Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Time for hope

Environmentalists have a publicity problem.

The “problem” I am referring to is the doom and gloom that many perceive as pervading the language of environmentalism. People don’t like doom and gloom. It’s scary and turns them off. It is also one reason environmentalists aren’t quite reaching as diverse and broad an audience as they would like.

I don’t mean to imply environmentalists should push the doom and gloom under a rug to be ignored. It is real, and humanity must come to terms with and address it at a much quicker pace than it does currently. But, if environmentalists want to engage a wider audience in their call to action, alternative approaches must be taken and different stories need to be told.

I admit that I consider myself an “environmentalist,” if I am to pick my own label (though I am somewhat ambivalent about the term). So I too am guilty of getting caught up in the doom and gloom rhetoric.

And I don’t claim to be the first to notice “my people’s” handicap, nor am I the first to call for a change in how we frame our messages. I am certainly among a growing number of people—those who identify as environmentalists and those who don’t—to complain or worry about the negativity plaguing environmental discourse.

To briefly hand the soapbox to someone who has more eloquently said what I’m getting at, Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai said in her 2004 Nobel Prize lecture, "In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now."

And so, with this blog, I set out to tell the stories of hope.

Perhaps I was being contradictory to begin a blog about hope by stating a problem. But doesn’t hope sometimes begin with a problem—a problem we want to and think we can fix? Collectively, we can’t ignore the drivers of the doom and gloom, but we can prevent paralyzing ourselves with fear or complacency. Hope provides the inspiration we need to find effective solutions to stave off the doom and gloom, so that we may weaken or prevent the seemingly overwhelming ecological predicaments of the present and future.

What do I mean by stories of hope? I envision a couple directions this blog will explore, and likely more will surface as I go along.

First, I’ll seek out stories of individuals, organizations, and communities that are undertaking innovative and successful efforts to address environmental problems and concerns. While perhaps not conveyed in the mainstream media, these stories will nonetheless be worth telling for their inspiration potential.

Second, I’ll explore new and existing-but-unconventional ways of viewing our relationship with the environment, which could facilitate a positive shift in consciousness. These ideas may challenge existing paradigms that I perceive as preventing a real transformation in how we view and undertake our roles in caring for the earth. My hope is they will broaden readers’ thinking and potentially create pathways to connect with diverse audiences.

By strengthening the presence of these stories in everyday discourse, our collective narrative could become one of inspiration and empowerment. My overarching dream is that everyone becomes and remains engaged in our shared responsibility to care for our home in the universe. There is hope on this earth, and I want to believe there is hope for life on this earth.


  1. I think freelance (and really all) journalists are in a unique position to see how this negative image problem plays out. People just don't want to see another picture of a polar bear swimming toward nothing, its too depressing. As important as stories about negative things that are happening to the environment are, it is equally important to craft stories in a way that inspire people to take action, rather than depress them and make them think there is no way they can have an impact. When environmental journalists pitch and sell stories it is becoming increasingly important to find a great angle to approach an issue from, so that the audience will actually want to read it.

  2. I loved this post, Jenny, especially the quote, "But doesn’t hope sometimes begin with a problem—a problem we want to and think we can fix?"
    Your writing has such a natural rhythm. I look forward to reading more of your work.