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An Optimistic Approach to Climate Activism

activism-climate-climate change-anne therese gennari
activism-climate-climate change-anne therese gennari
Anne Therese Gennari | Photo by Máté Lakos, MOME Budapest

We spoke with Anne Therese Gennari, AKA The Climate Optimist, about her unique perspective on climate activism, and how actions that are good for the planet can bring together families and communities.

Many voices in the climate change space come from a very pessimistic place, but you are literally The Climate Optimist! Could you talk a bit about your unique perspective on the climate conversation?

The Climate Optimist approach is not to say the climate doom is inaccurate. Instead, it’s about recognizing the importance of the stories we tell ourselves and the impact they have on our mental health as well as our ability to act. 

I come from a marketing background and if there’s one thing they teach you in school, it’s that to get people to act, you need to lead with a positive outcome, because our brains will filter out information that holds possibilities of danger or loss. In other words, we won’t take action upon things that overwhelm or scare us; a very deeply rooted primitive response.

If we spur people to action by continuously introducing them to how bad it’s going to be, the result is that more and more people find themselves in hopelessness and despair.

My perspective differs in that it provides a new narrative, one that says: “What if change is a good thing? And what if we wake up and start addressing the challenge from a place of growth and betterment, an even more beautiful world could take form?” Climate optimism is not about crossing your arms and praying for things to work out, but about grounding yourself in the realization that change is not only possible, it’s necessary.

To be a climate optimist, in my opinion, is to understand that right now, every thought, idea, attempt, and action matters. That we matter. To me, everything changed when I realized my life’s mission wasn’t about minimizing my negative footprint, but about maximizing my positive one.

Photo by Starky Morillo

What is “informed optimism” as it relates to climate change?

I love the term informed optimism and use it interchangeably with grounded awareness, which means staying informed and aware of the situation so that we can remain optimistic. 

That might seem counterintuitive when the information is nothing but negative. However, trying to avoid the issue will not make us happier. Studies in neuroscience prove this. Wishing yourself into happiness and optimism never works, and when I tried this approach during the early days of my climate optimist journey, my climate anxiety intensified. 

That is why the notion of informed optimism is so important. It means that by staying informed, you keep finding reasons for taking action. And it’s in that action the optimism grows. By becoming the change you want to see, you are a living example that change is possible.

Informed optimism is also about seeking out the good news, too. The reality is that so many exciting solutions are taking place and that people from all walks of life and all corners of the world are stepping up and leaving incredibly big and beautiful footprints. We have many of the solutions we need to activate this new world. What we need now are people who are curious and courageous enough to say “yes” to change and give that new world a chance.

We can’t afford to give up on hope, which is why we can’t afford to give up on optimism.

What are some key tenets our environmentally conscious readers can adopt from the informed optimism philosophy?

First, I would say that you’re probably more optimistic than you give yourself credit for. The fact that you’re aware and still engaged in the topic means that you believe our actions could lead to significant and profound change. 

In many ways, the climate scientists of our world are the most optimistic bunch there is. They continue to dive deep into all the facts and data of our climate crisis, and yet they don’t give up. Why? Because they know there’s still hope, they know we still have a chance, and they are determined to convince as many people as possible that we must try all there is. 

We can’t afford to give up on hope, which is why we can’t afford to give up on optimism. Optimism fuels us, it’s our reason for acting and taking chances — it moves us forward! Therefore, as I like to say and the truth I live by: The more urgent the matter, the more seriously we need grounded, inspired, and radical optimism.

What are some climate-optimistic actions we can take to reduce the effects of climate change?

There are endless opportunities. It starts with taking a beat and slowing down our thinking, and in that, our actions.

We also must recognize that to change the world, we must change. We must reflect on what we consider normal and why that is, and practice the notion of being wrong. We must get better at embracing uncertainty, and when we find the courage to explore, new possibilities and realities will be able to take shape.

Photo by Máté Lakos, MOME Budapest

But what can we do? As a consumer, you can become conscious of the role waste plays in your life and how to turn it into an opportunity for positive change. A circular approach to owning and using things is greatly needed and we can all partake in that system today. Love the things you own and allow for them to return to the system when you no longer need them. Buy secondhand when you can, mend things that are broken, compost your food, install solar panels if you can, and start having conversations about climate change with people you know.

It might seem as if these small individual actions don’t matter, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, your actions alone won’t change the world, but they add to the collective energy, they shift norms and cultures, and most importantly — they change you. You don’t just want change, you are the change. When we activate this inner leadership and start to embody the changes we desire, we also unlock the bigger, more systemic changes to take form.

How can optimistic climate action help bring together families, communities, and organizations?

I believe that climate optimism has the ability to not just change the world, but lives, families, and organizations.

Taking climate optimistic actions is and always will be a collective-focused act. It’s impossible to leave a positive climate footprint and not be aware of the impact it’s doing to the world around you. As a family, you can come together and get creative with all the ways you can become climate optimistic in your home, and as a company you can implement a climate optimistic culture that will permeate through the organization and put employees in a mindset of opportunity and positive change.

Coming together with others and finding joy in what we do will automatically reflect back on our own well-being and our ability to remain hopeful, determined, and optimistic. So, in that regard, the climate optimist machine runs on renewable energy and, in many ways, fuels itself!

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