Losing Hope

By Neva Knott


Image courtesy of EPA.gov.

We’ve driven, shopped, and eaten our way into disaster. I am on the brink of loss of hope, ready to give up. None of my beliefs seem strong enough to put into action and my voice sounds miniscule in the drowning cacophony of corporate greed and single-purpose endeavors and snack packaging.

I cannot understand how so many humans deny that we are in a mess. Our life support system is failing. Call it what you want–climate change, ecological disaster, overpopulation, water wars…sum total, the natural processes that allow humans to stay alive on this planet are ruined, and at our own hand, by our getting and having.

I cannot understand the arguments to keep going in this way–to keep waging age-old wars that poison water and destroy the arability of land. To keep chopping down trees that control heat and air quality and groundwater retention. To keep paving ground that filters the water cycle, thereby controls flooding. To keep destroying food source after food source through poisoning with chemical pesticides and mono-cropping and over-harvesting. To keep driving as a right rather than a luxury so that high-risk drilling is the norm.

And here’s the rub–what we get for all that quickly goes into a landfill. The stuff garnered by all of that destruction is stuff, not sustenance.

I have come to the point where I find it hard to write about the positive, because my brain shuts down at constantly being bombarded by the negative. Not so much that it exists, but by the human stupidity behind the destruction. I understand how the media works, how a news cycle takes over rational, critical thinking, and how we all live in a culture of embeddedness. I understand that socio-political change, which is the driver of climate resilience, only comes though a constant push on many fronts to fill the gaps left in the mainstream master narrative. But I also see a lot of hypocrisy and a lack of common sense.

For example, the morning I began working on this essay, I ran across a news story about getting rid of deer in Ashland, Oregon. Too many of them–overpopulation, and they are bothering the humans. The controversy is to shoot them or not. That’s a moot point. These are the real solutions:

1. Conduct urban planning that includes habitat needs of non-human species. When the new housing development happens in what was previously home to deer… Ashland is a small town, and one that has thoughtfully built a unique destination for itself, and a human lifestyle that embraces certain qualities, those we now call make local habit. In the early planning, to protect local businesses, the town had the foresight to say no chains in downtown…it’s that same foresight that must extend to dealing with wildlife. Essentially, Ashland businesses said hey, this invasive species will ruin us if we let it set up shop here–franchises controlled by outside interests will take down our habit…deer now face the same issue.

2. The second issue with deer here in Oregon is due to eradication of predators, wolves in particular. I’ve written a series of essays on the history and science of wolves in Oregon. Let me simplify the issue–they do more good than harm when on a landscape where they belong. They are not a direct threat to humans unless humans go looking for a fight with them. In the whole history of Oregon as a state, there is no documented case of a wolf attack on a human.

The reality is, if we cut down all the places animals live in their natural states, they will come hang out in our yards and ruin our flower beds.

Even when measures are in place with the intent of co-existing with wildlife or at least easing human displacement of them, animals are there as part of the make-up of the planet, as are humans. By design. If we reach back and look at indigenous cultures, there’s much to learn about living in accordance, species to species.

But I’m not writing here today about deer overpopulation. I went on that tangent as an example of lack of simple common sense and the ability of humans to apply a concept (keep the invaders out so we can have a livelihood) to our own needs will using the other edge of that sword (we’re the invaders and now deer are displaced in their sense of livelihood) for all other species.

Common sense in this day and age and in terms of where we are as a species on this planet is this simple: Do my actions add to the problems or are they part of the solution?

Here’s a juncture where I my head begins to explode–there are so many aspects to consider–plastics in the ocean; melting Arctic ice; illegal poaching of rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks; polluted rivers and decreasing fish runs; GMO foods and Monsanto… But not really. There is one game-changer problem and everything else is a sub-set of it–climate change.


Image courtesy of Australia.gov.

This week, when reading around online, I was reminded of the key word in the climate debate–abashedly, I’d forgotten this word as the new level of the bar, even after having heard the lead climate scientist for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) speak last spring.


This is the word used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2014 report–covered here in the Washington Post.

Climate change IS. The Environmental Protection Agency has this to say about it:

Climate change is happening.

Our Earth is warming. Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.

