By Cathye Williams | May 14, 2022
After weeks of wet, gray, and chilly “pseudo-spring,” we are finally starting to see the real thing. May sunlight, warm breezes, and greenness spreading through the woods are reminders that nature has not given up on us. Birds have returned to join the overwintering creature crowd and feed on things that crawl, bud, and push themselves out of dark places—acre upon acre, year after year. Surrounded by this wonder, it’s hard not to feel hope.
Unfortunately, gray and bleak news has been with us these weeks as well. But despite stories about heat waves, fires, and ongoing assaults on justice and peace, it would not hurt to allow ourselves a moment to turn to spring’s warmth and think about hope.
If humanity has evolved from nature, then so has the expanse of our minds. And while too much modern endeavor has drawn us away from and thrown us out of balance with nature, thousands of people are giving their all to bring that balance back. Because of their efforts, here are five places where I have found hope:
1. In the dirt. As someone who loves digging and planting, I believe regenerative farming fills bushels of hope. Many farmers are discovering that letting the plants, pollinators, and microbes do what they were made to do is a win-win. Healthy soil can cut emissions, sink carbon, grow nutrient dense food, reduce erosion, and conserve water. Economically, farmers are lowering their inputs and increasing their yields. They are also improving the health of their crops, livestock, and the surrounding ecosystem.
2. On the town. Businesses, cities, and states aren’t waiting for national leaders to make smart green policies. They are leaning into sustainable practices that save money, advance the health of their communities, and create jobs, safe neighborhoods, and schools. For example, in Ann Arbor, an A2Zero plan has dozens of strategies from enhancing the tree canopy, to organizing bulk solar purchases for neighborhood groups, to requiring businesses to use benchmarks to improve their energy efficiency. Neighbors in Appleton, Wisconsin, instituted a one-month suspension of a lawn ordinance to allow recovering pollinators to find diverse food sources at a critical time. In two years, this effort has jumped the fence and grown into a nationwide “grassroots” movement known as “No-Mow May.” Hurray for No-Mow May! Travel south and you’ll discover that Georgia’s Deptartment of Transportation has partnered with the non-profit research group The Ray and other stakeholders on a mission to transform the interstate transportation infrastructure for the future. Projects include solar-powered vehicle charging, right-of-way solar, smart planting, bioswales, EV charging lanes, and rubber roads.
3. Under the sea. Below the surface much innovation is afloat, but one regenerative practice that holds great promise is kelp farming. From Rhode Island to Alaska to Tasmania, and places in between, ocean farmers are developing enterprises that can restore ocean health and ecosystems. Marine permaculture can provide food, fuel, fiber, and fertilizer, just for starters, while cycling cold water to the surface and restoring ocean alkalinity robbed by global warming. It also has the potential to return a way of life to coastal communities and bolster their economies.
4. With women and girls. The U.S. seems poised to roll back reproductive rights that have been protected for decades. Despite that bleak news, I hold onto hope that global trends and initiatives will continue toward expanding the rights of women and girls to education, healthcare, and family planning. Research has shown that women who can extend their education are more likely to delay starting a family and will have fewer children when they do. Not only could they become the innovators and creators the world needs, they and their children will enjoy greater prosperity and better health. Moreover, their choice to have smaller families will ease the pressure and competition that overpopulation puts on Earth’s resources, providing time for healing and renewal.
5. At the polls. Hope lies in democratic systems that allow us to hold leaders accountable. We need leaders who will act more than they talk. Pledges provide cover for kicking the can down the road, while effective and just environmental policy is complicated work, not easily summed up in a campaign slogan or a tweet. We have the power to ask tough questions and insist on substantive plans, such as how we will end subsidies for fossil fuels, which in the last decade exceeded $59 trillion. (Conservative estimates put U.S. subsidies at $19 billion annually.) Imagine what the innovators above could do with that cash!
These examples are just a glimpse of promising efforts that exist in the world, not just in dreams and computer models. Researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs are expanding the possibilities and potential for solving our environmental problems.
Bask for a moment in those rays of hope. Then get up and grab an oar.
Cathye Williams serves as volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse and Manistee chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. She writes from the northern corner of Manistee County.