Joy is an Important Ingredient in Climate Action

A child holds up tomatoes to her eyes and smiles into the camera.

It’s easy to get caught up in anxiety and stress about climate change. While this reaction is warranted given the severity of the climate crisis we are facing, it’s also important to find hope and joy amidst the fear. Building community around climate action, celebrating the human cultures and environmental systems we are fighting to protect, and highlighting small wins along the way are all methods for inviting joy into the important, but often disheartening, work of combatting environmental degradation.

Two people put their hands into a pot of dirt.

In June of 2022, folks from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama gathered to celebrate their shared Gulf heritage and mobilize for climate action on the scale necessary to protect their coastal communities. This event was called the Gulf Gathering for Climate Justice and Joy. The organizers of the gathering didn’t sugarcoat the fact that we need to see meaningful change from America’s biggest corporations in order to prevent dire consequences for Gulf Coast communities, but they also centered a joyful celebration along with this sobering truth.

A woman holds a little girl in her arms in front of a tree and smiles.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is another example of someone bringing joy into her work around climate. She is a marine biologist and co-creator of the podcast How to Save a Planet. She consistently asks people to look for the intersection of what they are good at, what brings them joy, and what work needs to be done in order to find their niche in pushing for change. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and other advocates of climate joy, don’t shy away from talking about painful aspects of the climate crisis, including the historic and structural inequities tied up in the effects of climate change. Conversations about climate justice can include joy by focusing on centuries of environmental stewardship by Communities of Color and a legacy of collective resistance against colonial approaches to resource management.

A group of young adults stand with signs about the environment and megaphones.

When we talk to young people about climate, one of the most hopeful responses to emphasize is how many youth are crossing borders and defying norms created by previous generations to take meaningful action. Although youth climate leaders have inherited a monumental problem that they did not have a hand in creating, their hard work and dedication to finding creative solutions is inspiring to both their peers and those much older than them. Finding ways to balance joy with some of the devastating truths that come with learning about climate change is an investment in young people’s mental health and the sustainability of the modern environmental movement.

A young child with a long ponytail stands in front of a sunset with her arms raised over her head.

We need to find ways to hold the seriousness of the climate crisis and invite new people into a hopeful and joy-filled movement that celebrates a diversity of natural environments and acknowledges the beauty of seeking justice for human communities left to face the consequences of climate change on their own. Youth are a central part of the movement for climate joy because they stand to lose the most from inaction on climate and are too often saddled with a narrative of a hopeless environmental future. Joy, even in the face of climate change, can still be abundant.