WITH constant headlines about floods, wildfires and record-breaking temperatures, it isn’t surprising that many people think our current generation will leave the planet in a worse predicament than when we inherited it. But is that belief true? Hannah Ritchie doesn’t think so. She is cautiously optimistic that we might be the first generation to pass on the environment in a better state than we found it.
She reached this counterintuitive conclusion after a decade digging into environmental records as a data scientist at the University of Oxford and lead researcher for influential online publication Our World in Data. In her new book Not the End of the World, Ritchie lays out the graphs that show the positive steps we have already taken to change our behaviour and mitigate climate change, from cutting coal use to shrinking carbon footprints. She talks to New Scientist about her growing conviction that we can solve the world’s environmental problems and picks out some key trends that give her hope about us turning things around.
Alison George: I’m talking to you on a day when it was reported that online searches related to “eco-anxiety” have increased dramatically. Yet you study long-term environmental trends and are somewhat optimistic.
Hannah Ritchie: I still have anxiety and worry, but I think it’s now paired with some sense of optimism that we can change things. The anxiety is completely justified and I get why people feel it. I feel it. But that feeling on its own is not that useful. You need to combine a sense…