“Do ETFs, REITs and mutual funds still make sense to invest in if the planet won’t survive ’til our retirement?”
So read an Instagram DM from a friend earlier this year. The reasoning was fairly clear: A recent report from the United Nations indicates that climate change is harming the world’s food supply to a catastrophic degree, while a 2018 U.N. panel found that humans have 12 years to significantly reduce carbon emissions to ensure a “safe and sustainable” planet. The Amazon rainforest — AKA the lungs of the planet — is currently on fire, which could speed up climate change.
It might seem hyperbolic, but the Insta-messenger is far from the only member of Generation Y worried about the health of the planet to the extent that it affects their outlook on the future. Almost 90% of millennials recognize that man-made climate change is happening, leading some to experience what the American Psychological Association refers to as “eco-anxiety. Gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion,” the APA noted in a 2017 study on the mental health effects of climate change.
With the planet at stake, who can blame you for not saving 10% of your income for a future you’re not sure will arrive?
While it’s easy to feel powerless, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Nature Conservancy at UCLA, tells CNBC Make It that he has a more positive outlook on the state of things than what is typically portrayed in the media.
Climate change will have significant impact in our lifetime, he says, but it’s also manageable if we do something about it now. “One of my goals these days has been to really push back against the notion that the world is ending,” says Swain. “Increasingly, I think there is this ennui, or this feeling that there’s not a lot that individuals can do to stop the problem. But the challenge is that it’s individuals in aggregate who potentially can solve the problem.”
At just 30 years old, Swain is squarely within the demographic that seems to be losing hope. Indeed, he says weather events will become increasingly extreme, and humans will have to adapt to new ways of living. But he wants to make it very clear that now is the time to take action that will have “tremendous impact” on the Earth for “centuries and millennia to come.” Especially in wealthier countries, like the United States, which have historically emitted the largest amounts of greenhouse gases.
In fact, he says if anything, he and his fellow climate scientists are more energized than ever. Now is exactly the time to invest more, not less: In the future we want, in policies we believe in. And that definitely includes saving up for a sizable emergency fund. “If I thought I was going to get sick in the future, I would want to make damn sure I have good insurance, I wouldn’t throw my hands up,” he says. “It motivates me, personally, to want to leave as much of a cushion for the future as possible. If you’re worried about the future, in every other context, you’d want as much of a buffer as possible.”