Our final topic of hope is fitting in light of world events surrounding climate injustice and the urgent need for UN leaders to create a legally and economically binding treaty--a treaty that reduces global emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, and addresses the global power inequities that exacerbate global climate change's effects.
But they're not going to come anywhere near such a solution at COP15, despite the devastating consequences of their decision for generations of humans and nonhumans to come. Of a handful of world super-powers, we have the inept U.S. Congress and President Obama among them to thank for blocking the transformative initiatives put forth by the majority of the Global South.
An article appeared over the summer that's lingered in my thoughts, and I've found that my experience in Copenhagen, in addition to reading bell hooks, has put it into sharp relief. Derrick Jensen is a rather famous author and eco-activist, and he wrote a persuasive piece for Orion entitled "Beyond Hope." In it, he describes the dangers of false hope, the idea that somehow, inexplicably, the system will magically change (3). But he also takes hope itself to task, writing the following powerful statements: "hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless" (2); "To hope means you've given up any agency" (2); "when we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to 'hope' at all. We simply do the work" (2-3); "When hope dies, action begins" (3); and finally, "A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place" (3).
I appreciate his take on false hope because I see so many people in this world deluding themselves into thinking that Jesus or Allah (or insert your god/s and miracle-makers here) will solve our problems. While this may be true eventually, and while I do believe in the transformative power of thought and prayer, I am stunned by those who would substitute hope for meaningful action.
There are a few problems with Jensen's reasoning on the issue of hope itself. First, like those who hope instead of acting, Jensen creates a false dichotomy between hope and action. Like hooks, I believe that hope, or what she also calls "prophetic imagining," envisions possibility, and action makes that vision possible by bringing it into fruition. Second, he ignores the range of power people have to enact their hopeful visions. For billions of people, for a variety of unique reasons, "work" cannot "simply be done" because they are denied the agency to do so. The decision the UN will make this Friday is a case in point: they will actively deny agency to marginalized entities across the globe. What, then, keeps people going every day, caring for themselves, their families, their environments? What has inspired hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, to convene in Copenhagen for two straight weeks, strategizing, rallying, learning, networking, testifying, marching, and committing civil disobedience--when we know full well that we will be disappointed by the outcome, that many of us will return home to our countries as bearers of--in many cases--the devastating news that despite their best efforts, they will be prevented from caring for themselves, their families, and their environments?
Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, ex-political prisoner, nonviolent activist by training, and the first democratically-elected president in Maldives history, answers this question by telling us that hope is all that kept him alive while he was persecuted for five years, and hope is what keeps him fighting for his country--the most vulnerable nation in the face of global climate change. Every day he attends COP15, often speaking as the sole voice calling for 350ppm carbon emissions.
As bell hooks writes, "hopefulness empowers us to continue our work for justice even as the forces of injustice may gain greater power for a time" (xiv). Not only does this speak to the impossibility of distinguishing hope from action, but it also speaks to the reality that power imbalance is a fact of contemporary life; thus, finding a way to navigate those imbalances so that they do not destroy you, whether by simply surviving, or consciously subverting them, are meaningful actions that chip away at domination. Neither, however, can be accomplished without a vision for a different, better, way of life.
It is at this point that Jensen, hooks, and Nasheed agree: Jensen acts upon his despair over a ravaged planet because he is "in love" with life (3). hooks acts upon her hope because she believes life is "worth taking the next step" (xv). And in an electrifying speech Monday night at Klimaforum, the People's Climate Summit in Copenhagen, President Nasheed stated, "And just as there were doubters in the Maldives, so there are doubters in Copenhagen. There are those who tell us that solving climate change is impossible. There are those who tell us taking radical action is too difficult. There are those who tell us to give up hope. Well, I am here to tell you that we refuse to give up hope. We refuse to be quiet. We refuse to believe that a better world isn't possible."
To read Jensen's piece, click here: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/170/
To read Nasheed's speech, click here: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/12/maldives-president-mohamed-nasheed-eco-rock-star-copenhagen.php