I spent a year as a master student studying emotions related to climate change, and through this process I discovered the power of hope. Meaningful hope is specific, relational, and active. It’s the kind of hope that grows when we take action, relate to others, and focus on what we want to change.
Practicing hope is a process that helps me find meaning in my everyday work for sustainability. I hope to rewild the world, so I planted native oak trees in my garden. Every new oak leaf grows my hope for a world where humans care for nature and see themselves as part of it. I hope for a world where every child feels safe, so I appreciate every child that I meet in my life: see them, listen to them, support them. I hope for a peaceful world, so I set onto a path to find inner peace by liberating myself from modern society’s culture of urgency, and reconnecting with land, ocean and other people.
When I feel connected, I become open to possibilities. Listening to the birds I remember Arundhati Roy who says: “Another world is possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” To me, these words are pure hope.
I consider myself a hopeful person, but for a long time I struggled to find hope in the midst of the climate crisis. For one, does planting trees even matter if climate change will make the world’s forests dry up and burn? Children are among the most exposed to climate hazards, and in the doomsday climate change predictions humans start wars over food and water scarcity caused by lack of rain and glaciers.
Learning more about what hope really is, helped me to go from moving between optimism and pessimism to becoming hopeful.
Blind optimism is the hope that everything will be OK by itself, without you having to actually do anything. In relation to the climate crisis, such optimism is no more than wishful thinking.
In 1988 Dr. James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, spoke to the US congress. He made clear the threats posed by climate change and attributed the phenomenon to human exploitation of carbon energy sources. World leaders should have taken radical action then and there, but they did not.
I was born in 1989, so climate change has been a known threat all my life. By now, thinking that everything will be OK, is not just naive, but ethically problematic, as people are already dying in climate change induced catastrophes around the world. Last year, we saw the largest ever year-on-year increase in energy-related CO2 emissions in absolute terms.
Are we left with pessimism then? Should we just give up in the anticipation of undesirable outcomes in a doomed future?
Hope and despair are born out of the same circumstances, historian Christopher Lasch reminds us. He says that hope is for those that expect the worst. The foundation for hope is not optimism but a deep trust in life itself that allows us to remain open to a good future.
One of my favorite philosophers, Rosi Braidotti, says that it is our love for this world that makes sustainability and hope possible. She describes hope as an everyday practice of transformation: becoming sustainable involves practicing “a humble kind of hope, rooted in the ordinary micro-practices of everyday life: simple strategies to hold, sustain and map out thresholds of sustainable transformations.”
Letting go of optimism, means letting go of specific outcomes and shifting our attention toward the process of hope.
Meaningful hope is a process of identifying what you hope for, engaging with others, and becoming active in ways that nurture hopes.
Be specific: Imagine a future based on justice and care, or any other values that you find important. The exercise of imagining the future we want can help us identify the particular hopes we have for ourselves, our communities and the world.
Relate to others: When you’ve found something to hope for, share your hopes with a friend. Hope is relational in the way that we can both give and receive hope. When we realize that we are connected to all life on the planet, we can receive hope not just from other people, but from birds and rivers and the sky. Lift your gaze to take in the beauty of the sun, the moon, the stars.
Take action: When we start to do something concrete, hope can be evoked by the actions themselves, according to reserach by Maria Ojala. We can nurture hope together by engaging with others to transform our little corner of the world. Plant a seed and watch it grow. At the same time, becoming hopeful in relation to climate change also involves loss, mourning, and grief. We need time and space to process these emotions, so remember that everything does not have to be done by you, today; Liberate yourself from the modern culture of urgency by allowing rest.
I don’t believe everything will be OK, but I hope that humanity manages to deal with climate change in ways that foster community, resilience and justice. I share my hopes with you right here and now, and I started Climate Creativity to nurture hope in myself and others through meaningful climate action.
I hope this article can be of help to you.
Article by Marte Skaara (Oslo, Norway), co-founder and Creative Director at Climate Creativity. She is a farmer, journalist, and human geographer who cares deeply about our connection to land, ocean and each other.
Illustration by Stefanie Bendfeldt (Berlin, Germany), is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer and part of the Climate Illustrated art team. She loves to draw people and nature and especially enjoys working for social and environmental projects.
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