There was a time when my children were younger that I stopped talking to them about my work on climate change. I even went so far as to put other books on top of my pile of climate change books because I was afraid of making them feel frightened of the future.
Now, I feel differently, and not only because they are older. Now, I am no longer in the grips of despair about climate change. I am no longer worried about infecting them with it.
Today, I reject despair because I know we can always choose hope. I orient myself toward hope by focusing on the many people who are doing the right, brilliant, innovative, courageous, everyday, selfless thing to address climate change. I orient myself toward hope by knowing that in every circumstance, as a mother, I have a power and influence on my children no misguided political leader will ever have: the power of intimately modeling what is right.
Yet, with all that is going wrong in America today—including the Trump Administration’s unconscionable rollbacks on climate action and clean air protections—the idea of “hope” might seem to be a thing of another era.
Some, after all, have suggested that to be hopeful about climate change and all it portends for the future, is to be naïve, delusional—and, worst of all, dangerous. They argue that hope invokes a passive orientation to the future, a tepid wishful thinking epitomized by the words: “I hope things get better.”
Others say that to be hopeful about climate change means to be willfully blind to the severity and complexity of the threat—and the added obstacles created by an Administration that puts fossil fuel profits above protection of people and the planet.
But we passionately and respectfully disagree with this view of hope: a powerful human capacity as old as human history, and one that has often served as a driving, buoying, effective force for positive change.
The Power of Hope
Far from something that reflects weakness, hope reflects a profound strength of character. Far from rooted in denial, hope is rooted in looking squarely at the challenges in front of us. Far from dangerous, hope orients us toward solutions. Far from passive, hope focuses on possibility and action.
Vaclav Havel, the late Czech writer and dissident whose writings helped bring down Communism and swept him into political power, identified these two important elements of hope:
- “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world.”
- “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
We don’t find cause for hope “out there,” in other words, but in ourselves. To be hopeful does not mean to feel optimistic or positive about the direction things are going—or, in this case, about the U.S. government’s efforts to address clean air and climate change.
It means we know what is right and we are willing to work in that direction, no matter what. It is an orientation to stay focused on what is needed to meet the challenges in front of us, and the ultimate rejection of despair.
Is it the right thing to do?
I once had the chance to meet the poet and farmer Wendell Berry, who was participating in a sit-in of the Kentucky Governor’s Office to oppose mountaintop-removal coal mining. He entered the room with a toothbrush in his suit jacket pocket in the event the group was arrested and had to spend the night in jail.
Knowing how deeply invested Kentucky was in coal mining, I found myself dubious about the impact this group of protestors, headlined by Berry, could have.
“Do you really think this will work?” I asked him.
“I don’t know if it will work or not,” Berry said, adding that I was asking the wrong question. People should not allow the likelihood of success to determine whether they make the effort to take action, he said. The right question is always: “Is it the right thing to do?”
That is hope in action: never losing sight of what you know is right and acting on it—no matter what others, even those more powerful than you, are doing on issues you care about.
Why children need hope—and need us to hope:
Our children need and deserve to have hope in the future; and they need us to share in that hope.
This, of course, is not easy. We live in a time in which we are bombarded with negative, frightening, and destructive developments. We are witness to so many actions that are mind-bogglingly lacking in human decency, justice, and compassion. (Just imagine explaining to anyone a generation from now why our government willfully turned away from climate action, despite abundant evidence of the threat.)
But we must never underestimate the power and passion of a parent. We would move heaven and Earth for our children. We can find it in us to stay focused on what is right, no matter what is happening in the world.
What to expect:
In the coming months, we will tell stories here about people who inspire us with hope. We will offer strategies, ideas, and resources for teaching and modeling hope at home. We will report on the good news about climate change. We will share excerpts from inspiring writers and suggestions for hopeful actions.
Hope: For people who care about children and climate change, it’s in short supply these days. But what better place to foster a conversation about the necessity of hope—and the great good that could bring, to our children and in the world—than right now, right here, with you: a community of more than 1,000,000 strong moms—Moms Clean Air Force.