Looking for “hope.”
Now that the amount of carbon in our atmosphere has officially reached 400 parts per million (a level only previously experienced on earth 3 million years ago), what now? Maureen E. Raymo, a scientist at Columbia University told the New York Times: It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster. No doubt, she is not the only one feeling this way.
We’ve got to keep believing that we can turn things around because if we don’t, there’s no justification for our continued existence. Finding the power to turn things around depends on what might be very hard to find right now: hope.
Last week, George Monbiot reminded me that there is always hope to be found, you just have to pay attention. He quoted the final paragraph in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a very dark, disturbing, post-apocalyptic story that concludes with, what I have decided sums up the world, and why we need to advocate (with all our might) for its continued existence:
Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not to be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.
Monbiot’s hope-story is about the revitalization of Britain’s polluted waterways. Looking into my own front-yard (almost) is a very clear example of how thoughtful action can make a big impact: volunteers have worked for years now to prevent herring-eggs from being poisoned, and with that they have brought renewed life in the form of dolphins, sea-lions and whales to Howe Sound - and that is just what I can see from my favourite rock.
Back in 1935, Aldo Leopold, known to some as the godfather of the conservation movement, bought 80 acres with a cabin near the Wisconsin River. In the documentary about his life, Green Fire, his daughter described the excitement of hearing about the purchase, and imagining an idyllic piece of land alongside a river. As it happened, the river was not in their backyard and the land was devastated from overuse. The family’s first job was to shovel the manure out of the rickety old chicken-coop that would become their cottage, but it was the first step in the family’s decades-long land-restoration project which included the planting of 50 thousand Pine trees. According to his daughter, the Leopold children were willing participants project. In 1943, Aldo Leopold reflected on the experience in writing:
Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel.” Pines Above the Snow
The best part about such stories is that there are no restrictions on who can participate. And as much as these actions can be diminished with a dose of cynicism, they make it hard to deny that positive change is possible. As Pablo Solomon recalled his memories of Earth Day 1970 to National Geographic: "I can actually remember many people of my parents' generation remarking that [sweeping up] was the only act of Earth Day that resulted in anything. People of that generation would comment, If those hippies got a haircut and clean clothes, the world would be better."
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