How Can I Convince Doomers That It’s Not Too Late to Fight Climate Change?

NRDC senior scientist Kim Knowlton explains how to stay in the fight—not throw up your hands.

The Endicott Arm and Dawes glaciers calving in Alaska

Credit: Mack Lundy/Flickr

Q: “How do you answer the doomers when it comes to the pace, intensity, and quality of climate change? It’s hard to work on change if people think, ‘What’s the point? It won’t make a difference anyway.’”

—Christopher Holly

A: Some of the loudest voices on the climate crisis exist at the fringes—the deniers on one side, the doomers on the other. Convincing either to take action can feel like a losing battle, but remember that you, fellow climate change warrior, are not alone. There is tremendous progress happening in the middle, where all of us hoping to reduce the worst effects of climate change exist.

In case you could use a reminder of what we can achieve when we work together, remember these recent victories: the takedown of Keystone XL, which would have sent more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude each day from Canada to Nebraska; the fracking ban in the Delaware River Basin; the abandonment of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by its developers; the closure of Limetree Bay Refinery in St. Croix, one of the world’s largest, and dirtiest oil refineries, to name just a few.

Engaging with someone who’s convinced there’s nothing to be done is a laudable goal. Show them past successes that have been meaningful to you and describe the role that each of us can play. NRDC senior scientist Kim Knowlton reminds us, “There is a great deal each of us can do, and little things add up to big things.” Billions of individual decisions are shaping our planet’s future every day.

Kim Knowlton, NRDC senior scientist
Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

Some of the most important actions we can take are on behalf of the collective good—such as by lobbying our legislators (in person or remotely), taking a stand at town halls and public hearings, or writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Right now we have a historic opportunity in front of us to put the United States on a path to cut carbon pollution in half by 2030 through Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which would provide both immediate relief to people suffering from climate change now and prepare communities for what’s to come. As the world's largest historical emitter of heat-trapping pollution, not only is this our duty—an imperative made even more clear by the dire warning issued through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report—but it would also set an example for other major emitters to follow.

Remind the pessimist that we can collectively make a dent by going car-free, giving our homes an energy-efficient makeover (a heat pump water heater is a particularly great investment), eating less meat, and composting our food. We can channel our outrage over the fossil fuel industry’s destructive actions by keeping tabs on any potential polluting projects in our own communities—and by attending local meetings where they’re up for discussion—as well as organizing like-minded neighbors to stand up against them.

If we’re parents, we can pass on these values to the next generation, who will inherit the world we leave them and will be the future stewards of the planet. There are many inspiring examples you can point to spotlighting young people standing up for their generation, whether that’s the Standing Rock Youth Council or the Appalachian Youth Climate Coalition. Getting to know their work—and supporting their causes—will help encourage children and teens to channel worry into action.

Knowlton cautions that we shouldn’t turn our back on the hopeless. “Everyone wants to have a sense of belonging to a community who cares about them,” she says. “Let people know that you appreciate their concerns but that there’s a growing army of individuals worldwide who truly want to protect public health from climate change’s effect. They’re dedicated and they’ve got heart, and they’re continuing to demand that our elected leaders bring us positive changes.”

Finally, remind your doomer that the world’s most powerful movements, like the fights for civil rights or women’s suffrage, achieved lofty goals because groups of determined individuals were willing to climb a nearly insurmountable hill.

That’s the key word, isn’t it? Nearly.

We’ve got this, Christopher. And with your help, we hope the doomers begin to believe that too.

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