Climate Corner: The Courage to Hope

by Jonathan Foley

Rising temperatures. Increasing extreme weather events. Collapsing ice sheets. Destabilizing patterns of climate. Acidifying oceans. Coral reef die-offs. Tropical deforestation. Widespread environmental pollution. Countless species extinctions. Degraded land and water resources. Threats to global food security. Increasing risk of emerging disease.

Every week there’s more news, most of it bad, about how we’re destabilizing our climate, degrading our ecosystems and leaving a crippling mess for future generations. There is some good news, too, but most days it feels like the bad news vastly overwhelms the good.

What’s even more disturbing is that we are knowingly doing this to our planet. It’s impossible for the world’s leaders to say that they “didn’t know” this was happening and that we didn’t have the power to prevent it.

But for every reason to despair, there are two reasons to hope.

Hope and light are always more powerful than despair and darkness. And they are always there. You just have to look for them. You have to have an open mind and be brave, and they will present themselves to you.


Hope Is a Verb

I believe in the power of hope, but we need to be careful to understand what it is and what it isn’t.

Hope is not the same as blind optimism, or some naïve belief that everything will turn out OK if we just sit still. It’s an active frame of mind, an active frame of heart. It asks us to act, not just to receive. To work, to sweat, to love, to risk it all. It challenges us to build a better world against the real possibility of failure – not merely to expect that others, or invisible hands, will do the work for us. In other words, hope is really a verb, and optimism is a noun. Don’t confuse the two. The writer Rebecca Solnit put it best:

“It’s important to say what hope is not: It is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act.”


Fueling Our Hope

But maintaining a hopeful stance is difficult, and it needs fuel to rekindle it.

Here are some recent developments that help to power my sense of hope:

  • Tropical deforestation  – a majorcontributor to climate change and global biodiversity loss –  has dropped markedly in Brazil during the last 10 years. While it is still increasing elsewhere, Brazil reduced deforestation by nearly 70 percent – something no one thought was possible – through innovative partnerships among policymakers, businesses, scientists and environmental groups. This is a hugewin for climate change, protecting ecosystems and maintaining healthy watersheds. And it gives me hope. If Brazil can do it, why can’t other nations?
  • U.S. greenhouse-gas emissionspeaked in 2007, initially due to the recession, but they have continued to decline even as the economy has recovered. Today we have more people in America, a more active economy and substantially lower emissions. It shows how our economy can thrive while we reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, largely by replacing coal with cleaner fuels, accelerating the deployment of renewable energy sources and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. If we can do that, why can’t we go further?
  • Global greenhouse-gas emissionsappear to have peaked in 2015, largely due to reduced coal use in China and the continued decline of emissions in the U.S. and Europe. In fact, global emissions have been basically flat from 2014, even as the global economy has grown by eight to10 percent. Naturally, we need to loweremissions – and fast – but the first step is to stabilize them. Then we must aggressively lower them in every sector,  including electricity, transportation, industry, agriculture and forests.
  • Dramatically lower prices for solar cells, LEDsand other technologies. Solar panels cost less than half of what they did eight years ago, and this has helped spur a dramatic increase in renewable-energy deployment. For example, 2016 saw more than 14.5 gigawatts of solar power installed in the United States, compared to 7.5 gigawatts installed in 2015 – a near doubling. As solar panels, high-efficiency LEDs, batteries, electric cars and other technologies become cheaper, they will help drive the shift to a low-carbon energy economy faster than anyone imagined.
  • The rising leadership of cities, states, companies and nonprofits. As the federal government’s leadership on climate change and the environment has dramatically declined, we have seen impressive leadership on these issues emerge from American cities, states, corporations, universities and nonprofits. In fact, a large portion of the United States’ population and economy has committed to the Paris accords on climate change, even through the federal government is stepping away from it. Interestingly, President Trump’s decision to disengage from the global climate agreements may have ignited even moreclimate leadership in America  – but leadership that will happen in towns and cities, states, corporations and nonprofits across the nation.

These are just a few of the signs that the world, in fact, can get better ,  but only if we work hard at it.


Hope as a Strategy for Changing the World

There’s another reason to hope: It’s a good strategy if you actually want to change the world, mainly because no one follows a pessimist. Sure, pessimists who strike fear and despair in the crowd are good for rallying their base, whether that’s the extreme left or extreme right. But it doesn’t work for most of us. It simply doesn’t inspire people to act. It paralyzes them with fear and despair.

If you really want to inspire people to change the world, hope is a necessary ingredient.

Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t say he had a nightmare; he said he had a dream  – a dream of a better world. A dream that he, and many others, worked to make real. That’s hope. And it changes the world.

So, let us dream together of a better world – a world that we want. A better world for our children, regardless of background. Republicans. Democrats. People of all colors. Of all nationalities. Of all genders. All of us.

If we hope for that world together, there is a chance – a fighting chance – that we can build it. But without hope we have nothing.

Dr. Jonathan Foley (@GlobalEcoGuy) is an environmental leader and scientist who has worked on climate change, global ecology and sustainable agriculture. He is the new executive director of Project Drawdown, a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming.


How Climate Change Is Impacting Winter Recreation

The Climate Change Coalition of Door County will screen the film Saving Snow in January. The film examines how climate change is affecting winter recreation and how people are adapting to those changes.

The movie, filmed in Wisconsin, will be shown Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, at Crossroads at Big Creek in Sturgeon Bay. The League of Women Voters of Door County is co-sponsoring the screening.

Article Comments