Commentary: How to maintain hope in the face of climate change

“We are the luckiest generation,” says Washington governor, “to have something that is so meaningful to fight for.”

I am tempted to depression and despair when faced with the reality of climate change, and I fear that I am not alone.

Carbon dioxide levels continue to increase, followed by climbing temperatures around the world. Sea levels are rising as ice melts, droughts are spreading and storms are getting stronger, leading to catastrophic floods.

And it is not just the weather that is affected. Coral reefs are bleaching and dying, leading to a depletion of sea life. Forests are drying out and burning. Rivers are drying up and aquifers are being pumped dry. Wildlife species are dying and going extinct, never to return.

And this is just the beginning. If the ice on Greenland and Antarctica melts, say goodbye to coastal cities and low-lying areas like Florida. If mountain glaciers melt, rivers will disappear. There will be millions of climate refugees.

Yes, the data and climate models lead me to depression and despair. But spiritual writers warn us that despair is a temptation from the devil, who tries to get good people to give up the practice of virtue.

Likewise, communal despair leads to political paralysis as good people cede the political arena to selfishness and greed.

“Depression is our enemy because it leads to passivity which leads to a lack of action, which means you lose what you care about,” warns Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a leader in the fight against climate change.

“There is an antidote to that, which is action,’’ he told host David Roberts on a June 14 episode of the podcast “Volts.” “If you want to feel better, if you want to get over that darkness and despair, go take some action.”

Any action will do, “blogging, tweeting, talking to your neighbor, voting, anything,” said the governor. “Any action you take is good for you and your mental health.”

And, I would add, your spiritual health.

Rather than seeing our time as the worst possible days, Inslee, like Winston Churchill during World War II, thinks the opposite.

“These are the greatest days,” Inslee argued. “There’s no other time in the history of our species where so much was at stake, where the whole shooting match was at stake, where the whole future of all multiple generations are at stake.

“We are the luckiest generation in human history to have something that is so meaningful to fight for,” he said. “That’s a blessing. That’s what I wake up in the morning thinking. I wake up feeling great. I hope everybody else does, too.”

Like the “Greatest Generation,” which responded to the challenge of fascism, those living today are called to respond to the challenges of climate change. If we do it, history will extol us. If we fail, future generations will curse us for ushering in a new dark age.

Winning the Second World War took individual sacrifice, governmental action and technological innovation. Likewise, winning the war against climate change will take all three.

As individuals, we need to accept a simpler lifestyle with a smaller carbon footprint. We need to support government programs like the Inflation Reduction Act, which, despite its name, is really a series of programs to limit climate change. Our most creative minds have to focus on new technologies that will help us eliminate fossil fuels, the principal source of greenhouse gases.

“Volts” describes itself as a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. It is unflinching in its realism in the face of climate change, yet it is also hopeful in its examination of the technological innovations that can help us reduce our carbon footprint.

Roberts, the host, interviews analysts, technologists and politicians about the transition from fossil fuels. On the podcast, Inslee spoke of the innovative programs his state has enacted, making it a leader in responding to climate change. He is now fighting a ballot initiative funded with $5 million by Brian Heywood, a hedge fund billionaire who wants to roll back the state’s efforts.

Other “Volts” episodes look at battery technology, upgrading the electrical grid and alternative sources of energy, as well as the political strategies needed to get them implemented. “Volts” goes into geeky detail in a way that is understandable and entertaining. It is inspiring and hopeful to listen to so many smart and dedicated people grapple with the science and technology of responding to climate change.

Yes, the devil is working hard to lead us to despair over climate change, but the Spirit is also alive in many dedicated people doing exciting work in response to global warming.

“Fear not,” the Lord says in Isaiah, “for I am with you.”

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Religion News Service columnist Thomas Reese speaks in Salt Lake City in 2015.

(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)