America

Climate Doom Is Out. ‘Apocalyptic Optimism’ Is In.

The philanthropist Kathryn Murdoch has prioritized donations to environmental causes for more than a decade. She has, she said, a deep understanding of how inhospitable the planet will become if climate change is not addressed. And she and her colleagues have spent years trying to communicate that.

“We have been screaming,” she said. “But screaming only gets you so far.”

This was on a morning in early spring. Murdoch and Ari Wallach, an author, producer and self-proclaimed futurist, had just released their new PBS docuseries, “A Brief History of the Future,” and had hopped onto a video call to promote it — politely, no screaming required. Shot cinematically, in some never-ending golden hour, the six-episode show follows Wallach around the world as he meets with scientists, activists and the occasional artist and athlete, all of whom are optimistic about the future. An episode might include a visit to a floating village or a conversation about artificial intelligence with the musician Grimes. In one sequence, marine biologists lovingly restore a rehabbed coral polyp to a reef. The mood throughout is mellow, hopeful, even dreamy. Which is deliberate.

“There’s room for screaming,” Wallach said. “And there’s room for dreaming.”

“A Brief History of the Future” joins some recent books and shows that offer a rosier vision of what a world in the throes — or just past the throes — of global catastrophe might look like. Climate optimism as opposed to climate fatalism.

Hannah Ritchie’s “Not the End of the World: How We Can be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet” argues that many markers of disaster are less bad than the public imagines (deforestation, overfishing) or easily solvable (plastics in the oceans). In “Fallout,” the television adaptation of the popular video game that recently debuted on Amazon Prime Video, the apocalypse (nuclear, not climate-related) makes for a devastated earth, sundry mutants and plenty of goofy, kitschy fun — apocalypse lite.

“Life as We Know It (Can Be),” a book by Bill Weir, CNN’s chief climate correspondent, that is structured as a series of letters to his son, centers on human potential and resilience. And Dana R. Fisher’s “Saving Ourselves: From Climate Shocks to Climate Action” contends that the disruptions of climate change may finally create a mass movement that will lead to better global outcomes. Fisher, a sociologist, coined the term “apocalyptic optimism” to describe a belief that humans can still avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

In confronting the apocalypse, these works all insist that hope matters. They believe that optimism, however qualified or hard-won, may be what finally moves us to action. While Americans are less likely than their counterparts in the developed world to appreciate the threats that climate change poses, recent polls show that a significant majority of Americans now agree that climate change is real and a smaller majority agree that it is human-caused and harmful. And yet almost no expert believes that we are doing enough — in terms of technology, legislation or political pressure — to alleviate those harms.

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