2nd May 2017 | Dave Bookless | 0 comments

#ConservationOptimism

Recently a couple of us from A Rocha International attended the Conservation Optimism summit in London, one of a number of events around the world focusing on #EarthOptimism, #OceanOptimism and #ConservationOptimism. I went with an open mind, but concerned that this was simply an exercise in papering over the cracks, clinging onto small conservation successes against an overwhelming tide of despair. After all, what room is there for optimism when 58% of the world’s wildlife has disappeared within my lifetime? [1]

ConservationOptimism banner

I was reminded of a conversation last month with a couple who’d heard me speak on the ‘Hope for the Planet’ tour back in 2005. That tour had inspired them into eco-activism and they’d radically changed their lifestyle, started an environmental project, got involved with A Rocha, and campaigned on climate change. Now, with political backpedaling on both sides of the Atlantic and a daily drip-feed of disastrous news, their reservoir of hope had run dry and they felt like giving up. They weren’t naïve. They were a mature couple who’d been in Christian leadership for many years.

Reflecting on these two experiences, I’ve been asking myself about hope, optimism and what gives us the ability to keep going even when things are bleak. A few thoughts … and please share your own:

Good news breeds optimism… bad news sinks hearts. Psychologists are clear that we need positive stories to inspire us. If we simply list all the terrible things that are happening to nature, we make people feel terrible. There are genuinely positive stories: key species and habitats are recovering due to long-term, carefully-targeted, scientifically-informed, community-involved conservation work. China is taking the lead on green technologies. Business and investors are leading the move to divest from fossil fuels and see opportunities in new technologies and renewable energy sources. Christians around the world are grasping that the Gospel must be good news for God’s earth. I left the Conservation Optimism conference genuinely encouraged by the stories I heard and even more by the people I met, particularly young committed conservation scientists from across the world.

Optimism alone is not enough. Nor is ‘proximate hope’ – the belief that in the immediate future things can only get better, that humans are basically good, that all we need is more science, more education, more clever technology, and nature will heal herself. Blind optimism and false hope will always be shattered by the harsh realities of setbacks and loss.

Biblical hope offers an alternative to optimism and putting our hope in short-term results:

[1] See WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016.

[2] From ‘The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’ in W. Berry, The Mad Farmer Poems, Counterpoint, 2014

Categories: Reflections
About Dave Bookless

Dave has worked with A Rocha since 1997, first as an International Trustee, then from 2001 with A Rocha UK as co-founder (with his wife Anne), National Director, and then Director for Theology, Churches & Sustainable Communities. He joined the A Rocha International team in September 2011. His role as Advisor for Theology and Churches includes providing advice and resources for ARI’s Trustees, Team and national A Rocha organisations, and coordinating liaison with international theological and mission networks and organisations. He is also studying for a part-time PhD at Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation.

View all posts by Dave Bookless

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