Utne Blogs > Environment

Give Up Hope for the Environment

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Environment, Spirituality, hope, global warming,

Give Up Hope for the EnvironmentGlobal warming, massive species extinctions, pollution, and myriad other looming environmental catastrophes continue to threaten the planet, while environmentalists insist on preaching a gospel of hope. There’s an inherent contradiction in the hopeful environmental message, Michael Nelson and John Vucetich write for the Ecologist. They point out that films like An Inconvenient Truth and other environmental motivators often boil down to: 

1) Scientists give good reasons to think profound environmental disaster is eminent
2) It is urgent that you live up to a challengingly high standard—sustainability
And 3) the reason to live sustainably is that doing so gives hope for averting disaster.

The contradiction of asking people to be hopeful in a hopeless situation threatens to undermine the environmental movement. Instead, Nelson and Vucetich write that environmentalists should abandon hope and instead stress that sustainable living is the ethical and virtuous way to live. People shouldn’t hold out hope for a sustainable future that may never come. People should live sustainably because it’s the right thing to do.

“A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope,” Derrick Jensen wrote for Orion in 2006, “which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place.” Hope implies powerlessness, a lack of agency, and a reliance on forces beyond your control. To focus on an abstract sustainable future neglects the real-world actions that can be taken right now. “When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to ‘hope’ at all,” Jensen writes. “We simply do the work.”

Image by Brian Carlson, licensed under Creative Commons.

Sources: The Ecologist (article not available online), Orion

 

lucy
4/12/2009 1:39:38 PM

If you are in the DC area April 25, be sure to go to see Derrick Jensen in person at Earth 911: A Wake-Up Call for Obama Nation. http://www.pressaction.com/news/weblog/earth911 Lucy


katie_7
4/11/2009 11:25:49 PM

The Ecologist article by Nelson and Vucetich can be found here: http://news.msu.edu/media/documents/2009/02/6c612100-f233-4cb0-b2a3-6d03caa7741e.pdf


z. alexandra_1
4/10/2009 12:10:00 PM

when I worked for Greenpeace in the early 90s, running the Vancouver Island canvass and occasionally driving Zodiacs, we published a 3-fold pamphlet that had the headline, Hope For The Planet around that time someone published a catalog of environment challenges and the potential solutions for each one I started saying, except at the doors of course, that "the pamphlet (was) misleading, because there (was) no hope for the planet; we could save the planet, but there's no profit in it" I left Greenpeace less than a year after that today, we have many challenges that border on hopeless if they haven't already crossed that line, like the growing garbage-gyre in the Pacific Ocean


dave gardner
4/10/2009 10:21:10 AM

I'd love to read the entire Ecologist article. I'm not sure I would agree that hope causes us to feel powerless. I think we may act if we have hope that we can make a difference. I believe the problem with most of the environmental hope being peddled today is that it's a pipe dream - the hope that we can minimize climate disruption, preserve ecosystems and increase GDP year after year if we just do it with "green jobs." That is intellectually dishonest. Adding population and jobs virtually guarantees we will fail to avert climate and ecosystem disaster. The problem is so many feel the public can only be moved to action by coddling them with good news. Whether that is true or not, the result is too little change to make a real difference. A TV spot reassures us we don't have to turn down the thermostat and don a sweater; we just need to build windfarms and solar panels. That is dishonest, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. I think the real trick is going to be to help people understand we can be much happier consuming less and working less, and we can better meet the needs of current and future generations by voluntarily limiting our family size. We do ourselves no favors avoiding these truths. Dave Gardner Producer/Director Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity www.growthbusters.com


livinglopez
4/9/2009 7:19:14 AM

The key to success in the fight to save the environment is to set goals and commit to making changes slowly. There are just a few of the things that are contributing to the demise of the three core matter we need to live.


mjrken
4/8/2009 2:52:42 PM

We live in a sustainable world now. Global warming is a myth perpetrated by a relative few environmentalists that is best put to rest. The reality is that the world temperatures show a cooling for the last decade. Most climatologists agree that there is no global warming, and anyone who does a little research soon reaches the same conclusion. Should we be careful of our environment? Yes, of course we should, but not because of global warming, just be cause it is the right thing to do.