Remaining Hopeful Amid Environmental Despair

People's Climate March
Zia found hope by joining 300,000 other activists for the People’s Climate March in 2014.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that any effort we might muster as a society to protect ourselves against the onslaught of climate change could really make a difference. 2015 was the hottest year on record and 2016 is already shaping up to be hotter. We are told that individual lifestyle changes don’t do much to help and that the world is everyday plunging further and further into environmental gridlock and turmoil.

When I hear facts like these, it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the future of our environment. How many of us have ever felt overwhelmed, in denial, or apathetic about the future of the environment? This common feeling of helplessness is a documented phenomenon and something Joanna Macy, an environmental activist and scholar, calls “environmental despair.” She writes that our fear of environmental disaster keeps us from changing our behaviors because it’s all just too much to cope with. Instead of inspiring us into action, environmental despair ends up making us avoid the reality of the problem all together. This is understandable when nearly everything we do has a negative impact on the Earth. It’s hard to imagine how we might “…function in our society without reinforcing the very conditions we decry, and the sense of guilt that ensues makes those conditions – and our outrage over them – harder to face.”

Still, we can’t accept our environmental despair so easily. Climate change is happening and visible on both the personal and global scale. We need to find and cultivate hope in ourselves in order to keep our communities and our minds resilient to the effects of climate change.

A history of hope

The environmentalist history of the Bay is an excellent example of hope realized. When Save the Bay was founded in 1961, the Bay was treated like a dumping ground and the Army Corps of Engineers had plans to fill the Bay to such an extent that it would no longer be a bay but a narrow shipping channel.

It was the work of Save the Bay and the creation of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission in 1965 that regulated development of the shoreline and helped preserve and protect the integrity of the Bay. With careful political organizing, Bay Area citizens came together to bring the Bay back from the brink of destruction. Since then, the Bay “has shrunk no further and has had hundreds of acres of wetlands restored. Its waters are no longer rank, and aquatic life is abundant, with shorebirds in large number feeding along the mudflats and marshes.”

Simple action, big results

In June, Bay Area voters will have the opportunity to protect our home once again by voting yes on Measure AA for a Clean & Healthy Bay.

Measure AA represents a decade of hard work from Save the Bay and our partners. This modest, $12 parcel tax will generate badly needed funding for restoration of San Francisco Bay wetlands, benefitting people, wildlife, and the Bay Area economy. Wetlands restoration is a crucial step in maintaining a thriving Bay – habitat for wildlife, carbon sequestration, defense against sea level rise – all powerful efforts that could mean long-lasting protection for the Bay and its inhabitants.

The time to act is now. The Bay Area, as a longtime leader in environmentalism around the world, needs to become climate adaptive and prepared for the threat of rising seas. We don’t want to wait for a disaster and wish we had done more to protect our shorelines.

Activating hope

For me, it’s the experience of acting with others that makes me feel hopeful. In the fall of 2014, I traveled to New York City with some friends to attend the People’s Climate March with 300,000 of our peers. In that moment, I didn’t feel like my actions and ideals were insignificant. I didn’t feel hopeless. My concerns and beliefs were real, they were powerful, and they were echoed and seen in the voices and faces of the strangers around me.

The climate march was an opportunity to cultivate hope in my otherwise climate-disparaged heart. I feel hope when I come in to work at Save the Bay, and I am hopeful when I think of the Bay Area coming together to vote for protection and restoration. Instead of feeling helpless, I try to feel lucky to live in this moment when advocating for the environment is so important and has the potential for real solutions and benefits.

In June, the Bay Area will have the chance to look climate change in the face and act to restore both our wetlands and our hope in environmental action.

Pledge to vote Yes on Measure AA on June 7.