Opinion

Hope on climate change doesn't come easily — but action isn't futile

Recently I asked a roomful of 12-year-olds at a Vancouver school what words came to mind when they thought about climate change, and I got answers like “raging wildfires,” “the death of all animals,” and “the end of the world.”

Try asking your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews what words they associate with climate change

Grace Nosek is a PhD student in the law faculty at UBC and a founding member of the UBC Climate Hub. (Submitted by Grace Nosek)

Recently I asked a roomful of 12-year-olds at a Vancouver school what words came to mind when they thought about climate change, and I got answers like "raging wildfires," "the death of all animals" and "the end of the world."

Try it — ask your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

Kids are soaking up and internalizing images of super storms and smoke-filled skies, narratives of fear and despair. But they can also soak up hope.

We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to model hope for the planet's future.

Hope on climate change doesn't come easily. In addition to sowing doubt about the existence of human-caused climate change, fossil fuel industry members like ExxonMobil have for decades actively undermined the public's belief that anything can be done to address the problem.

When Grace Nosek asks school children what words come to mind when they think of climate change, she typically gets answers like "raging wildfires" and "the end of the world." Above, a firefighter scrambles to stop a wildfire near Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on July 1, 2018. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

Harvard researchers who looked at the company's public communications from 1977 to 2014 concluded ExxonMobil consistently misled the public about humanity's ability to effectively mitigate the risks of climate change.

Research has shown that images conveying the true scope and danger of the climate threat can make people feel powerless. Vancouver friends have told me that daunting local issues, like securing affordable housing for all city residents, in addition to school, work, and family commitments, can make the danger of climate change feel both distant and overwhelming.

Taking action

One way to find hope is to make climate action feel local and grounded in community.

Climate action can look like tea and cookies and conversation with new friends at one of the dozens of organizations doing grassroots climate organizing in and around Vancouver.

It can look like canvassing, fundraising, signing petitions, and showing up for Indigenous peoples and others on the front lines of the climate movement, when — and in the ways — they ask.

Or like calling and writing to politicians at all levels of government. Or working with others to get solar panels on the roof of your local school.

At the very least, it has to look like showing up to your polling place in every election and supporting candidates working toward a just, low-carbon future, and then making sure your friends and family members show up to vote as well.

Worried your actions won't matter?

They will. And rather than being mired in fear and helplessness, you'll spend your life anchored in a wonderful community, working with friends and neighbours, learning from those on the front lines of the climate movement, and holding up the idea that we have a fighting chance against this threat.

The UBC Climate Hub held a Climate Solutions Showcase on October 25, 2018, pictured here. (Liam Orme)

After I asked that roomful of 12-year-olds what they thought about climate change, I told them about some of the creative, joyful ways regular people are working to mitigate the threat.

We brainstormed strategies for how they might join in. Students responded with poems, speeches, and songs. More importantly, they responded with hope.

Now, the University of British Columbia Climate Hub, an initiative conceived of, lobbied for, and implemented by UBC students in less than a year, is working to pilot a program connecting university and secondary students across Vancouver on empowering climate dialogue and action to multiply that hope tenfold.

This work fits with the Hub's larger mandate to connect and empower university and community members, especially young people, to take bold action on climate change.

That our group of students has achieved so much in such a short period shows what a community can do when it comes together with a shared purpose.

Hope is contagious, and by working together in our local communities, we can all play a role in inspiring more action to help turn the tide in the climate fight.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

About the Author

Grace Nosek

Grace Nosek is a PhD student at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law, and a founding member of the UBC Climate Hub. She also created and hosts Planet Potluck, a podcast exploring stories of hope, joy, and community in the climate movement.

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