn’t a downer - instead there are a lot of innovative ideas at work, some of which could inspire solutions in other settings.

For instance, in India, Unbias the News author Sanket Jain has written about how rural conservationists are helping people learn how to live with animals like snakes that get a bad rap but are important for local ecosystems.

Outlets like Mongabay, HumAngle, Rest of World, African Arguments, Climate Tracker, and of course our Indie alliance partners bring a different angle to climate coverage that isn’t always relentlessly optimistic but certainly gives lots of context and new ideas. One way to negate fear is to get curious.

Read more science fiction

This is definitely an “it worked for me” story. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in an apocalyptic reading mood, but ran out of options quickly and started to discover a new genre: science fiction (or speculative fiction.) Strangely enough, nothing has done more for my optimism about the future than reading books like the Parable series by Octavia Butler, Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson and The Actual Star by Monica Byrne. 

Unlike sunny predictions of carbon capture saving us somehow, sci-fi can often go much weirder and darker in predicting the causes of our imminent demise and what can save us. Whether its forming resilient community in preparation for the absolute worst (Butler), a little bit of every idea on the table (Robinson) or sexy-tech-spiritualism (Byrne), sci-fi reassures that another world is always possible, and the future might look nothing like we expect.

Visit a project IRL

Once you start to see the solution to climate change as a million little pieces adding up to a monumental shift, your part in the solution seems neither trivial nor hopeless. If you want to see what I mean, why not check out a project in your vicinity that is trying to do things differently? For instance:

-a community garden with lots of bee-friendly plants

-a zero-plastic supermarket

-a solar farm or micro-grid project

-a kitchen recycling restaurant food waste to feed the hungry

-a local farmers market accepting food stamps

I’m not suggesting you start a project like this yourself, just be a tourist and see what kind of things are already out there. Its incredible to see what is possible on small scales, and how people can and do take matters into their own hands. It may inspire you to get involved, donate time or money, or simply to plant a bee-friendly plant nearby.

Learn a skill

Previously mentioned author Octavia Butler wrote the climate apocalypse handbook, Parable of the Sower, about a society in the grips of a crises of white-supremacist populism, dangerous environmental degradation, and radical inequality (already back in 1993!). The heroine of her book is a young woman who takes matters into her own hands, preparing in a multitude of ways for the inevitable day when she has to flee. 

No need to go full-on prepper and start building your cabin in the woods, but learning a useful skill builds confidence and fights off eco-dread. For instance, learning how to garden and/ or cook sustainable meals with ingredients like legumes that enrich rather than deplete the soil. Or taking a wilderness survival course, learning swimming or hiking skills, or getting certified in CPR. 

It couldn’t possibly hurt, and it helps with a mental shift from helplessness to helpfulness. Knowing that you bring something to the table can make the coming alleged apocalypse seem a little less scary, and if that apocalypse doesn’t ever come, no one’s gonna kick you out of a party for knowing an awesome vegan chili recipe or knowing which direction is north just from looking at the stars. 

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