Is hope logical in this climate?

PennLive published a story on Monday, July 22nd, that should have shocked and disgusted us. Instead, it seemed to just fit right in with the news of the day. The title was: “Raw sewage was discharged into Harrisburg waterways 150 days last year.” Out of unsurprised disgust I was inspired to quip on social media that: “the only way to become great again is to make our waterways sludge again.”

Beneath the sarcasm friends easily saw the disgust and heartbreak. I am, after all, one of those rare individuals who is dependent on drinking water every day and, as a water drinker, I have become compelled to also become an environmental activist so I can continue that habit. In addition to my unique disinterest in having human waste in my drinking water, I also possess the capacity to reflect on the wider context of utopian visions of potable water in context. Upon reflecting on my activism and news like this in the slightly wider context of what’s happening in the environmental milieu of my home state of PA, I find myself wondering: what are we activists actually fighting to save, anyway?

If there was a time for cynicism about our outlook as a species, this is it. If the course of human events were ever to bring into question the question of whether humanity is worth saving, again, we seem to have arrived at a moment of ambiguity. Humanity continues to charge forward to test the limits of our death instinct, daring mortality to “come and get us.”

Our oil companies -run by people who I’ve heard need potable water too- buy our legislators, and Governors and our elected officials vote to allow the destruction of our natural environment. They permit these polluters to send volatile gases through our back yards at untested pressures through larger and larger pipes, they frack into our wells and aquifers with radioactive solutions, all while hijacking personal property rights, and they do so with no real oversight beyond self-policing. In the meanwhile, our federal environmental watchdog –headed by a coal lobbyist- green-lights the discharge of lead-filled coal ash into our streams so as not to impede coal companies’ profits. Then we find out the dirty dogs have a habit of adding raw sewage into our waterways as well, for good measure.

Any given day, the news could drive me –and could drive us environmentalists collectively- to just give in to the massive inertia that exists in our political system. To give up. To consider it inevitable that corporate greed will always win over the interests of breathable air, and drinkable water, as well as the basic habitability of our planet.

However, what drives me to continue to go greener in my personal life, to fight against the influence of Sunoco, to boycott bad actors, to donate to environmental champions in legislatures, to knock on doors for candidates I believe in, is that while there is a massive global surge towards breaking the planet’s ability to feed us and sustain life, there are champions on our side who are worth noting.

I notice Greta Thunberg speaking truth to power, and leading tens of thousands of teens globally on a climate strike, demanding that world leaders take substantive action to protect their future. I read about 1.5 million volunteers in India planting 66 million trees in one day as they reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. Semi-naked protestors disrupted Brexit talks in the House of Commons by getting partially naked to draw attention away from the purely political and to the real “elephant in the room,” climate change. I see Americans getting productively angry and making headlines almost weekly by protesting environmental inaction in Washington through protesting in congressional offices and the offices of the DNC. We have decided, and are making it clear that we won’t accept half-measures from lawmakers that need to be on our side in this fight and that they need to be on the offensive.

We can’t simply lament the environmental protections we’re losing and then look away. We have to give ourselves, and our environmental champions credit for the fact that OPEC just publicly shuddered at the growth of climate activists and the “changing global attitude against oil.” Though the message to shareholders was almost definitely much less ominous, OPEC Secretary General, Mohammed Barkindo, warned stakeholders that the influence activists are having on policy is very real and dangerous to profits. These stories tell me that our activism is working and that if we rally around our successes and to do more of it, that we can continue to win.

I don’t want to oversell activism, however. So I feel compelled to admit that it is not logical to take part, or join this fight with a sort of intellectual optimism. If your eyes are open, you’ll see that we have so much momentum to fight against. Everyday Democrats in Washington have accepted millions in campaign contributions from the same oil interests as the Republicans shamelessly ruining our future. So intellectually, as we act and demand action we need to maintain a pessimistic view of how power works. We have to recognize how effective our opponents are and how ruthless they are. Our current political climate doesn’t leave room for outright optimism.

However, you won’t get far in a fight like ours without hope, or what Noam Chomsky has called an optimism of the will. What that looks like is that -while paying attention to what’s being broken and what will need to be fixed- we determine to take what ever action we need to. In our fight, it is indispensable to our ability to sustain ourselves that we also celebrate when we win. That we celebrate Thunberg, that we celebrate the 1.5 million volunteers in India, that we celebrate the bravery of the Sunrise Movement activists.

While the news can easily beat us down in this climate of sludge and hate, and while it’s undeniable that we’ve got decades of work ahead of us to survive the climate catastrophes bearing down on us, we need to continue to put our heads down, lock our arms together and fight back. We can be certain that we will not be alone as we fight. We can expect well-funded resistance. We can be certain that if our current leaders are not willing to take the necessary action, that there are others among our ranks who will step up. As we proceed, we must be finding those brave replacements now and dedicating ourselves to their campaigns.

One immediate step we can take is to make sure the DNC hosts a climate debate so that voters can hear presidential candidates’ plans about how we get from where we are to where we need to be to stop global temperatures from rising beyond the breaking point. It is crucial that we have clear answers to this question BEFORE we vote, starting in Iowa in just 193 days.

The world can’t prevent climate catastrophe without the world’s consumer -America- on board. We activists are the key to making sure the rest of the world doesn’t have to try to stop this catastrophe without us. Our next president will be pivotal in either helping us survive, or helping OPEC to succeed. While there is a scorecard on the candidates, let’s press the DNC to hear our candidates’ plans to fight climate change in detail.




It needs to be said, Black Lives Matter. Nate is a former conservative evangelical, who’s now a freelancing progressive writer.

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Nate Craig

Nate Craig

It needs to be said, Black Lives Matter. Nate is a former conservative evangelical, who’s now a freelancing progressive writer.

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