My Response to Emma Marris’ Optimistic Views on Climate Change

Summary & Editorial Piece on National Geographic Issue, “Why We’ll Succeed in Saving the Planet from Climate Change”

Mikael Haji
8 min readFeb 5, 2021
Photo By Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

As humans, it is rather common to conceptualize different ways in which the world may end. From a Nuclear War to an Asteroid Collison, many of these theories are plausible. However, above every theory, climate change is viewed as one of the most prevalent potential causes of the end of the world. The diversity and severity of impacts from climate change resemble that of a dystopian fantasy book but are in fact, the clear-eyed projections of where we are heading in reality. Now more than ever, there have been questions in regards to the irreversibility and potential elimination of the defining issue of our time, Climate Change.


In the National Geographic April 2020 edition for Earth Day, Emma Marris writes about a future in which we find ways to “limit carbon emissions, embrace nature, and thrive.” Throughout the article, Marris provides extremely optimistic solutions to some of the leading causes of climate change, and how collectively by implementing all of these solutions, climate change will be “reversed.”

Change Is Possible [1]

From the start, Marris proposes that as of right now, no matter how hard we try, it is almost impossible to stop adding to climate change. Even if we are perfect model consumers and refuse to fly, reuse shopping bags, and go vegan — we are still trapped in a system that makes it impossible not to emit carbon into our atmosphere. Living requires eating, traveling long distances requires transportation, and staying warm enough in winter and cool enough in the summer requires a thermostat — things that all emit carbon one way or another.

Nevertheless, Marris believes that change can and will happen rapidly. And her reasoning behind this is — history. In the past, there have been many instances in which people have been willing to adopt new technologies. With a strong will and the right policies, Emily has a strong belief that people will have no problem adjusting and creating ways in order to reduce or mitigate climate change with advances in power generation, transportation, food, manufacturing, and infrastructure.

Electricity and Heat Generation [2]

25% of emissions come directly from electricity and heat generation. Marris suggests that these are the easiest emissions to eliminate. This is due to the advances in renewable sources of energy. In the article, she states that

  • Wind and solar are developed enough to be deployed at a large scale
  • Batteries are capable of storing power — centrally and individually (per house)

— all the while being better and lighter on the pocket.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Land [3]

Subsequently, Marris explains how the Agriculture, Forestry, and Land industries get a bit more complex when it comes to alleviating emissions. Similar to the electricity and heat generation industry Agriculture, Forestry, and Land industries produce a whopping 25% of our emissions. The main factors of these emissions are mostly caused by;

  • Nitrous oxide rising from manure or synthetic fertilizer
  • Methane belched by livestock
  • CO2 from burning fuel and fields

One solution that Marris proposes is to stop subsidizing meat production and to encourage shifts to more plant foods. Marris believes that with the sudden spike in demand for plant-based meats (impossible burger, beyond meat, etc.), people will all of a sudden begin to shy away from meat in the near future.

Now, in terms of dealing with the actual farms, Marris brings forward three different ways in which we could potentially deal with them.

  1. Intensify farming using robots, GMOs, and big data in order to produce a high yield of food in a small area.
  2. Make farms more “natural” by mixing the crops and reducing toxic chemicals while leaving the borders of fields as wildlife habitat.
  3. A Mix of 1 and 2. Create urban farms in skyscrapers running on renewable energy. We can also have large outdoor farms that are high-tech and extremely resourceful. This concept would be extremely friendly to wildlife and would actively store carbon in its soils.

Industry, Transportation, and Buildings

Finally, the rest of our carbon emissions comes from industry, transportation, and buildings. Marris believes that the one and the only way to push for change is with tax regulation and incentives.

  1. In Norway, approximately 50% of new cars are now electric. This is due to the fact that the government exempts them from sales tax, making them as cheap as gas-powered cars. By 2025, Norway plans on banning all gas-powered cars.
  2. In New York City, the city council created a law that will require all medium and large buildings to cut their carbon emissions by more than 25% by 2030.

Now, if we were to scale these concepts in an entire country like the U.S. to create more efficient buildings, easy mass transit, and electric cars — there is no doubt that it will be expensive. The question is — how much?

“The money we are talking about is not more than the federal response to the 2008 financial crisis.”

Editorial Piece

In the article “Why We’ll Succeed in Saving the Planet from Climate Change,” Emma Marris writes about a future that she would like to have, not the one that the evidence shows we are going to have. It’s intentionally naive and absurdly optimistic to the point of foolishness and irresponsibility.

