By Jillian Goulet
Every day we are inundated with headlines: “hottest month on record,” “toxic smoke,” “world on brink of catastrophic warming;” the list goes on. How do we know what to do when nothing we do ever seems like enough? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that big question, but I do have many hopes.
I’ll share an anecdote to set the stage. Strava, a GPS cycling and running app, recently added a feature where you mark your alternative transportation activity as a commute, and then it spits out a value for CO2e avoided. I haven’t looked into their assumptions, but I know the impact of my 4-mile e-bike ride to the office is small so I’m not arguing that it’s going to save the world. But maybe something is better than nothing as Mari Andrew once said, “I choose to do the things that I may think are too insignificant to matter, because […] small choices toward energy keep me from despair” (Andrew, 2020). My hope is that people around the world will continue to make a difference every day, even if it’s small.
Positive psychology tells us that small, positive actions make us feel good. When we feel like we’re doing something good, we feel more resilient and in control of our lives. I see this in my own reaction to using Strava’s new feature. Maybe when Strava reports the impact of someone’s commute, it makes a difference and keeps someone from despair. My hope is that people do receive positive reinforcement for their good actions and feel inspired to continue choosing sustainable alternative activities!
I share this example not from a place of naivety and understand there are swaths of evidence that individual action will not solve the climate crisis without large, collective change. That’s not my focus right now (though here’s a link to a fun video if you want to learn more).
My focus for this article is on hope – maintaining hope is crucial for not only our personal mental health but also to empower individuals to continue advocating for collective change that will help solve the climate crisis.
Beyond fun tools, I look to others in this space that help motivate me to continue taking action on climate change. Below are two quotes from prominent climate activists that inspire me every day:
Dr. Meade Krosby: “Pro tip: allowing yourself a vision of the future you’d want for people and plan – not the one you expect, not the one you fear, but the one you LONG FOR – isn’t duping yourself; rather, it’s key to knowing what you’d fight for.”
Dr. Elizabeth Swain: “Every fraction of a degree averted is suffering (human and non-human) averted. Just because you can’t stop all suffering is not a reason to not prevent what suffering you can. There’s no giving up my friends. Also: There are tipping points in the human heart and the collective consciousness that could be just as sudden and big as any in the earth system. Just because the IPCC isn’t charged with documenting them does not mean they don’t exist, latent, stirring to life.”
I also love looking to people who don’t work in this space. There are times I struggle to put my thoughts into words, and I’ve found some poets who have captured similar ideas to what I’ve been thinking. If you’d like to check out some of my favorites, I’ve highlighted them below:
Poet Maggie Smith has a beautiful piece on hope called “Good Bones.” This one is less related to climate but is still something I turn to for hope.
Mari Andrew’s poem, quoted above, is an exploration on holding both hope and fear.
Arguably the most important place I find hope is in the people I meet and the work that they do. The kindest, boldest, and bravest people I know work in the sustainability and climate space. Knowing that these people are so determined to drive change, however large or small, provides me with a deep belief that this is a fight worth persevering for – a feeling that is so much bigger than the desire to be complacent or the voices saying this is a lost cause.
Maybe hope is a choice that we search for collectively, each of us drawing bits of it from each other. Share your tips on how you stay motivated and hopeful in the comments below!
About the Author – Jillian has experience supporting local government sustainability, climate planning, and greenhouse gas analysis. She is a technical greenhouse gas expert with expertise in reporting protocols and exploring mitigation and adaptation strategies for communities, private entities, and individuals. Jillian combines this knowledge with stakeholder engagement and equitable decarbonization considerations to inform her approach to sustainability analysis. Her educational background in both psychology and climate science enables her to bring a critical combination of technical analysis and social motivations which provides a depth of understanding for the needs of individuals and communities.
In her previous work for municipal governments and nonprofits, Jillian developed skills in large-group facilitation, climate education, and community-scale climate action planning. She also gained experience creating successful volunteer training programs, managing large-scale community engagement activities, and securing funding for sustainability improvements. This experience gave her insight into the relationship between nonprofits, government organizations, and the private sector.