“The issue is that people mistake optimism for ‘blind optimism’ — the blinkered faith that things will always get better.”
Pessimism around progress has seeped into almost every grain of society. But I see it most clearly in my own field — environmental science. There, the feeling of doom is even harder to shake. That’s because, while most markers of human progress — whether that’s health, education, or poverty — have been moving in a positive direction, most environmental metrics have been going backward.
To some extent, environmental costs have been collateral damage to human progress. Last year I wrote an article in WIRED — “Stop Telling Kids They’ll Die From Climate Change” — that tried to push back on the growing doomism about our future in a changing climate.
I argued that the message we tell our kids about climate change is not just cruel, it also gets in the way of progress. The majority of young people today feel anxious about what the future will look like as a result of climate change. Many think “humanity is doomed.” Some are hesitant to have kids.
Of course, they get this feeling from the messages they’re told from leading activist voices. This message is not just wrong, it’s also counterproductive.
We give up when we feel like progress is impossible. If a problem can’t be solved, then where is the incentive to work on it? In a time when we need the world’s smartest and most creative minds working on a pressing problem, we turn them away from it by telling them a false story. They give up — or they reach for extreme solutions that just won’t get societal buy-in.
In reality, it is possible to solve our environmental problems. Climate scientists certainly think so. They are often less pessimistic than the general public, which is a new and odd disconnect.
They have children, and believe that they have a future worth living for. They continue to push for action and solutions every day. Few accept that humanity is doomed.
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