There is no denying that there were many great points in the article. However, what really bothered me was the false hope and mitigation of the severity of climate change. In addition to that, I feel as if Marris failed to touch on many vital points about the future of climate change as well.


Like I said before, I definitely believe that the optimistic aspect of the article was completely ineffective and needed an extensive amount of work. In fact, according to a study on the use of emotion in climate change appeals (in regards to both optimistic and pessimistic endings), optimistic endings may comfort the “public suffering from apocalypse fatigue, but do not appear to increase risk perception and perceived outcome efficacy” (Morris, Chrysochou, Karg, & Mitkidis, 2020). Therefore, judging by the fact that the article is an “optimistic” piece, there is a clear lack of urgency and the author fails to make it clear about how serious climate change really is.

What I Would Change? If I was the author, I would make sure to educate my readers on the seriousness of climate change by referring to accurate statistics and explaining what our future could look like if we don’t act fast. I believe that from there the author could have continued with the solutions proposed without understating the impact climate change will have on our future.

Shocking Statistics -> Climate change could be irreversible by 2030, More than 1 million species face extinction, We’d need 1.7 planets to support the demand on the earth’s ecosystems, etc. (Six scary facts about climate change, n.d.)

Is Change Really Possible? [1]

According to the NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), a warming climate should show changes in the following:

  1. Atmospheric temperature over land and water
  2. Water temperature
  3. Size of glaciers (ancient ice)
  4. Amount of sea-ice & snow-cover on land
  5. Sea level
  6. Humidity

And the fact of the matter is that all of these indicators are, in fact, true and have been proven. (Global Climate Change Indicators, n.d.). In addition, globally, 98% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real. (Cox, 7 undeniable climate change facts) And yet still, many people struggle to accept the science of climate change.

Therefore, if the reversal of climate change relies heavily on the global population and their cooperation. Then how can we be sure that change will ever come?

Electricity and Heat Generation [2]

In my opinion, as far as electricity and heat generation goes, I believe that Marris does a great job explaining the power of renewable sources of energy and how it could potentially mitigate a good fraction of Climate Change.

However, I believe that another great point that Marris could have added to her article was in terms of the coal industry and how it is going bankrupt. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has reported that the nation’s power sector consumed 30% less coal in the first half of 2020 than during the same period last year, as renewable energy continued to take market share from coal. (Continued Toll on Coal; More Companies File Bankruptcy 2020)

For the longest time, Coal has been the world’s primary energy source due to its low price, long history, and its abundance of resources. However, now, with a lack of product and the rise of renewable sources of energy, the industry is dying, and dying at a rapid pace. (Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Fossil Fuels)

Agriculture [3]

I truly enjoyed reading this section of the article the most due to the exciting ways in which we could potentially deal with farms. Personally, what I found as the most compelling solution is the concept of combining the first two solutions in order to create;

  • Innovative urban farms in skyscrapers running on renewable energy
  • Large outdoor farms that are high-tech and extremely resourceful

Personally, I think one of the main reasons as to why this was so exciting for me is due to the fact that it reminds me a lot of another article I read about in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It lacks almost every single resource necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.


The Netherlands resembles no other major food producer. In the country’s principal farming regions, there’s almost no potato patch, no greenhouse, no hog barn that’s out of sight of skyscrapers, manufacturing plants, or urban sprawl. More than half the nation’s land area is actually used for agriculture to create climate-controlled farms.

These climate-controlled farms enable a country to be a global leader in exports of a fairweather fruit: the tomato. The Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second-largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value. More than a third of all global trade in vegetable seeds originates in the Netherlands. (Treat, 2018)

What About The Carbon Dioxide Hanging Around in the Atmosphere?

Now one thing that Marris fails to realize is that carbon dioxide hangs around in the atmosphere for centuries, even millennia. This means that even if we were to start cutting emissions today, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the problem of climate change would continue to grow.

Earth will keep warming until we shut down emissions completely.

Resources (APA) (n.d.). Global Climate Change Indicators. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

Cox. (n.d.). 7 undeniable climate change facts. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

Dec 4, 2. (2020, December 04). Continued Toll on Coal; More Companies File Bankruptcy. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). (n.d.). Fossil Fuels. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

Morris, B., Chrysochou, P., Karg, S., & Mitkidis, P. (2020, September 03). Optimistic vs. pessimistic endings in climate change appeals. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

Six scary facts about climate change. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

Treat, J. (2018, January 14). This Tiny Country Feeds the World. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from