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    Is hope all we need to ignite climate action?
    By SWS staff

    Hope is key to getting people to deal with the climate crisis, but we need strategies to keep it alive. One of them is telling way more stories about the solutions we have and the people behind them.

    Hope is a powerful emotion. Along with anger and a small dose of fear, it plays a key role in getting people to act for the planet. For Lesley Hughes, one of Australia’s most prominent climate scientists, hope drives her vital work. “I’ve come to the conclusion that hope has to be a strategy,” she recently said. “You have to use hope as a motivator to keep going […] we can’t afford to give up.”

    But hope can be elusive and, for most of us, easy to lose altogether. Especially when the stakes are so high, and the vast majority of the climate news spotlights record greenhouse gas emissions (still!), off-the-charts temperatures and devastating climate impacts everywhere. It’s no surprise that searches related to “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety” are at a record high worldwide, according to Google.

    This has led psychologists, social scientists, activists and communicators to grapple with a deeper question: how do we keep hope alive long enough to make a difference?

    It turns out that part of the answer is in the stories we tell.

    The climate crisis is daunting. But we know what to do about it and our stories should increasingly reflect that, even when the challenges seem overwhelming. It doesn’t mean we should ignore the bad news but, as author and activist Rebecca Solnit recently wrote: “To ignore the good [news] is the route to indifference or despair […]

    Like hope, stories have superpowers. They can make the complex, slow-moving climate crisis feel personal, local and, most importantly, solvable. Humans are hardwired to enjoy telling and hearing stories and to believe them. In Stories to Save the World, Futerra argues that “in a fight between a story and a fact, the story will win.”

    That’s why, creatives around the world are striving to replace doomsday climate narratives with solutions-oriented stories that envisage a world where we get things right. In the words of Rebecca Solnit: “In order to do what the climate crisis demands of us, we have to find stories of a livable future, stories of popular power, stories that motivate people to do what it takes to make the world we need.”

    In a podcast conversation earlier this year, scientist Katherine Hayhoe also emphasized the importance of imagining a hopeful future: “The definition of hope is not positive thinking, it’s recognizing that there’s a path from where we are today to where we could be tomorrow if we tackle this [climate change] together.”

    Fortunately, there is a lot to be hopeful about. A fast-rising number of people everywhere are showing up to push for systems change, restore our natural world and find new technologies to stop and draw down carbon pollution. Initiatives like NextNow are profiling some of the most innovative solutions around. Others, like this cohort of Green Citizens, are mobilizing communities, transforming their lifestyles, professions and businesses in small and significant ways to adapt to the climate emergency. And, as the Women Speak initiative shows, women across the world are at the forefront of a much needed intersectional and fair response to the crisis.

    But we need many more stories like these reaching way more people. We need to make these stories character-driven, relatable and even joyful so they become more memorable and shareable and inspire new waves of problem-solvers that this crisis needs.

    From research conducted in the United States we know that people gain hope and are therefore more likely to engage in climate action when they see others doing so. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, psychologist Per Espen Stoknes described this phenomenon: “If I believe most people in my city are now taking action, then I would want to do so too, because we are social animals… And when I see somebody like me do something, that feels much nearer, much more personal and urgent than listening to climate science speaking about the year 2100 or melting Arctic ice far away.”

    Another study also suggests that people gain agency – learn how to act – in the face of climate change by seeing the actions of others, which is why the researchers behind it recommend the creation of stories showing people taking positive action.

    In a chapter she wrote for the must-read anthology Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility, climate scientist Joelle Gergis said: “What gives me hope is that human history is full of examples of people across the ages who have risen to face the great challenges of their time and succeeded against all odds.”

    Everyday, there are more examples of people rising to the extraordinary challenge of climate change. It is up to us to shine a spotlight on as many as we can to grow and sustain the hope that is needed for more climate action. After all, climate change is humanity’s biggest story and how we tell it will shape what we do about it – or not.