Head to Head: Perceiving the Environment

Optimism Encourages Action

Mandy Yang

The world’s going to end, and we are all going to die.

At least, that’s what environmentalists tell us. Environmental activism is steeped in negativity. In a speech to the World Economic Forum, teen climate activist Greta Thunberg said that she wanted everyone to feel fear and panic. She did not want hopes and well-wishes. She wanted fear so that politicians would act. But for students like myself, it is sometimes difficult to connect the terrifying statistics to my real life.

Fear is a strong motivating force, yet it can only do so much. When it comes down to the intrinsic psychology of human behavior, reward is the most effective method. It feeds the human psyche and motivates us more effectively than anything.

Optimism can help the environmental movement. In this context, optimism does not suggest forgetting or ignoring the ugly side of climate change because humankind cannot afford inaction any longer.

Naturally, humans have the ability to disassociate from negative actions and consequences. According to Harvard Business Review, a previous study demonstrated that humans have a tendency to distance their own actions from punishment. In contrast, when presented with a reward, humans recognize their own contributions. Positive reinforcement works.

Yet Earth is balanced on a tipping point. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists argue that after 2030, climate change will be irreversible but the planet could still be saved; by 2050, climate change will doom the earth. All humans need something effective to encourage action, as fear and pessimism aren’t working in fact, they might be doing more harm than good. A reward system has far more promise and has shown to be more effective than any intimidation tactics.

In China’s big cities, places known for their continual smog and congested streets, a reward system helped introduce an astonishing shift in the car market. According to the Electric Vehicle World Sales Volume, China consumed over half of the world’s hybrid cars,which leave behind a far smaller carbon footprint and emit less greenhouse gases. Experts believe it to be a direct result of a policy that rewards the use of hybrid cars. cars. The effectiveness of this reward system in one of the biggest sample sizes on Earth demonstrates that humans need to switch from pessimism to optimism.

When incentives and rewards work, both positive forms of thinking, they are the only choice humans have. Fear and pessimism is no longer enough.

Pessimism Depicts the Truth

Sristi Palimar

As we grow older, wiser and brace ourselves for adulthood, we naturally become more concerned with the picture of our future. We are all hoping for a nice house, an even nicer car and a white picket fence to encompass our ideal world. However, as we become increasingly complacent to the degradation of our environment, such picturesque fantasies become out of reach – polluted, in a very literal sense of the term.

The state of the environment is often times a difficult topic for people to discuss as many find themselves either frustrated by our inaction or terrified of the pending future. Despite how easy it may be to dismiss the media’s portrayal of our environment as steeped in pessimism, it is important to recognize that our perception of pessimism only reflects our reluctance to accept reality.

According to USA Today, three trillion tons of ice melted into Earth’s oceans within the past 25 years, while global temperatures in the past five years have become the hottest on record – not to mention other imminent issues surrounding water pollution, natural resource exhaustion and ocean acidification.

It is not that the media’s environmental outlook is pessimistic so much as it is realistic. With rising sea levels threatening to submerge entire cities by 2050, there is no time to sugarcoat the severity of our current climate crisis.

Teen leaders like Greta Thunberg inspire young people around the world to advocate for the betterment of our planet. Her scathing criticism of unconcerned politicians and unrelenting demand for change conveys the true urgency of the matter at hand. Thunberg’s uncompromising campaign reflects the media’s “pessimistic” approach to environmental advocacy, which is precisely what fuels young people’s drive to action.

What some may regard as “depressing headlines” or “uncomfortable topics” bring students out of the classroom and onto the streets in protest, picket signs in hand. In 2019, climate activists across Irvine gathered at Mark Daily Athletic Field to protest the inaction of national leaders in addressing our present environmental crisis.

Still, rather than recognizing our environmental crisis, many are willing to cast their better judgement aside for the sake of their own peace of mind. After all, no one wants to imagine a future of poisoned ecosystems and smog-filled air.

However, that doesn’t mean we can simply wallow in fear of a future we have all the power to control.

The media’s discussion of the environment is not simply a scheme to make the public anxious – it is a call to action.

As the generation to inherit the environmental crises manifested by current global leaders who remain apathetic towards the progressive ruin of our climate, we must remain conscious of the reality in which our planet suffers. Whether or not we choose to address such problems will ultimately dictate the environmental landscape we should anticipate for generations to come.

Cartoons by Alyssa Barrios