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Choose Optimism Over Doomerism, U.S. Author Urges [Bonus Resource]

The apocalyptic thinking of doomerism may feel logical or inevitable to anyone facing down the profound pessimism of the moment—from the pandemic and the climate emergency to the painful divisions societies are facing on a host of issues. But giving up all hope is not the way to get motivated for change or help others do the same, podcaster and opinion writer Jane Coaston writes for the New York Times.

“What’s the point of all this?” Coaston asks. “If the idea of doomerism is to use hyperbole to spur readers or listeners to greater action, it’s not very effective. It seems to make our situation worse.”

In fact, “if you want people to do something, they need to be motivated—and impending doom doesn’t seem to do it,” she adds. “Yes, it seems it would be the equivalent of setting people’s couches on fire to get them to move, but doomerism seems to have the same effect as depression, bringing about a loss of interest in taking action.”

She cites the reaction from veteran climate scientist Michael Mann, when climate objector Wynn Bruce died after setting himself on fire in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building: “Climate doomerism can be harmful because it robs us of agency, the agency we still have in determining our future.”

Coaston acknowledges all the factors that reinforce a “new religion of profound pessimism,” right down to the hemisphere-wide heat emergency that reliably followed a horrid U.S. Supreme Court decision on carbon regulation.

“But recognizing that things are bad and could get worse is not what I’m talking about,” she writes. “Rather, doomerism luxuriates in the awful, and people seem unable to get enough of it—the equivalent of rubbernecking at a terrible car accident.”

And when we’re rubbernecking, we’re probably too distracted to turn our gaze to what we can do to slow the problem down, then gradually reverse and solve it. “I have found that the best way to spur action is to begin from a place of optimism—a belief that the thing you want really is possible,” Coaston writes. “That also means having a realistic vision for what life would look like if you got the thing you wanted.”

And as a bonus for reading this far—particularly if your first inclination is to assume that we’re doomed to lose on climate—here’s the best resource we’ve recently seen on how to take action and win.