Climate change needs inspiration and optimism

“Every crisis is an opportunity” – I don’t think that any other quote was more overstreched during the past two years to draw attention off the fact that politicians failed to take advantage of the opportunites for change during the eocnomic crisis. Thus, this important quote that we should use with regards to climate change unfortunately loses its credibility. Nevertheless, I believe that we can only cope with the challenges of climate change if we focus on individual and collective opportunities instead of using the common rhetoric of fear.

Of course, it is important to communicate the dangers of climate change like longer droughts in Africa, rising sea levels in the Pacific or frequent floodings in Europe and to take them seriously. Nevertheless, if the public debate only concentrates on the possible catastrophies, it may lead to short-term thinking about the effects of climate change but it may not lead to the necessary long-term actions of the people. Headlines such as “Climate change worse than feared“, comparisons of climate change with the atomic bomb or recommendations to scientists to better communicate the potential catastrophe of climate change won’t bring us any further. In contrast, they will make people feel powerless and helpless.

What we need is thus a politics of optimism as Alex Steffen once outlined at

“Entrenched interests use despair, confusion and apathy to prevent change. They encourage modes of thinking which lead us to believe that problems are insolvable, that nothing we do can matter, that the issue is too complex to present even the opportunity for change. Optimism, by contrast, especially optimism which is neither foolish nor silent, can be revolutionary. Where no one believes in a better future, despair is a logical choice, and people in despair almost never change anything. Where no one believes a better solution is possible, those benefiting from the continuation of a problem are safe. Where no one believes in the possibility of action, apathy becomes an insurmountable obstacle to reform. But introduce intelligent reasons for believing that action is possible, that better solutions are available, and that a better future can be built, and you unleash the power of people to act out of their highest principles. Shared belief in a better future is the strongest glue there is: it creates the opportunity for us to love one another, and love is an explosive force in politics. Great movements for social change always begin with statements of great optimism.

Hence: Let us talk about the fascinating possibilities of innovative, green technologies! Let us write about courageous regions where people together achieved energy independence! Let us design visions showing that a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy is possible! Let us illustrate how a more sustainable life can look like in a few years! Let us show regional success stories like the first passive house office tower in the world! Let us communicate international leadership of our regions like Upper Austria’s leadership in the field of energy standards for buildings! Let us increase people’s identification with renewable energy by fostering cooperative ownership of windmills! Let us persuade our neighbours of the big power of small actions! Let us learn a lesson from the youth by adopting their courage, their political will and their sense of global responsibility with regards to climate change! Moreover, let us set ambitious goals so that we have something big in mind that we can achieve!

But above all: Let us consider what constitutes a liveable and fulfilling life and which steps we have to take to achieve a higher quality of life! Let us inspire other people by exemplifying the positive effects of small changes in our lifestyle on us and our environment! And let us create a vision of a society that strives for happiness and quality of life for itself and future generations!

With such a vision in mind, it will be easy for us to understand cuts as opportunities, to implement innovative solutions together, to set the right priorities in political and personal decisions and thereby to manage the challenges of climate change! Or, as a famous winner of the Nobel Peace Prize once said: “Yes we can!”


Note: This blogpost was also published on the TH!NK ABOUT IT website.

Posted on October 10, 2009 in Climate Change

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About the Author

Andreas Lindinger is a Vienna-based business consultant, sustainability expert and urban thinker passionate about livable cities, sustainable transportation, renewable energy and civic engagement. Andreas offers a transdisciplinary business, finance and sustainability background, industry expertise in energy, mobility and environmental consulting and broad international experience gained in Vienna, Vancouver, Berlin and Dublin. Make sure to also check out and to follow @lindinger on Twitter.

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