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What is climate optimism? How Gen Zers are pushing back against feelings of 'doomism'

"Climate optimism is what gives us hope when things feel hopeless."

Climate optimism, an idea spread by Gen Zers

For some, the phrase "climate optimism" sounds like an oxymoron — but it doesn't have to be. 

That's the thesis behind the work of Zahra Biabani, an author, public speaker, and young entrepreneur. In a recent TED Talk, Biabani, who graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2021, explained how climate optimism presents a new way of tackling one of her generation's biggest anxieties. 

"The younger generations need a new way of addressing the climate crisis that unshackles us from the cycles of doom and gloom that so often lead to inaction," Biabani said during her speech

Rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather conditions are a point of concern for members of every generation, but that's especially true for Gen Zers, America's youngest and most diverse group. 

In a 2021 study, researchers surveyed 10,000 Gen Zers living in 10 different countries. Among them, 59% said they were "very or extremely worried" about climate change. 40% said these fears have made them worried about having children of their own. 

With climate optimism, Biabani and others like her are looking to reverse that sentiment — for their generation and all generations before and after them.  

Biabani defines climate optimism as a framework for viewing global overheating not as an impossible, looming threat, but as a problem we can all unite to solve. 

"Climate optimism is what gives us hope when things feel hopeless," she said in her TED Talk. 

The concept has gained ground in recent years, especially among young people. In July, the Guardian published a wide-spanning interview with Gen Zers who embrace the term. 

Elsewhere online, climate optimism is even more present. Biabani herself is a member of EcoTok, a 19-person strong collection of TikTok creators who use the platform to spread awareness about ways people can enact change in their daily lives.

@eco_tok #answer to @spidermark790 #answer to @spidermark790 out highest viewed video by @Alyssa Barber ❤️ #mostviralvideo #mostviewedvideo #ecotok #ecofriendlyliving ♬ original sound - EcoTok

As she explained in her TED Talk, Biabani stumbled upon climate optimism during the early days of the pandemic, when she was cooped up at home and reading an endless stream of bad news. 

"I knew I needed something to inspire me," she said.

Biabani found that inspiration in #WeeklyEarthWins, a series of videos in which she dances on camera as the screen fills with good news headlines. 

@zahranurbiabani this week's #weeklyearthwins !!! head over to @thegarbagequeen page for more! #OutlanderChallenge #climateoptimism ♬ River Deep, Mountain High - Glee Cast

In Biabani's mind, fear is the worst possible starting point for someone trying to make a difference. That's why she — and the countless others who embrace climate optimism — choose to adopt a view that allows for real, actionable change. 

"The future we deserve cannot be built on the unstable foundations of fear and anxiety," Biabani said at the conclusion of her TED Talk. "It must be built with one of the few infinite resources we have on this finite planet — hope."

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