I sat next to a woman on a bus a few years back who confessed privately to being suicidal about climate change. “What reason is there to live if Earth’s future is so dire?”

It’s not uncommon these days to run into young people deciding against raising a family, due to their palpable fears of what their children’s future would be on a warming planet. There has been a proliferation of articles lately on “climate anxiety,” “eco-dread,” “climate despair” or “ecological grief.”

Maybe you’ve run into people feeling this way. Maybe you are one of those people.

In either case, it’s a good time for you to meet Joan and Jay — two of the many wonderful people who care about the planet, and enjoy peaceful and happy lives while looking to the future with hope.

Joan Blades became concerned about climate change decades ago. She believes that confrontational approaches are “not sufficient if we are going to address climate concerns and other complex problems as a country.” That led her to start working to help Americans listen to each other more deeply through her work at Living Room Conversations.

As a mother of two grown children, Blades admits to feeling sad at hearing about others opting out of having children because of climate fears. She describes how her own children deepen her commitment to “try to be my best self” while “doing everything I can to ensure that the future is a good one.”

“Our planet is stunningly beautiful,” Blades adds, sharing her love for the “plants, people, creatures, rocks and water.” (Feelings I’m well aware of because of how often she texts me a stunning photo from one of her walks in California.)

“A mountain flower that I’ve learned blooms in the morning and is then gone by afternoon.” Joan Blades, June 28, 2022

Jay Griffith has also worked for years helping deepen understanding across many American divides through his local group Think Again/Faith Again. Jay and I disagree about many things, but the urgent need for what Joan calls “domestic peacekeeping” isn’t one of them.

This Latter-day Saint father speaks of the hope he feels in the creation account highlighted in his faith’s temple worship, and its reminder of the beauty and variety of an Earth designed to expand joy for all living things.

“The landscapes that surround us should be appreciated as created,” he says. “And if God values this, so should I.”

While there are reasons Jay and Joan look to the future with hope, you can understand how the steady drum beat of dire headlines in recent years is enough to leave anyone feeling unsettled:

  • “Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’” (BBC, 2018).
  • “Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn” (CNN, 2018).
  • “Doomsday report warns of apocalyptic climate change” (Daily Mail, 2021).
  • “Nowhere is safe: warning on escalating climate crisis” (The Guardian, 2021).
  • “‘Hopeless and broken’: Why the world’s top climate scientists are in despair” (The Guardian, 2024).

As reported in an insightful piece by my colleague Gitanjali Poonia this past weekend, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres gave a recent speech in New York City, where he compared humanity to a meteor making dinosaurs extinct. “All depends” on decisions government leaders make “in the next 18 months,” he said — calling it “climate crunch time.”

However nerve-racking much of this can be to grown adults, we shouldn’t be surprised when some young people start losing hope entirely. A 2021 Lancet survey of 10,000 people ages 16 to 25 found a remarkable 56% agreeing with the statement that “humanity is doomed” — with more than half reporting feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty. Fifty-nine percent of participants said they were “extremely worried” and a full 75% admitted that climate change leaves them seeing the future as “frightening.”

It’s not just the young people either. A more recent 2024 representative poll of likely American voters from the progressive think tank Data for Progress found 55% of respondents saying their feelings about climate change negatively impact their personal plans for the future.

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Courtesy of Data for Progress

Conservative climate advocate Benji Backer told the Deseret News, “If we only have 18 months, then we might as well give up because nothing moves that quickly” — expressing concern at deploying worst-case scenarios to press people into more action.

“Anxiety is paralyzing for people,” he said. “Optimism, solutions, the promise of a better future, and slow transitions that help people and don’t take parts of their lives away — that’s how you get people to buy in on something.”

When it comes to climate change, the world may be identifying the wrong enemy

Most climate activists know that despair and overwhelm are not what we need to meet these challenges, Blades emphasizes. But when strong fears do exist, she says it’s still important to show compassion and a willingness to listen. That needs to run in both directions, with space for people with lingering questions about the climate consensus too.

To help that conversation go better, here are a few things to help lower the temperature (at least emotionally):

1. Parents, don’t lose your cool!

Karen Bartsch, a professor at the University of Wyoming, reminded parents in an interview last year about decades of research demonstrating how young people filter their reactions to the world through the eyes of their parents: “If parents are all very disturbed and emotional about climate change and children observe this, young children will often catch that emotional reaction.”

Despite this, some argue that children should see sorrow and even anxiety in their parents about what is taking place environmentally. As one who shares this view, Dr. Gerald Kutney says, “The problem is that death and destruction from climate change is real, and it’s going to get worse.”

