By Kelly Martin
You open the newspaper or scroll through your newsfeed and it’s everywhere: another oil spill, natural disaster, or endangered species gone extinct. Doom and gloom fills the pages of most news we see, particularly news concerning the environment. After a while you may think to yourself, “is it even worth trying to fix the planet anymore?” You’re not alone in this sentiment: researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) call this “emotional numbing,” a phenomenon that occurs after repeated exposure to emotionally draining scenarios. In a world saturated with information about the many environmental disasters happening all around us, it is easy to become numb to these issues. “Eco-anxiety” has also become an increasingly recognized problem, as issues ranging from devastating natural disasters to the more gradual impacts of climate change are linked to stress, a feelings of powerlessness, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. One study found that in Australia, 25% of children are “so troubled about the state of the world that they honestly believe it will come to an end before they get older.”
For scientists and conservationists, it is less than ideal that the general public and future leaders of our planet feel this way about the environment. If the public becomes numb to these problems and perceives environmental issues as lost causes, they are less likely to take action to protect our planet. And what’s worse, such feelings are pervasive even in the scientific community; a 2011 paper in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution states, “widespread pessimism prevails in the conservation community. What successes have been won are rarely highlighted or fail to attract wide attention.” If even the conservationists working to protect the environment are losing hope, can we expect the general public to feel any different?
Enter Dr. Elin Kelsey, Dr. Nancy Knowlton, Dr. Heather Koldewey, Cynthia Vernon, and Elisabeth Whitebread, a group of marine biologists, authors, science communicators, community organizers, and businesswomen. In response to the onslaught of depressing stories and the pessimism prevalent in the marine conservation world, these five women developed a hashtag comprised of two simple words to turn the conversation around: #OceanOptimism. Since the debut of #OceanOptimism on World Oceans Day in June of 2014, over 74 million people have seen the hashtag and the positive, conservation success stories that accompany it.
For the month of February, Currents will be joining the movement and supporting the rising tide of optimism by featuring one #OceanOptimism piece per week. Follow along for a different conservation success story each week and share your own stories on social media with the hashtag! We hope that by filling newsfeeds with examples of conservation successes we can inspire and re-energize people to tackle those environmental issues that still need more work.