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Illustrated portrait of Zahra Biabani Lauren Tamaki for Vox

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Zahra Biabani wants Gen Z to feel hopeful about the future

The Climate Optimism author believes focusing on victories can engender more positive action.

Julieta Cardenas (she/they) is a Future Perfect fellow covering the future of food and animals. Before joining Vox, Julieta researched innovation practices in the cellular agriculture space.

Zahra Biabani, a Gen Z activist and author of Climate Optimism, believes that change is worth pursuing, no matter how bleak things may at times look. Her book, she says, is not for politicians who continue to operate with a business-as-usual mindset or straight-up deny climate change is happening. It’s for everyone else — fellow Zoomers, conscious consumers, activists who don’t want to burn out — to realize that “hope is a self-fulfilling phenomenon.”

Her opening chapter explores the psychological biases that keep us from taking the steps to make the world better. If you think pessimistically about the future, the book argues, you may be inclined to focus your efforts on saving yourself before others, or just become mired in inaction. The same can happen if you are so optimistic that you don’t think the status quo needs to change. But a bit of criticism and anger can be a motivator for action, as a 2021 study from the Journal of Climate Change and Health shows.

In her book, Biabani describes climate optimism as a “framework based on the idea that we can restore the earth back to health, and in doing so protect the people that inhabit this planet.” In a 2022 TED talk, she mentions that more than 56 percent of Gen Z think the climate crisis means we are doomed. This “doomerism” has real consequences, from anxiety attacks to deciding not to have children for fear of the suffering they will inherit from an unstable climate and economy.

That said, Biabani suggests looking at the long-term historical record, which shows that progress does happen; such is the case for the ozone layer, which has recovered since the ’80s, when bans on ozone-destroying chemicals were enacted.

Biabani’s framework for optimism relies on balanced reporting of climate solutions as well as coverage of climate disasters. Doing so is important because, as Biabani points out in her book, humans are hardwired to be more attentive to negative news. Showing people solutions they can get involved in, by highlighting positive news sources or encouraging trends over time, paints a more holistic picture of society’s achievements.

A wider perspective also means looking for news from around the world, and specifically from the areas and people most impacted by climate change globally.

Biabani argues that we need to overcome our inherent negativity bias by focusing on the wins instead, such as the Environmental Protection Agency allocating $50 million to help tribal projects restore critical fish habitats. Progress doesn’t only have to be top-down. It can be grassroots, too, like the land back movement, in which land is restored to the Indigenous peoples who have historically taken care of it. Rights of nature laws — giving rivers and forests legal rights, like those of people and corporations — have gained traction within dozens of communities globally and have promise as a conservation tool.

Biabani’s TikTok videos highlight climate wins and strategies for supporting more environmentally just decisions. She was one of the first creators of color on TikTok to dedicate themselves to accessible, optimistic climate justice content. Her “Weekly Earth Wins” series pairs good-news stories with dance and was her first foray into the idea of climate optimism, which then led to her book. But social media, to her, is just the beginning.

“It’s not just about creating content,” Biabani told Atmos magazine in 2021, when her TikTok account began taking off. “It’s also thinking of new ways to break into spaces that traditionally people like me haven’t been involved in, or just creating these spaces that are more inclusive.”

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