A Plea for Optimisim

As the influential American architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you,” and while nature might not have failed us, humanity has certainly failed nature. Nature has long been seen as a commodity; a never-ending supply of wealth, opportunity and raw materials that we have exploited, without regard for the consequences, to further our own development and improve our own lives. Where an argument for ignorance might have existed in the past, this is no longer the case as scientists worldwide agree with the consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming. With the announcement of the United Nations’ IPCC Report on Climate Change, it has become very apparent that the world must face a period of unprecedented change if we are to preserve the future of humanity. The underlying foundations of our entire society will be required to adapt to new expectations, new societal values and a new basis of acceptable behaviour. As part of these changes, humanity as a whole will be obligated to self-reflect; acknowledging the damage our past behaviours have had on those around us, and on the environments that we inhabit. In the face of recognisably climate change-related effects such as unusually severe droughts & floods, new questions are being contemplated by everyday people; “Do I drive to work like normal, or should I consider catching the bus?”, “Should I order the steak or would a Veggie burger be better?” and “Do I really need to buy more clothes, or will the ones I already have suffice?”. There is growing social awareness of the issue of climate change; students are skipping school to protest the climate change policies of their countries and celebrities are using their status as a platform to bring attention to important current affairs. Multi-national organizations and governments are also finally starting a conversation around best practice and policy, with more and more countries around the world evaluating their energy, transportation and development needs against a more sustainable framework. 

This conversation, however, has taken a long time to reach this point. In 1987, the General Assembly of the United Nations called for a new proposal outlining “environmental strategies for achieving sustainable development by the year 2000 and beyond”. Today, 32 years later, the United Nations is still pushing for greater international collaboration in establishing sustainable development worldwide. Part of the problem of why progress has been slow is that it has not been acknowledged as an issue that affects all individuals. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy said, “by defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.” With scientists claiming we only have 12 years left to make the dramatic change necessary to avoid catastrophic damage to our environment, we can no longer wait to be told what to do. Each and every person needs to be convinced of the importance of protecting our environment, and through this morale, implement this change on a larger scale. The challenge of reinventing ourselves as a species needs an ‘image facelift’; it needs to be seen as manageable, personal, and, most importantly, possible. It is easy to see this challenge before us as futile and out of our control, but with such a pessimistic outlook, the dystopian future can only become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Change is never easy; it requires sacrifice, attention and repetition. Our modern society has made change that much harder by creating a negative association with each of these three requirements. Never before in history have individuals rejected sacrifice, attention and repetition more than at this current point in time. We have constructed a lifestyle built around the exact opposite; we pay an annual fee to ensure next day delivery, phones distract us from appreciating every experience, and we are all living for the unique “Instagrammable” experiences with which we define our self-worth. With the focus of our lives being centred on ourselves, how are we expected to also be concerned about something as complicated and distant as climate change? Before we can change the world, we must understand the need for change within our own lives; climate change must be redefined on a personal level. Through the study, love and everyday experience of nature, we must find within ourselves the desire to protect and care for this crucial aspect of our lives as without nature, there is no future. The same optimism and belief in humanity’s omnipotence that sent man to the moon, must now be applied to the challenge of combating global warming. We must remain optimistic, and devote our time, energy and resources towards tackling the issue of climate change with the belief that we have a chance to “win”, as there is no other option that exists which gives humanity a chance of survival. 

“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley” (Theodore Roethke – American Poet). Humanity, it seems, has finally taken pause to look around at where we find ourselves on our path through history, and it is finally now, that we are beginning to realise that we are in a valley, with the looming, mountainous challenge of combating climate change ahead of us. Although we may not be able to see clearly the path that leads on ahead, we must trust in our own abilities to recognise the upcoming dangers and face them head-on together, connected through a shared purpose and power of will. We don’t know what awaits us on the other side of the mountain, all we know is that we can’t go back to where we came from. Through mutual respect and support, and being mindful of the baggage we each bring with us, we can ensure that humanity as a whole summit the mountain and embraces the incredibly beautiful vista, our future, on the other side. 

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