Photo By: Ma Ti from Unsplash

We all know by now that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. This past decade was the warmest on record and we’re beginning to see extreme weather events with more and more frequency.

Last year it was wildfires in Australia, Hurricane Sally, and a record number of tropical storms severe enough to be named. Then it was more wildfires on the west coast, an ice storm in Texas in the middle of February, and heat waves in Canada that broke the highest recorded temperature record three days in a row and left dozens of people dead.

More and more often, we turn on the news or open social media and see images that look like they could be straight out of a post-apocalyptic climate disaster movie. More and more often, people find themselves living through what seems like a post-apocalyptic climate disaster. 

Combine all of these disasters with the fact that we spent the last two years living through a pandemic, and it’s hard not to feel like the world is ending. We’ve hit the tropes from the movies: a dangerous and deadly virus that we still don’t fully understand the effects of and a whole slew of natural disasters. Looking at the news feels like the first act of a Matt Damon movie, and we’re the extras who aren’t going to make it to the climax. 

The thing is though, we’re not in a movie. There is no three act structure, there won’t be a tidy resolution that teaches us all a lesson at the end. It’s real life and things are not nearly so black and white as they are in movies.

If it feels like we’re running out of time to fix the climate, that’s probably because that’s what the narrative around climate change has been for many years. Everyone, from the media to climate activists, use big, serious language to talk about climate action. They all seem to be saying, “if we don’t do something by 2020, we’re all doomed!” and I understand why it was phrased like that. It’s a good way to get people’s attention and convince them to care. After all, who wants to be doomed?

The problem is that we’ve gotten past 2020, we’re past all the arbitrary dates that have been set between humanity and a climate apocalypse. Studies have come out that have asserted that humanity is, “past the point of no return,” meaning that even if greenhouse gas emissions fell to absolutely zero, it still wouldn’t be enough to stop the climate from changing. Others have disputed that claim, but the fact remains, there are a lot of people who believe that it’s genuinely too late to do anything to stop climate change, and if it’s too late to stop it, then what’s the point in trying?

That’s the problem with that kind of narrative. If people think they’re screwed either way, there’s no incentive to make any changes, no motivation to improve. If I bomb a midterm so badly that I know I’m going to fail a class no matter what, you can bet I’m not showing up to the seminars for the rest of the semester. It’s the same concept with climate. If we believe that we have already failed then we’re going to stop trying, and that’s not something we can afford to let happen. 

We have seen the effects of climate change and in our lifetimes, we will see more. We can’t stop what’s already happened, and it may not be possible to fix everything entirely, but we can certainly stop things from getting worse.