At COP26, Force of Nature went to every corner – the Blue Zone, the Green Zone, the New York Times Climate Hub, the UK Youth Climate Cafe, the trailblazing campaigners in the streets, and everywhere in between – to gauge the emotional climate.
A couple weeks ago, we peeled back the curtain on the emotional climate at COP26 by exploring the fear-fuelled question, “Is this our last chance?”
This week, we’re contemplating the delicate concept of “hope” and asking the question, “How do I find it?”
“Your Generation Gives Me Hope”
Hope seems to be in short supply these days.
In fact, a survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries found climate change is causing widespread, deeply felt anxiety. After COP26 finished in Glasgow, disappointing results left everyone grasping at straws. One of the most common phrases heard passed between leaders and younger generations, presumably given by way of a compliment, was “your generation gives me hope”.
The subtext to this message is, “I don’t want to take responsibility for this.”
The baton of hope is not passed from one generation to the next, in the case of the climate crisis; it has been thrust at the chests of young people, by leaders who have failed to be custodians of a future that they swore to protect.
What they don’t seem to understand is that however much human power they accrue, nature’s principles still stand. As Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate activist, points out: “The atmosphere does not care about your promises; it only cares what you put into it.”
But for two weeks in Glasgow, climate activists from across the planet – youth, scientists, journalists, parents, Indigenous leaders, bakers, taxi drivers, whoever you may be – gathered to think, analyse and mobilise together. And despite the shortcomings of the official conference itself, it was remarkable how hopeful it felt.
The final text agreed in Glasgow was a case study in compromises; attempting to appease the angry citizens of the world whilst paying lip service to wealthy stakeholders.
It expresses “alarm and concern”, referring to the burning house they’re sitting in and imploring someone to do something. It “stresses the urgency of increased ambition and action”, whilst being neither ambitious nor outlining any urgent action.
It “notes with serious concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation is insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing countr[ies],” and “notes with regret” that the promise of rich countries “to mobilize jointly $100bn per year by 2020” to help poorer countries cope with the climate crisis “has not yet been met”.
It “recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions” and “invites” governments “to consider further opportunities” to reduce emissions – as if the document wasn’t drafted by those very governments.
None of this is altogether surprising, given that it was organized by the same meritocrats that got us into this mess – after all, the conference was built atop uncertain foundation. Even its stated aim – to find ways to reach ‘net zero’ by the middle of the century – is fishy. This term is being used to cover up a multitude of sins, because ‘net zero’ is a proxy for ‘carbon offsetting’.
This Hope Hurts
What leaders have failed to see is that the hope we need for a better future is not to be taken or given; rather, it has to be exercised. It is an active, uncomfortable hope that requires less optimism and more stubbornness.
In any case, there’s not much reason to believe the governments that signed the draft will take action. Perhaps there is hope to be found in those pages: a squashed, wonky and grubby hope that has been worn down by incrementalism. But don’t worry; this isn’t the hope I’m referring to.
COP26 was filled with a new hope – not a bright, glitzy mirage of a better future guaranteed, but rather a grim conviction that it is possible. Change doesn’t happen at these big conferences – It happens in every home, classroom and boardroom in the world. COPs aren’t the tides that drive climate action, they are the meters that help us measure what’s happening elsewhere. And it feels like the tides are moving the right way.
System change can only be instigated through the coordinated efforts of individuals. Systems change it possible when enough people share an understanding of a problem, have a similar view on what needs to change, and take a coordinated journey in the same direction. What COP26 showed us is that the climate justice movement is stronger, better organised, and more serious than ever. It wasn’t the individuals who created hope at COP26; it was the collective.
If #COP26 has done anything, it has provided clarity for many: Another world is possible and we, the people are unstoppable. So, like the sea levels, we must rise. Let us reclaim the future we deserve.
So… How can I practice this “active hope”?
Keeping hope is not always easy.
If we give up on the idea of hope altogether, we resign ourselves to our own worst-case scenarios. And if we give our hope away and take our hope from others, we will continue to feel fear, sadness, despair, anger, guilt and grief whenever situations do not turn out as wished, while we closed our eyes and crossed our fingers.
Here are a couple of ways that you can practice hope today:
Love the world you live in. Express gratitude. Find your people. Accept the reality of our situation. Take action. Prepare yourself for the long haul.
Taking action liberates us from the vicious cycle, feeling incapable of doing anything; it builds our “hope” muscle. This stubborn, painful hope is exercised each and every day by those who have no choice but to carry on.
“If I were to talk to Mother Nature and I [wanted] to give a comforting feeling, I would just say: Mother Nature. Don’t worry. We are all here to save you.
We are all here to ensure that we do not further deprive you of what you are worth. And we would certainly nurture you, Mother Nature, to ensure that you continue to reward us beyond what you have done in the past.
There is always a day after a night. So even though these have been troublesome times to you, Mother Nature, do believe in us. Have faith in us.” Manoj K., India, to the Call Your Mother campaign.
CALL YOUR MOTHER
Force of Nature is bringing people’s voices together, building a culture of active hope to keep moving past COP26. Our Call Your Mother campaign is helping people share their emotions about climate crisis, in order to challenge their own climate stories and take action on the issues they care about.
The team was on the ground in Glasgow, spreading the word about the Call Your Mother campaign – a guerrilla public engagement project, spread by stickers, posters and QR-codes, and a roving green phone booth. The activation is linked to a digital interface where users can answer questions about their messy climate emotions and interact with others who feel the same way. Go to www.callyourmother.earth/ to record your message.
Eco-anxiety is a normal and rational response to the depth of the crisis. It is the difficult emotions that have been felt for years by individuals experiencing the climate crisis, and is exacerbated by the perceived inaction of those in power.
Eco-anxiety does not just look one way – it shows up in a diversity of emotional responses. Hope, despair, urgency, anger and grief may all be aspects to eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety is not the issue; how we recognize these emotions, and then how we build community, action and hope with them, is the important part.
This article was originally written by Sacha Wright, Research and Curriculum Coordinator for Force of Nature. Click here to view her LinkedIn and click here to view the FoN Twitter page.
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