When working to protect the environment, sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic.
Over the course of my undergraduate and graduate career, I’ve sat through countless lectures detailing the environmental woes of our planet, read papers on the challenges ecosystems face, and have often become discouraged by how seemingly difficult it is to evoke change. The health of our planet has undoubtedly seen better days, and with ever-increasing environmental and political challenges, our work will inevitably get harder in the years to come.
But despite the often-somber task of studying our oceans, our forests and our climate, I’ve found that for every doom-and-gloom paper and negative headline out there, there is also a reason to be hopeful.
Advancements in technology, conservation and management are diverse and abundant. This year, coral reef scientists have made progress in identifying healthy and thriving reefs, and the recently established marine protected area in Antarctica holds promise for future efforts to protect the high seas. The work of small groups and individuals, stories rarely covered by larger media outlets, are slowly paving the way for a more sustainable future. Rare, an international environmental nonprofit, is “finding what works” in local communities, and replicating these ‘bright spots’ of success on a global scale.
In 2014, the Ocean Optimism initiative was launched with the support of prominent environmental scientists, and continues to be followed by millions of individuals sharing stories of progress within the marine conservation field. “We focus on solutions rather than problems,” the initiative states, highlighting reasons to be hopeful for the future of the underwater world.
Environmental optimism is needed, and for reasons beyond simply “cheering people up.” When we share stories of success, the chance of replication increases. Points are connected between what has worked in the past, and what could work in the future.
“Conservation and media organizations are increasingly aware that ever more vivid documentation of huge problems without solutions leads to apathy, not action; you can’t scare people into caring,” states Dr. Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and advocate for Ocean Optimism.*
People become empowered when they know a solution is possible. So yes, understand the issues and challenges that our planet faces. Just strive to share the successes, too. They’re out there, and worth celebrating.