It’s not always east to have hope in 2022. Every day we read news about the war in Ukraine, less than 1,500 km away from us in the Netherlands. Every month we notice the impacts of climate change, whenever a new weather record is broken. And every year we see deterioration in democracy in more and more countries, frequently resulting in restrictions on people’s freedom. On top of all that, today the latest IPCC report was released, clearly showing that our opportunity to limit global warming is shrinking.
These are not developments that will make us happy. But holding onto hope is our only option.
Optimism versus hope
Whenever we talk about hope, the word is often used interchangeably with optimism. But hopeful people aren’t always necessarily optimistic. Optimism and hope are two different things: optimism is about being confident in a good outcome, while hope is about having confidence that something can happen – and that’s what makes an individual invest time and energy in it.
Environmental activist David Orr puts it more sharply: “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Hopeful people are actively engaged in defying the odds or changing the odds. Optimism leans back, puts its feet up, and wears a confident look.” Being hopeful is therefore an important basis for wanting to take action.
Three reasons to be hopeful
Although I’m not entirely optimistic about how the world is developing – I don’t assume everything will turn out well – I am very hopeful about the present. There are three things that give me hope.
- Global warming can stop faster than we think. Last summer’s IPCC report showed that global warming effectively stops when CO2 emissions stop. That means that if we succeed in limiting our CO2 emissions, we can still limit global warming.
- The group of people who are demanding change is growing. In his book Change of Era, Jan Rotmans suggests that a society ‘tilts’ when a group of 20% of the people is ‘turned over’. My impression is that we are well on our way to that 20%, certainly in Europe. This idea that a small group can make change is confirmed by anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous quote: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
- Hopeful people feel better. Lastly, Medical science shows that hopeful people feel structurally better, more energetic and happier. Their hope leads to action, and their action leads in turn to more hope. Hope is therefore a self-reinforcing characteristic. Even if developments are moving in the wrong direction, hope keeps people active, engaged and therefore human.
Hope is a choice
I feel hopeless at times too. When I checked in during a team day two weeks ago, I wondered out loud whether our work on sustainability still makes sense. A number of alarming climate facts make it seem as if all hope is lost. I draw the parallel that we are no longer running toward the abyss, but we are now tumbling over the edge, seemingly without realizing it. That sense of hopelessness feels heavy and paralyzing.
At the same time, I’m aware that a growing group of people are working hard day in, day out for a better world – from scientists to activists and from politicians to CEOs, from young people to grandparents and from Europe to South America. Each of these people works hard on the basis of their conviction that their efforts can contribute to a more beautiful and better world – for themselves and for their children. That hope feels energized and light – and it inspires you to get started yourself.
Hope is like the ability to see light in darkness. It is a choice, and if we choose together to remain hopeful, the possibilities are huge.
This column is partly based on insights from the scientific article Hope, Health and the Climate Crisis. In an article for De Correspondent (in Dutch), Jelmer Mommers also set out three ‘hopeful developments’ in the field of climate.