The Antidote to Climate Anxiety?

Tell the whole story: the good, the bad, and the possible.

A sunny scenic view of Hathersage and Hope Valley in the Peak District National Park. (Photo by Chris Harris via Getty Images)

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If you’re not scared by climate change, you’re not paying attention. But fear alone, unleavened by the knowledge that this crisis can be fixed, is bad both for people and the planet. Fear can easily spiral human beings into anxiety and despair, which paralyzes them from the civic and political engagement urgently needed to defuse the crisis.

It’s no wonder that climate anxiety is gripping people, particularly the young. Every week seems to bring a fresh round of warnings — 2021 was one of the hottest years on record, ocean heat is at an all-time high, the world’s largest iceberg broke off in Antarctica, and on and on. A large majority of people around the world live in a place that has been directly affected by climate change. Meanwhile, heat-trapping emissions continue to increase and governments mostly prevaricate. The Lancet Planetary Health reported in December that a survey of 10,000 youth aged 16 to 25 in 10 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas found that 75 percent of them “think the future is frightening” and 65 percent felt that governments are “failing young people across the world.”

Journalists are doing their jobs when they report these facts. But focusing solely on the disasters and the shortcomings shortchanges the richness of the climate story. Our job as journalists is to tell the whole story: not just the scary, disappointing parts about rising temperatures and dawdling governments but also the constructive, empowering parts about skyrocketing clean energy deployment and relentless grassroots demands for change (often led, appropriately enough, by young people).

When the public hears almost exclusively about the impacts of climate change — and not what can be done about it — they are left with an “overall sense of powerlessness,” according to Elizabeth Arnold, a longtime reporter and journalism professor at the University of Alaska. That sense of powerlessness feeds into the anxiety and the cycle continues.

While there is a staggering amount of hard work to be done, it’s essential to remember — and report — that many good things are also happening on the climate front. COP26 was not a success by most measures, but, by the end, 74 countries had pledged net-zero targets, new agreements were unveiled to reduce methane emissions and end deforestation, and the US and China pledged renewed cooperation despite a host of other differences between the two climate superpowers. The falling price of clean energy, the rise of accountability against Big Oil, and an increased focus on climate justice are additional reasons for hope, as Jeff Goodell recently wrote in Rolling Stone.

We all need to believe that humanity can defuse the climate emergency — and recognize that that is not mere wishful thinking. A growing mountain of empirical evidence supports that conviction; for examples, look no further than Project Drawdown. We encourage journalists everywhere to acquaint themselves with that evidence and find ways to localize and humanize their reporting of it. Their audiences, young people especially, will thank them for it.

From Us

CCNow Q&A. Read our interview with Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English, who oversees an editorial staff of more than 400 people based in over 50 bureaus globally. Trendle spoke with us about what he calls “the tyranny of immediacy,” finding space for climate stories amid otherwise crammed news cycles, and the value of collaboration on the climate story. Read it.

Press briefing. Ahead of the next IPCC report set to be released on February 28, climate scientist Michael Mann and Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, will brief reporters on the best climate science you’ve probably never heard of. February 17. RSVP.

CCNow awards. The 2022 Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards are now accepting submissions. The deadline is March 1. Learn more.

Noteworthy stories

Blacklisting. The right-wing lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is helping state governments across the US blacklist banks and other companies that dare to boycott the oil and gas industry. Note: Available for publication by CCNow partners. By Chris McGreal at the Guardian…

Falling short. A new study of 25 corporations finds that many, including Amazon, Unilever, and Volkswagen are not meeting their own targets to limit climate change. Some companies reacted by disagreeing with the methods used by the researchers. By Sam Meredith at CNBC…

Too much sunshine? Copying backroom maneuvers by private utilities in California, the Florida Power & Light company wants to make it harder and costlier for homeowners in the Sunshine State to go solar. By the Miami Herald Editorial Board for the Invading Sea…

Astroturf. Utility companies in California have donated $1.67 million to 70 community groups in an apparent astroturf campaign against the state’s solar subsidies. By Anne Marshall-Chalmers and Dan Gearino at InsideClimate News…

Unprepared. Climate change and the extreme weather it fuels are driving up insurance costs and availability across the US. Some state regulators require insurance companies to prove they can manage the increased pay-outs related to more extreme weather events. Not Texas. By David Schechter at WFAA…

Ask first. When communities are not properly consulted with and involved in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, the projects meant to support them can go wrong. The city of New York offers lessons. By Zoya Teirstein for Grist…

Inane Methane. Atmospheric concentrations of methane, a super-potent heat-trapping gas, are increasing “dangerously fast,” judging from data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. By Jeff Tollefson for Nature…

Republication Recommendations

The following stories deserve special consideration for republication by CCNow partners:

For partner outlets: To submit stories for sharing, please use this form. Instructions for republishing and the full list of stories available for republication can be found in our Sharing Library.

Odds & Ends

Happening soon. Today at 12:45 pm US Eastern Time, Politico will hold an event focused on climate and sustainability action in the US and abroad. RSVP.

Solutions pitches. The New York Times is seeking pitches for solutions journalism stories, including those that can be told visually or experientially.  Pitch by Feb 24. Learn more. 

Indigenous photojournalists. The Pulitzer Center and Indigenous Photograph are seeking work from Indigenous photojournalists documenting climate change. Submit by Feb 25. Learn more.

Food fellowship. The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is offering 10 journalism fellowships for early and mid-career journalists in print or audio under the rubric of food systems. Learn more.

Awards season. The Association of LGBTQ Journalists is accepting nominations for their 2022 Excellence in Journalism Awards. They are open to anyone, including those who don’t identify as LGBTQ. Apply by Feb 15. Learn more.

Jobs. Yahoo is hiring a senior writer – climate. Civil Eats is looking for a senior reporter. KQED needs an investigative data journalist. GreenBiz Group is recruiting a climate tech editor. Slow Factory is looking for a climate and human rights journalist.