A cartoon planet earth with little arms and legs is hanging from a tree branch, looking plaintive. On the right, text in a spunky font reads
Hi, there

Happy Earth Day! Let’s get right into it: climate change is happening and everything is terrible.

For Earth Day last year, we wrote a newsletter about climate anxiety, a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I was eco-anxious before it was cool. I have years of experience derailing perfectly pleasant conversations with dour asides about the climate crisis and subtle reminders that we are all doomed. 

This year, though, there’s a new buzzword on the block: climate optimism. Everywhere I look, I see op-eds about how we should stay hopeful, how the worst-case scenario is unlikely to come to pass. As a bona fide climate complainer, I can’t help but wonder: does this stance hold water? And more importantly, isn’t embracing hope a surefire way to undermine the urgency needed in this moment? The answer: yes and no. Read on for some behavioral perspectives on optimism during an apocalypse. 

Until next time,
Katie and the team @ TDL

📧 Looking for some fun reading to take your mind off the incoming apocalypse? Subscribe to the TDL newsletter here.
Today’s topics 👀
🤞 Lit Review: Why Be Optimistic?
🌱 Field Notes: A Blueprint for Climate-Smart Farming
🌊 Deep Dive: Small Ways to Make a Change
🤞 Why Be Optimistic?

First off: climate optimism is not just wishful thinking. Although the situation is dire, we have made large gains in recent years, and climate scientists say that the choices we make in this moment could make a massive difference down the line. 

This crisis can be reframed as an opportunity. It just so happens that many of the systems driving climate change are harmful to humans in other ways, too. The environmental crisis provides an impetus to improve our health, fight the housing crisis, and tackle racial inequality, among other things.

Hope is healthy. It goes without saying that hopeful people feel better than hopeless people, but hope can also extend our lives, help us think more clearly, and improve how we manage stress. 

But optimism isn’t helpful if it makes us avoidant. There’s a difference between constructive hope and hope that’s based in denial. Optimism can backfire if it leads us to stick our heads in the sand.

To embrace the positive emotions, we need to face the negative ones. Shutting ourselves off from unpleasant emotions is likely to leave us stuck in a state of denial. Instead, we need to build our tolerances for these feelings, while also cultivating optimism, imagination, resourcefulness, and so on.


How many different products can you think of that are sold at your local grocery store? As consumers, many of us have come to expect access to a vast array of foods, made possible by a sprawling agricultural supply chain. But this convenience comes at a huge environmental cost, with agriculture producing an estimated 8.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Last year, TDL partnered with Solidaridad to help tackle this problem. We designed a system to help Solidaridad figure out what barriers are stopping smallholder farmers in places like the Brazilian Amazon from adopting climate-smart agricultural practices, and what incentives would help them make the switch. (Image courtesy of Solidaridad.)
Farmers crouching in a field in the Brazilian Amazon
Deep Dive
🌊 Small Ways to Make a Change

Now that you’re a bona fide climate optimist, how can you put your new go-getter attitude to good use? Here are some small ways you can help make a change (on top of writing to your representatives!).

Just do something. This website, made by the creators of the movie Don’t Look Up, offers some suggestions for actions you can start taking, both big and small. Getting past behavioral inertia may be the hardest step, but once you get some momentum going, it will be easier to sustain.

Cut down on your “luxury emissions.” As consumers, our individual choices will not be enough to stop this crisis. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make a difference — especially if you’re part of the "carbon elite." This group comprises those who live in the Global North and make more than $38,000 a year. Household emissions make up two-thirds of pollution globally, but the carbon elite is responsible for half of that. If you fall into this category, decisions like flying less frequently, owning and driving fewer cars, and reducing meat consumption really can make a big difference.

Learn to help others work through difficult emotions. If you’re unsure how to talk about climate change with those around you, don’t be like me and blindly lob climate-doomist missives into all your conversations in the hope that someone will be receptive. Instead, take advantage of research-backed methodologies like motivational interviewing. A behavior change technique often used by mental health practitioners, this tool can help people examine their own attitudes and choices — and possibly spur them to take action too. 

Embrace new ways of thinking about nature and science. Our response to the climate crisis has been shaped largely by Western science. But thousands of Indigenous knowledge systems around the world, based on generations of direct experience with local ecosystems, have been successfully protecting the natural world for millennia: 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found in lands stewarded by Indigenous peoples. These epistemologies contain powerful insights, and integrating them with Western science is a powerful tool for managing climate change. But this process can’t be one-sided: it needs to involve local Indigenous peoples as active stakeholders and decision-makers, not as mere sources of data.

A parrot looking down at the camera
A parrot in the Brazilian Amazon, where our field work with Solidaridad took place.
Ostrich Effect:
In the face of negative information, we have a tendency to stick our heads in the sand and avoid reality. Learn how to overcome this tendency on the TDL website.
Opportunities in Behavioral Science

TDL is looking for a Senior UX Designer! We are currently looking for an experienced designer to help us transform the way mental health products and services are delivered, with a focus on designing for equitable access. Learn how to apply on our website.

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