The evidence is clear. Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate. Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet’s oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes – oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will likely present challenges to our society and our environment.

The debate of what about it happened at Kyoto in 1997. The deniers are behind the times, stuck someplace with the cavemen who didn’t believe in fire or the wheel, with the people who doubted air flight or the moon walk. Climate change is all around us… it is the biological state of being of planet Earth. What the world’s climate scientists want us to know is that there is no turning back, no escape.


Image courtesy of CDC.gov.

Every action every person takes every day affects how this thing is going to go. What we’re really dealing with is climate resilience, a concept agencies have been working on and running models to study for some time now–about since Kyoto. NOAA has developed a toolkit to guide Americans in this change of thinking and lifestyle. It’s time for that concept to become the mechanism of socio-political change that might save humans from extinction.

More overwhelm. (Keep in mind, it can be assuaged by common sense and working through some simple biology lessons…)

I have pretty good sustainable living habits, some born of frugality way back in college, some born of awareness and my liberal arts educational experiences, some born of my embeddedness in a “subvert the dominant paradigm” counter-culture, some born of travelling third-world countries as a child, some born of what I learned about the natural world from my father, some born of the waste-not, want-not mentality of my grandparents who lived through the Depression, some born of common sense and my innate understanding of right action.

Lately, though, I have changed or refocused my thinking about my own getting and having. I’ve re-oriented everything I do so that I now look at it through the lens of climate change.

If my actions to get my needs met now require me not to contribute climate change, I have to think about my getting and having of food, shelter, livelihood, social needs, and the kind of work I do. What can I do in my daily life to eliminate carbon, methane, and nitrogen emissions–the main greenhouse gases that cause global warming–in production of what it takes to run my life?

To date, I’ve made these changes:

I drive a car that runs on biodeisel and use fuel produced in Oregon where I live and I drive as little as possible; I eat only organic food and as much of it locally grown as possible; I don’t eat much meat at all, and I what I do eat I make sure is sustainably grown or fished; I avoid plastic and work to minimized disposable stuff, mainly packaging and single-use what-not; I use only eco-friendly home and personal care products and as few of them as possible. These actions have become habits.

What’s new for me is thinking about the clothing I purchase and how much I travel.

Sustainability practices measure sourcing, energy of production, and waste…take these factors into account when thinking about the goods and services you consume and work to reduce harmful sourcing, wasteful energy in production, and wastefulness (disposability) in the life of the product, and you’ll be making great strides minimize your impact and creating climate resilience.

The message from scientists and climate activists is loud–it’s here and it’s real but we can work to slow the progress. The planet has warmed just a degree and a half–I can’t imagine it at the 6.3 F degree increase that is the projection. It’s time to act.

27 thoughts on “Losing Hope

  1. Don’t give up hope! I love the points you’ve made but you have to remember this most important factor: If people like us, the ones who are so driven to change our entire lifestyle for the sake of the planet, begin to stumble or lose faith then the others, corporations, will completely jump on the chance to take over and do as they please. We must continue voicing our dissatisfaction and driving activist-consumerism as best as we can! The economy will change as the consumer changes and we must be the ones to push it through before it’s too late. ***Sending high fives***

    1. Valentina, I agree with your statement “the economy will change as the consumer changes.” I write about that in many of my posts. Thanks for the encouragement! Neva

  2. This certainly has a lot of impact. I guess it is hard to keep hope and be positive when there seems to be such indifference. However, through the Internet and blogging there certainly seem to be a lot of people who do. I’ve often thought about how we need a different perspective and I like the way you use the deer. We all need our spaces and were running out of wild space. Much more important than our own spaces.

  3. Excellent post! The truth is that there are simply too many humans. We’re the ones who have a population problem, not the critters. Until we start adopting some degree of control over our need to breed, there’s really no hope. On the good side, when we’ve overdone it to the point that no human can survive, the planet will heal itself and new creatures will stake their claim as the Earth has after every other disaster it has faced in the past. I’m just sorry for all the beasts and plants that have to suffer as the planet purges us from its system.

