Discover more from Talking Climate with Katharine Hayhoe
We are not doomed
Cutting fossil fuel subsidies, cities taking action, and how to find hope
The last few months, there’s barely a corner of the planet that hasn’t been touched by some form of climate change-related disaster, it seems. From Hawai’i to northern China, wildfires, drought, hot oceans, floods, severe storms and seemingly endless heatwaves are leaving a trail of devastation.
These near-daily catastrophes can make us feel like a burning, suffering world is an inescapable fate—but it’s not.
The challenges we face are significant; but they are not insurmountable. We still have the ability to change the future, starting now. And the more we do, the better off we will all be. This is literally what the science says: every bit of warming matters, and every action and every choice matters, too.
That’s why I am not giving up, and neither are millions of others. I am not accepting our current circumstances as the new normal. Throughout the world, there are companies transitioning to green energy, voters speaking up, governments making progress, and people fighting for climate action. Yes, there are harrowing headlines; but there is also good climate news all around us.
Did you know that fossil fuels are subsidized by over $16 million per minute, globally? These subsidies are skewing the market, keeping us dependent on old, dirty ways of getting energy much longer than we should be.
That’s why I am absolutely delighted that Canada is leading the way in ending public funding for fossil fuels. Our government is planning to phase out subsidies entirely by the fall of 2024. (They also recently released our roadmap to net-zero electricity by 2035.) Subsidies and fossil fuel phase-out will be a hot topic at the upcoming COP28 meeting in November in Dubai. Stay updated on global progress on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies here.
Climate action doesn’t have to be national: cities, counties, and towns can act, too. Oberlin is a small college town in Ohio. They’re planning to cut emissions 75% by 2030 and create a blueprint for other small towns to do the same.
At the other end of the scale, Harris County – the biggest county in Texas, home to the city of Houston and many oil and gas companies – is planning to cut their emissions 40% by 2030. The city of Houston itself has an ambitious climate action plan that connects climate resilience and emission reductions to social justice. At Earth Day in April, Mayor Sylvester Turner gave me an update on their progress– click here and fast forward 11 minutes in, to watch a video of our conversation.
What’s happening in the city, county, or town where you live? Find out, then send an elected official a note thanking them for what they are doing (if it’s a lot) or encouraging them to do more (if it’s not)!
For more positive climate stories from 2023, check out this running list. It’s regularly updated each month.
The majority of young people globally now say that they are “extremely worried” about climate change, leading them to believe that humanity has no future. A growing body of scientific research is establishing how climate-related factors are negatively affecting mental health. One recent study found that even a one-degree increase in ambient temperature above the norm leads to a higher probability of experiencing depression and anxiety.
Climate anxiety can be perceived as a “first-world problem” – individuals in more vulnerable areas are often preoccupied with immediate survival challenges rather than experiencing such anxieties. These disparities are real, and unfair. However, climate change is affecting people all over the world.
In India, drought is destroying once viable farmland. In Malawi, it’s increasing the risk of girls as young as eight being sold into marriage. In coastal Africa, rising sea levels and warming oceans are decimating the primary food source and livelihood of fishing communities. This is why we need to be directing our energy towards climate solutions that lead to a more just and equitable world for everyone.
I’m asked all the time how I cope with feelings of impending doom in my work as a climate scientist. I don’t do it by burying my head in the sand. I start with a clear look at just how bad it is. But I don’t stop there. Next, I envision what the future could look like, if we take action – one with clear skies, pristine air, abundant nature, and food and water for all. I search out who is actively working towards that future. I educate myself about effective solutions; and finally, I ask what are the most effective things I can do to help get these solutions going faster.
I know we have the ability to change the future. That’s not positive thinking: it’s the truth. By recognizing our power to work together, we can change the behavior and systems that got us to this point. And, it turns out that this kind of optimism can inspire collective action!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you are experiencing climate anxiety, you aren’t alone. For over a year now, I’ve been asking people at the beginning of each talk I give like this one how they feel about climate change. The image above shows the results of one of those surveys. Every time, more than 90% of people share that they feel sad, anxious, frustrated, paralyzed and angry.
If you or someone you know are in an emotional crisis and need to talk with someone right away, call, text or chat with a trained crisis counselor in the U.S. here and internationally here. If these feelings are affecting your life long-term, consider joining a climate cafe or climate circle, or talking to a therapist. Read or listen to a book that addresses these issues, such as How to Live in a Chaotic Climate, Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, or my own book, Saving Us.
As I share in my talks, we find hope in action. So here are some concrete steps everyone can take. First, stop doom-scrolling. Seek out and share positive news, along with information about how climate change is putting the people and places we love at risk. Do something, anything, even if you think it's small – but don’t stop there; tell people about it! Encourage your place of work or school to make changes. We can’t do this alone, but we can if we work together; so join a like-minded community (I have a big list of them in my last newsletter). No matter who you are right now, you’re the perfect person to act.
What happens when we understand what we can do to make a difference? As you can see from the word cloud below, from after one of my talks, people feel motivated, empowered, determined, and ready to go!