One of the things we are thinking about in my classes on social and environmental justice is whether it’s better, as an activist, to put your energies into a top-down or a bottom-up strategy.
Should we be trying to pressure governments, politicians and international organizations to do the right thing when it comes to, say, climate change policies?
Or should we be trying to ignite a whole series of grassroots, local, community-based changes?
Obviously it’s not an either-or proposition—it’s important to work at all levels.
But I notice that when I think about the big picture, I feel impotent and despairing. Who is going to stop the massive deforestation of the planet? How are we going to get the fat cats in corporations, governments and the United Nations to understand how critical it is to maintain forests and healthy agricultural soils so that they can function as the effective carbon sinks they are meant to be in our delicately balanced terrestrial eco-system?
It’s remarkable to note how my despair turns to hope when I turn my attention to the many local initiatives that I know are going on all over the globe.
When I think about how my hometown, Great Barrington MA, will be one of the first in the world to actually BAN PLASTIC BAGS in stores, my heart swells with pride.
Hope fills me to learn that Seattle is creating an innovative “Food Forest” in a city park, aiming to improve public health by regenerating public land into an edible forest ecosystem created using permaculture principles to reduce agricultural climate impact, improve local food security, provide educational opportunities, and celebrate growing food for the benefit of all species.
And when I hear that some of the incredibly powerful billionaires on the planet are using their money to try to turn the climate change juggernaut around—for example, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and Richard Branson—it makes me believe that all is not lost.
Both despair and hope are highly contagious.
It is easy to pay attention to the constant stream of depressing news and believe that the game is over, so there’s no point in trying anymore.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Just as green plants poke their way stubbornly through asphalt and even the most blighted landscapes are always striving to regenerate, our Earth always tends towards life.
Every single species alive on the planet today, from humans to microbes, has survived many cataclysms and tough times in the past. Just as we have before, we can rise to the challenges that face us today.
It really doesn’t matter whether your preferred approach is lobbying Washington DC or starting a Transition movement in your town.
The important thing is to stay alert, stay active and engage with others who understand that the choices we make day by day can, cumulatively, have a critical impact on our planetary future.
We cannot afford to be complacent or ignorant, and neither can we afford the luxury of despair.
Put your hope into action, one day at a time. I truly believe that the bridge of hope we build together can take us over these dangerous times, into a future bright with promise.