  4. Neva, I get the discouragement. I think moments like that are inevitable in the face of such a daunting challenge. But I also feel encouraged by the many people speaking out and taking action. Random thought here: have you heard of anything in the vein of climate change clubs; i.e., community groups that get together regularly to discuss specifically what they are doing in day to day life and how to spread similar efforts to the larger community? I hear a lot at the national organizational level but not as much locally. Katherine, http://www.fpnaturalist.com

  5. Neva, I’ve never commented on your posts before but I love reading them. I wish I could reply something like “don’t give up hope” and “feel more encouraged”, but I’ll leave that to other people, because, to be quite honest, I share the same sentiment. I’m overwhelmed by the destruction and irrevocable damage we’ve caused to the only place we have left to live. I look at all conflicts in the world and somehow can tie back the fact that their problems persist and worsen to climate change. It hurts and frustrate me to hear people simply dismiss this as something not as serious as it is. I feel at a loss sometimes when I talk with people who are so attached to their lifestyle of consumerism. I just wanted to say that you are not the only one feeling such immense amounts of frustration and helplessness. I also feel like I’m losing hope too sometimes. I really do. But at the end of the day, I realize I haven’t lost hope. If I lose all hope, aren’t I just as bad as the people who deny it all? I can’t give up hope–in fact, I have no other choice, WE have no other choice.

    1. Thank you so much for writing. I haven’t totally lost hope, and I won’t…because I agree with your comment–if I lose hope I will be part of the problem. Thank you for your great blog, too, which I will now follow. And, I will pass it on to my nephew, who has recently been posting on his youtube about depression and anxiety. Take care, Neva.

  6. Reblogged this on Sustainability Starts With Me and commented:
    This article brings up a lot of good points. Just to be clear, though, climate change, at this point, is irreversible. That is not to say, though, that we can not still make a difference. If we make significant changes over the next 5 years or so, the MAGNITUDE of the irreversible climate change will not be so extreme that it makes our planet unlivable, in turn, wiping out many species on earth; including humans, potentially. If changes are made, we can stop it from wiping life on this planet out. CHANGES NEED TO BE MADE. PEOPLE NEED TO CARE. POLICIES NEED TO CHANGE. EXCESSIVE C02, METHANE AND OTHER GREENHOUSE GASSES IN OUR ATMOSPHERE IS CAUSING OUR PLANET TO HEAT UP. THIS IS SCIENTIFIC FACT.

    Stay tuned for a TED Talk that should be watched by everyone. I don’t necessarily agree with his solution, but his facts are irrefutable.

  7. Excellent post. It’s hard not to lose hope sometimes, but you said it at the end of your post, there is still damage mitigation that can be done. I re-blogged your post at http://itstartswithme.co and will be providing a link and subscribing. My blog provides how-to’s on sustainable living, along with ideas, current events and discussion. I just started it so there is not a ton of content. More to come very soon, though. Thanks for your great blog and great post.

    1. Thank you for the compliment and encouragement. I teach my students to write with an honest voice, and I did the same myself in this piece rather than trying to keep it to reportage or informative writing.


  8. Neva:
    You add an articulate and passionate voice to what is becoming a tsunami of dissent with the status quo. Perhaps that’s what gives others courage to continue to demand change. You’ve personally reached the emotional state The Dark Mountain Project http://dark-mountain.net has defined – That when we stop hoping we begin to see other possibilities. It isn’t that we can expect the world to change but to live a dignified life requires an ethical response.

  9. Great post! One thing jumped out at me: why don’t these people have the common sense to see that climate change is a big deal? Common sense. I’m coming to learn that sense exists, but it is by no means common. Sustainable life choices might seem important, no, crucial to you and I, but other people they rank very low on the scale. I think we need to look into how other people structure their version of “common sense” and find ways to insert sustainability into that conversation. Maybe without even mentioning the common green buzzwords. To conservatives, maybe we should speak the language of autonomy and localism, helping them turn against the corporate interests that are currently using the same language to blind them.

    1. Great ideas. Your comment reminds me of an article I read a couple of years ago–title/source forgotten–about sustainable light bulbs. Research used in the article articulated that if marketed to conservative markets as a good fiscal choice they sold, but if marketed as green they did not. Thanks for reading and commenting! Neva

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