tl;dr: bad news is better than no news at all
Reading articles about sustainability makes it easy to get depressed about the current state of affairs. Continuous barrages of bad news create an air of awfulness and a sense that the world is simply going to hell in a handbasket. Whether it be about record heat waves, water scarcity, out-of-control wildfires, polar ice caps melting, sea levels rising, or deforestation, the situation is not ideal. It seems that every day when reading the news, it is pretty easy to see an article that highlights a sustainability issue in a scary and worrisome light. There is a silver lining to this.
In order to make progress, we must first be aware of the issue. Now, we know that things aren't rosy environmentally, but many people are unaware of the severity and urgency of the situation. Many problems are like that, aren't they? My wife works in domestic violence advocacy, and I think that is actually a pretty good comparison to use. We all know that in a perfect world, domestic violence would never exist. However, we all recognize that we do not live in a perfect world, and so we must address this issue. Hopefully, somebody is doing something about it (amazing and overworked people like my wife definitely are!). That is about the extent to which most people's grasp on the issue of domestic violence goes. When I have a discussion with my wife about her work, I learn much more about how deep-rooted the problem is, how it particularly impacts certain demographics more than others and why, and valuable facts and statistics that help paint a better picture of what is going on. In essence, the more I know and learn, the more capable I become of understanding what the issues are and the best path forward. Learning about key programs like VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), VOCA (Victim Of Crimes Act), FVPSA (Family Violence Prevention and Services Act), and even the SCA (Safer Communities Act) shows the funding streams that are directed toward ending this awful scourge. I had no idea of these programs before my wife started this work.
If we don't have awareness about problems, then they can never gain the traction to be addressed and ideally fixed. What comes to mind is the age-old question: "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, did it make a sound?" Vibrations are not sound, sound is when someone is around to receive those vibrations and experience them. Proverbial trees and literal trees are falling all around us, but we often are not there to experience it, and therefore, very little awareness exists about what is going on. This is why media coverage is so important. It creates awareness. Today, many people are not huge fans of the media. Much of the dislike is somewhat well-earned, as journalists struggle to explain the news in a manner that is digestible by all. In this situation, bad news from distrusted sources is actually better than no coverage at all. The reason behind this is that as more and more people become aware, we can start really pushing the needle to progress instead of inaction.
However, change is going to be frustratingly slow. Because of the urgency of our situation, many people demand instant and complete changes in behaviour. Large numbers of folks clamour for us to go from one day completely dependent on fossil fuels to completely cold turkey the next day. How is this working out? If anything, all it does is annoy both the advocate and the population that they are trying to influence. The proponent gets angry because people aren't listening and the masses are upset because annoying people keep on telling them what to do. How many times have you heard the saying that we have to walk before we learn how to run? Some people would say that you wouldn't walk away from a fire, you would most definitely run. Unfortunately, that is assuming that we all know how to walk. If there was a fire and we had no idea how to walk, then running is simply impossible. We have to understand where we are starting from instead of focusing on what needs to be done at the later stages because we simply won't get there if we do.
Let's put this in perhaps a more understandable format. I often equate sustainability issues to weight loss. What many climate activists are suggesting is the equivalent of going from gorging ourselves on a buffet to the very next day of complete fasting. It just isn't going to work. People have to better understand what the consequences of inaction are, and that is precisely what all of these awful news articles and reports have the potential to do. Perhaps it is the essence of human behaviour that until causality is definitively proven, we tend to stick with what we know. This is why any drastic change is so difficult, whether it be weight loss, quitting smoking (trust me on this one!), or changing our consumption habits. The first step is admitting that we have a problem and need to change, and in this situation, this is where the plethora of worrisome and scary news articles is actually a good thing. Sadly, it only gets harder from here, but as the old adage goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."