Climate Optimism: Celebrating Environmental Victories
Climate justice activism can be such an overwhelming space.
When we are constantly bombarded with bad news, it takes a toll on young people’s mental health. It’s also worth mentioning that climate change disproportionately affects the youth and the result of that can demotivate or cause a lot of climate anxiety. In fact, more than 50% of children and youth surveyed in 10 countries from the age of 16 to 25 years old face emotions of anxiety, sadness, powerlessness, helplessness and guilt when it comes to dealing with climate change. But what can we do to remove ourselves from such a negative space?
Climate optimism comes into the scene and it celebrates all the positive developments that are happening. It acknowledges things are bad but they can be better. It confronts grief and turns it into action. It understands that as humans, we need moments of joy to celebrate each other’s milestones.
To me, climate optimism keeps my activism going.
I manifest this by being conscious of the environmental stories and their storytellers that have been successful. And I try my best to share those stories with other people, in hopes of inspiring them to take up a similar cause. One of the most joyous moments I saw was the landmark decision of Held v. State of Montana. On August 14, 2023, sixteen teenage Montanans who had sued their state over climate change won a climate change litigation case. The Montana District Court ruled that the state’s energy policies regarding fossil fuel expansion violated the young plaintiffs’ right to “a clean and healthy environment” as provisioned by the Montana Constitution. This historic move reaffirmed me, telling me that good things can happen if we continue to persist with our advocacy goals. It made me believe in the many ways that young environmentalists can mobilise their activism and sometimes those ways, like pursuing a climate litigation against a big energy player, can be scary. Yet this story has proven that young people are brave enough to confront polluters and come out victorious.
In Malaysia, we are not short of environmental victories.
The efforts of communities have led to positive outcomes against unsustainable development. For example, it was a relief to hear that the pursuit of developing an airport at Pulau Tioman was scrapped after a series of uproar from Malaysians. It was the work of NGOs such as Reef Check Malaysia and communities on the island that mobilised petitions and awareness campaigns for the public that led to this success. It was also reassuring to know that ecosystems like Tasik Chini are healing after decades of exploitation, right after mining and logging activities there were halted. Of course, the move to rehabilitate Tasik Chini was the direct result of public pressure and community activism. Ultimately, these stories spark so much optimism in me and allowed me to appreciate local successes that can be lessons for my advocacy.
But I also want to acknowledge that sometimes optimism can be a privilege, considering the many things that are happening in the world right now. I believe that we need to be on the right side of history, resisting prejudice and injustice. As we celebrate our own freedoms, we should also use that opportunity to fight for those without it. Climate optimism is all about realising how things should and could be.