Episode 5: Is Hope Overrated?
Many consider Hope to be essential for sustaining social movements where change is slow, setbacks are frequent, and the odds aren't good. As Rebecca Solnit once wrote, "To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” But when it comes to the existential threats of climate change and mass extinction, what if hope is part of the problem? What if it obscures the enormity of our crisis, or makes us complacent, allowing the public to defer responsibility onto other people or the future?
When you look at the scale of our climate emergency and the inadequacy of society's response, hope can feel like a throwaway term, a cheap neon sign we dutifully switch on at the end of climate rallies. But those reservations about hope are not the whole story. Research shows that environmental discourse has long fueled public hopelessness by perpetuating apocalyptic narratives and the sense that it's already "too late" to act. That hopelessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as those who believe we're already doomed -- or that solutions don't exist -- chose *not* to act, thus ensuring the very outcome they imagined. Episode 5 explores the complicated role of hope in the fight for a livable planet, and the different forms it takes in environmental debates: hope as complacency or "cruel optimism" (a secular religion that keeps the public in line), as well as more subversive versions like "active hope," "intrinsic hope," and "critical hope."
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. Hope is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency."
― Rebecca Solnit
Written and narrated by Jennifer Atkinson
Music by Roberto David Rusconi
Produced by Intrasonus UK
Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England
Dr. Jennifer Atkinson is a professor of environmental humanities at the University of Washington, where she leads seminars that help students cope with the despair, anger, and anxiety that arise from environmental loss and mass extinction. Her teaching and research have helped activists, scientists, and students build resilience to stay engaged in climate solutions and avoid burnout. She has also spoken to audiences across the U.S. about the global mental health crisis arising from climate disruption, and advocated for addressing emotional impacts in the fight for environmental justice. This episode introduces some of the experiences and insights behind that work, and explores how we can move the public to action by addressing the psychological roots of our unprecedented ecological loss.
References and Further Reading:
Jason Box tweet: If We Release a Small Fraction of Arctic Carbon, 'We're Fucked': Climatologist. Vice, August 1, 2014.
What caused Earth's biggest mass extinction? Stanford Earth, Dec 06, 2018.
Martin Luther King Jr. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches.
Emily Dickinson. “Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)
Mary Heglar. Home is always worth it. Sept 2019.
Greta Thunberg. "Our house is on fire." Jan 25, 2019.
Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism. 2011.
Tommy Lynch. Why Hope Is Dangerous When It Comes to Climate Change. July 25, 2017.
Derrick Jensen. "Beyond Hope." 2006.
Michael Nelson. "To a Future Without Hope." 2010.
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope. 2012.
Lin Yutang. In Visions from Earth, 2004.
Lisa Kretz. "Hope in Environmental Philosophy." 2012.
Elin Kelsey. "Propagating Collective Hope in the Midst of Environmental Doom and Gloom." 2016.
Rainer Maria Rilke. “Go to the Limits of Your Longing.”
Elin Kelsey. Climate Change: A Crisis of Hope. June 2020
Emily Johnson. Loving a vanishing world. May 9, 2019