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Finding hope in the face of the climate crisis

Holly Young
February 18, 2022

Amidst frightening data and frustratingly slow political action, DW asked people working in climate activism, research and science what gives them grounds for optimism.

Cordula Weimann speaks at a protest in Germany
Grandmothers are giving hope to their grandchildren, says Cordula Weimann, founder of Omas for Future (Grannies for Future)Image: Björn Obmann/BUND Jugend Berlin

'The issue has finally arrived'

"Firstly, I notice that everywhere, compared to three years ago, the climate issue has finally arrived — both in politics and the media. Secondly, what really gives me a lot of joy and courage is to notice how many groups have formed during the pandemic. Despite the fact most of us are in the high-risk category, 75 new [Omas for Future] groups were founded around Germany during the pandemic. These are women that go every week onto the streets. They don't meet to drink coffee, they plan campaigns, network, think about how to reach and inform people. I know from the other grandmothers that their grandchildren and children are excited they are doing something. This gives courage to the children, too." Cordula Weimann, founder of Omas for Future (Grannies for Future)

'Legal mobilization'

Joana Setzer, academic at the Grantham Research Institute
Law is a mechanism to channel frustration, says academic Joana SetzerImage: London School of Economics and Political Science

"If you have the science telling you what the problem is, but you also see inconsistency or insufficient action from those who have the power to address it, then the law is a mechanism to channel that frustration. It has been really interesting to witness the several ways in which the law is being used: countries across the world passing climate laws, many with measurable mitigation and adaptation targets, and courts enforcing those laws and telling governments and corporations that they have a duty of care — as in the lawsuit filed by [Dutch non-profit] Urgenda against the Dutch government and the lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth Netherlands against Shell." Joana Setzer, assistant professor at the Grantham Research Institute specializing in climate litigation and global environmental governance

'New ways of thinking'

Leah Thomas, founder of Intersectional Environmentalist 
'We can unite and build better systems,' says Leah Thomas, an intersectional environmentalistImage: Cher Martinez

"Gen Z gives me a lot of hope — seeing the younger generation just get it across political lines. In the US, even younger conservatives understand that climate is an important issue and I think that there's now so many conversations about identity and how that intersects with environmentalism. I'm seeing people really latch on to the idea that we don't have to silo issues such as climate change, social justice and education reform — we can unite and build better systems in all those areas." Leah Thomas, founder of Intersectional Environmentalist

'Innovation and understanding ecology'

Esther Ngumbi, entomologist at the University of Illinois
We can learn from insect systems, says entomologist Esther NgumbiImage: University of Illinois

"Knowing what other scientists are doing gives me hope, for example, trying to find novel ways to capture carbon to ensure that greenhouse gasses are not contributing to the further worsening of the climate. Secondly, agricultural scientists are coming up with new ways to grow crops that can resist the changing climate and ensure that insects big and small, living above and below ground, have food sources, so that they can provide ecosystem services as they have done for millennia.  

My advice [for staying optimistic] is to look at the history of ecosystems on the verge of collapse — they have consistently bounced back; they are resilient. We can learn from the massive knowledge that has been accumulated over the years about these insect systems." Esther Ngumbi, entomologist at the University of Illinois

'Collective action'

Alaa Al Khourdajie
'Sometimes I swing between pessimism and very cautious optimism,' says climate change economist Alaa Al KhourdajieImage: Alaa Al Khourdajie

"One thing that really keeps me hopeful is the sense of a collective movement to deal with climate change. It's happening everywhere on every single level: individuals, school kids, university students, employees, and businesses. Many of the scientists that work for institutions like the IPCC, they do that voluntarily and in the face of the pandemic, everyone kept going. 

I used to teach at the University of Edinburgh, and I noticed on one occasion I was leading the students to despair, and I had to counteract it: I said, you need to remember that the cost of renewables, for instance, has drastically reduced in the last decade beyond anyone's expectations. That's a good story to tell because we need to give people hope that we can do it, we just need to act on it seriously and follow through." Alaa Al Khourdajie, climate change economist, Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London

'Global connections'

Evelyn Aacham, activist, Fridays for Future Uganda
'I really believe that we are on the winning side' — Evelyn Aacham, Ugandan climate activistImage: Fridays for Future Uganda

"World leaders are sometimes disappointing us, breaking our hearts and making some people lose hope. But seeing people rising up from around the world and standing together makes me hopeful. The East African Crude Oil Pipeline that is being constructed in my country, and will be running through Tanzania, is going to be the longest in the world. There's so many people talking about this internationally and this gives me hope: People believe that what happens in Africa will not only stay in Africa.

I am part of a group fighting for the protection of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. I have never been there, but I know it is responsible for regulating temperatures on the planet. So what happens in the Arctic does not remain in the Arctic. It gives me hope that I'm not alone, and I really believe that we are on the winning side." Evelyn Aacham, activist, Fridays for Future Uganda

'The next generation'

Roxy Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology
Climate scientist Roxy Koll aims to include solutions when presenting his data Image: Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology

"What gives me hope are the school students in Kerala who are actively monitoring the rains and river (using rain gauges and river scales) as part of a citizen science network in their locality…When I talk to these kids, I know that at least they are growing up with an understanding that the climate is changing, that they can monitor it, and probably they can do something about it. 

The data in front of me is actually scary ... I try not to bring emotions into it; I try to be clinical, so I don't get depressed. I sometimes feel embarrassed to present my work — I don't want to portray myself as someone negative. I want to always try to end positively by looking for solutions, best practices, adaptation measures, and working with laws to make change." Roxy Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology

'Indigenous leadership'

"Global negotiations, for example, the Paris Agreement: If all parties respect and fulfil their promises to address climate change impacts by providing the financial resources. The other hope from our hearts that we are seeing as optimistic is the growth of indigenous people's leadership and organization. We have a traditional way of conserving resources and ecosystems, so we should continue to play our part." Gideon Sanago, Climate Programme of the Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum of Tanzania

'Prediction models'

Nana Ama Browne Klutse, from the the University of Ghana
The future is going to be bright in terms of climate predictions, says climate scientist Nana Ama Browne KlutseImage: University of Ghana

"Our [climate] models are becoming more intelligent and our confidence in them is growing. We have employed artificial intelligence and high-performance computing systems. We are optimistic that the future is going to be bright in terms of predictions. 

It helps us to actually know what the future will be like, because then we can plan. Let's say we know that in the coming year rainfall is going to be delayed or low, that we will put decision-makers at the discussion table to figure out what to do. Our people cannot go hungry, and farmers may need alternative livelihoods." Nana Ama Browne Klutse, physicist at the University of Ghana

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity 

Edited by: Ruby Russell