It’s natural to experience anxiety about any serious problem, of course, which is not only not bad, but can be a helpful nudge to take action. When it comes to not being overwhelmed by concerns, secular climate activists may learn some positive things from Christian parents, who likewise see some really difficult days ahead for the world, while proactively fostering an even deeper hope and joy in their homes.

Courtesy of Joan Blades

2. Cultivating faith that we are not alone

At all ages, human beings will tend to be more anxious about threats to their health or survival if they believe that human beings are alone in the universe (not talking about aliens here). In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic’s early anxieties, Asian American Pastor Francis Chan shared in a video, “I don’t know about you — but I’ve never appreciated and loved being a follower of Jesus Christ more than right now.”

The pastor points out that right after prophesying about the “distress of nations” in the last days, alongside “perplexity” and “hearts failing them for fear,” Jesus said, “and when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

“For Christians, doing something about climate change is about living out our faith,” argues Katharine Hayhoe, author of “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World” — which includes “caring for those who need help, our neighbors here at home or on the other side of the world, and taking responsibility for this planet that God created and entrusted to us.”

Griffith’s reasons for hope in “this astounding piece of art we call creation” are “rooted in Jesus Christ, its creator.” He says “despite our carelessness, Christ’s hand is ‘stretched out still.’”

“Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are the profound counterpoint to the deepest despair,” Griffith adds, citing Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., as saying, “Hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word.”

Even if you don’t yet share a Christian view of the world, you may again still be able to gain something from this example of hope and confidence in the face of unique dangers facing society today (climate change being only one of them).

Jay Griffith with his granddaughter. Courtesy of Jay Griffith

3. Appreciating other reasons for hope

Although not a believer herself, Blades appreciates the value of faith communities — and calls finding some kind of hope “essential at this time.” Her own hopes rest partly in more of a “techno-optimism.” Blades is heartened to know a friend who “believes we will come up with the technology to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and use it as building material.” Others are persuaded that humanity has all they need to “transition to non-CO2 producing energy sources” or that “small modular nuclear” will become “the answer to producing clean energy.”

Blades has also heard “wonderful things about regenerative farming,” and remarks on a large number of things we can do now to work toward a better future for our children — this, along with more research, experimentation and creativity every day that “causes that list to grow ever longer.”

Griffith feels encouraged by steps he sees The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taking to be environmentally sensitive in its buildings. He also points to a new interfaith effort by his friend Bob Reese to encourage people to fast for the well-being of the planet and to make a contribution to that end.

This year, Griffith was asked to help with a Latter-day Saint ward-sponsored neighborhood party. When plans were made to bring nearly 200 bottled waters, he suggested paper cups and large coolers of water instead. He was encouraged to see the committee happily shift gears and do that instead.

None of these people are arguing for false hope — or what statistician Nate Silver calls “hopium” in the context of the presidential election. Griffith cites Rebecca Solnit as saying that hope is “an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.”

Courtesy of Joan Blades

4. Encourage humility and space in public discourse

No matter how much data there is, there will always be more to learn and questions about available patterns. As Blades says, “the complexity and connections of this Earth we share is massive.” For her, this means “that nothing is completely knowable.”

Accompanying this “humility to know that I don’t know what the future brings,” Blades underscores her belief that “we do have overwhelming evidence now that our planet is warming and human habits have contributed and do contribute greatly to this.”

But even in the face of her worst fears, her life reflects a willingness to “treasure the beauty in the day to day” no matter what.

This kind of an intensity of concern over climate change can sometimes disallow sincere questions. Analyst Vijay Jayaraj observes that “each scorching summer is touted as further evidence of an impending climate catastrophe with little room for nuance or objective analysis.”

One of our relationship ground rules in my own marriage is that “even and especially when one of us feels strongly about something, it’s important for there to be space for the other person to disagree.” By the same token, even — and perhaps especially — when large swaths of people are terrified or angry about something, we ought to do our best to make space for people to still be able to explore questions they have.

Let’s allow these disagreements to come out in the open, rather than whispered in corners, so that our country can encourage and foster healthy public debate (at universities, newspapers and beyond) where we can all seek more truth together about the climate and many other important questions. In doing so, we can acknowledge the care of our precious Earth as a job for everyone — liberal and conservative, religious and otherwise.

Blades ends our exchange emphasizing our “responsibility to do all we can to work to pass on a vibrant beautiful future” — saying, “There is so much I love on this planet, I can’t imagine doing otherwise.”

Courtesy of Joan Blades