I firmly believe there is always hope – simply because hope is simply a figment of the imagination. One can be hopeful no matter the circumstances. However, as Maria Popova said, “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naïvete.” This is a long way of saying “hope, but think critically about it.”
It is hard to think critically about something without defining the argument. For the purposes of this discussion, I will represent hope in the Anthropocene to be the continued existence of life as we know it. Often, we define issues in this area in general, abstract terms such as “climate change,” but specific, grounded terms mean something tangible to people. Examples include oceans with fish, forests with birds, air that is breathable, temperatures that humans were designed for and Florida being a landmass above water.
It is when you look at these problems individually, there is hope – there are clearly defined pathways to ensure our current way of life continues. The problem is the competing interests that have defined the evolution of humanity – more, bigger, better. Most people do not want to make a significant sacrifice to their life for an indiscernible betterment of the collective humanity. However, when presented with a viable hope for change – I believe people will, and often do, change.
So, we must look at problems individually:
Oceans with Fish, Forests with Birds: There are great success stories in conservation and ecosystem restoration (the American alligator, the Bald Eagle, and Sea Turtles) – many of these efforts focus on charismatic species that are important symbols or are “cute,” however that is not to say that there aren’t flow on effects to the rest of the ecosystem.
Air is breathable: The Clean Air Act was instrumental in reducing smog in LA to a more healthy level.
Temperatures that humans were designed for and Florida being a landmass above water: The Paris Climate Accord demonstrates a global consensus that we must change the status quo to continue development.
I believe that the overarching issue is that we dump all environmental problems in the same abstract basket – making it feel overwhelming and hopeless. While we hope to develop drugs to cure specific diseases, we find it difficult to find hope in curing death itself. The projected models show the inevitable costs of our actions past and present – however, this should not stop the desire to keep fish in our oceans, our air breathable, and Florida above water. If we can cure these specific “diseases” of earth, we extend both the length and quality of life on earth.
Grounding hope in tangible ideas, rather than an abstract concept such as climate change makes people feel less hopeless – because success stories are everywhere if you know where to look.