In June 2009, we ran a very short survey exercise for WaveFront readers. We asked only two questions: Regarding the global transition to sustainability, are you an optimist, or a pessimist, or something else? Why?
We received over 40 responses to this question, and the results were interesting indeed. Nearly 50% of respondents declared themselves optimists, and less than 10% were pessimists — not so unexpected. But over 40% were “something else.”
Here are the unedited responses from those who gave us permission to publish their comments. They range from well-known authors and leaders in the field to people who identify themselves as parents or teachers. We welcome your comments on their comments! Note: Ultimately I may write this survey up as an article, or incorporate some of these quotes into a future books. See the comment field down below.
- Alan AtKisson
[21 responses total - published answers below]
We HAVE TO be able to solve what lies ahead. There’s no other option. I can’t believe anything else, just because it’s too depressing, to “dead end-ish.” But I also truly believe that it’s during crises that we humans become more inventive, more focused and sharp. So, yes I have faith, but at the same time it’s difficult to know what we all, as individulas, should do first, what “small” actions and changes really matters in the big pictures.
- Karin Brodén, Sweden
Our problems are actually opportunities for remarkable social and financial profitability, hidden beneath routine our routine. We’re about to undertand that in all its glory.
- James Porteous, Managing Editor, Ecos: Australia magazine on sustainability
I believe we are able to learn how to live sustainably.
I have the pleasure of working with students in an international school and I see first hand how the globally minded, young people of this world are much more aware of the issues. Not only are they aware, they act on their awareness.
- Megan Settle, Teacher, Western Academy of Beijing, China
We will make it, it’s a question of how many of us there will be.
- A Parent
People will work together for our future generations.
- Clem Campbell, chair, Queensland, Australia Earth Charter Committee
I feel that grounded optimism is the only reasonable choice regarding the global transition to sustainability. Informed by sound science and systems thinking analysis, an ethic of care for the Earth, humanity, and future generations, and a creative vision for sustainable living, grounded optimism only increases our potential for success.
I realize that many powerful players still discount the environment, life, and the future, eroding the integrity of ecosystems and quality of life even in the most optimistic projections. I hold, however, that pessimism, while a “safer” and seemingly more rational position, is not bold enough to address the global challenges we face.
Pessimism leads to fear and paralysis; optimism to hope and action. And what we need to bring about sustainability is well-informed action from grassroots movements to global negotiations and everything in between. We need to engage all stakeholders, even our erstwhile “enemies,” as we are in this together.
- Dominic Stucker, Fellows Network Coordinator, Sustainability Institute (sustainer.org), USA / Germany
We’ll make it because we have to. It’s just that simple.
Simple, however, is not the same as easy. Simple and straightforward purposes often require deep commitment, difficult new approaches, and hard choices.
I am convinced that the issues that present as sustainability problems- climate change, fresh water scarcity, and declines in biodiversity for example- are among the growing list of anomalies of the paradigm of neoclassical empire that still dominates our planet. I am also convinced that the next paradigm- which is still being formed, and will only be recognized after it is in place for a generation or two- is being built on our experience in the benefits (and mechanics) of global trade, new thinking in behavioral/network/innovation economics, the power of networks, and the ability of information technology to provide radical transparency and disintermediation.
These are exciting times.
- David Rankin, Vice President for Program , Great Lakes Protection Fund, Evanston, IL USA, www.glpf.org
Multiple levels – international, country, state, city, businesses, universities, etc. are talking, planning, and beginning to take action based on linking green (lower carbon) and the future of our economic prosperity.
As a company that has been providing green services since 1970, we are now one of America’s top 100 fastest growing companies (under $200 Million revenue Fortune Small Business Magazine – July/Aug 2009). The services that we provide for renewable energy, transmission, energy efficiency and green services are booming.
- Kevin Neumaier, President & CEO, Ecology & Environment, Inc., www.ene.com
Because we will have to–since our very survival depends on it. There are signs that some nationalities of peoples are becoming aware of the necessity to change our lifestyles, to lessen our dependency on non-renewable resources, and to develop new ways of conducting business operations. It appears that “change” is taking place. “YES We Can”. Y
- Robert Meadows North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light (Steering Committee Member), United States
In a tough situation communication speeds up and time of action shrinks many times, that shortens the gap between problems and decision making.
- Dmitry Kavtaradze, Moscow State University
Because we create what we believe in.
- Cindi Contie
Får nästan dagligen tecken på att vi tänker och agerar i rätt riktning. Kranen har öppnats på jättecisternens innehåll av möjliga lösningar.
Flera tappställen måste till! [We get signs almost daily that we are thinking and acting in the right direction. The faucet has opened on a reservoir of possible solutions. We need more outlets!]
- Kristina D
If I had my life to live over again, I’d still be an optimist. There is so much to be optimistic about just now and the alternative just isn’t very motivating.
- Prof Tom Eggert, Director, Business, Environment & Social Responsibility Program, WI School of Business, USA http://www.bus.wisc.edu/sustainability/
I feel that we are facing a new global realization about status of our species. We have been living off the land and destroying it for too many years now. People are now beginning to see that the global economy is truly and deeply connected to the Earth, and now with a faltering global economy people are beginning to see that we too have failed the Earth. I believe that this has created an opportunity like none before to really create a new system for living on this planet.
- Sheena Jackson, Farm & Fieldwork coordinator, Prem Center: Visiting Schools Program, Thailand, www.premcenter.org
[4 responses, anonymous except for one:]
I am currently a student at an university in Germany. My fellow students have zero social or environmental “Problembewusstsein”. They just think everything is just fine. These people are studying engineering not to solve pressing problems, but just to get a job to make money.
What could you possibly expect from young people in a western industrialized country that with all the privileges they enjoy can’t even use a public toilet without soiling it?
- Björn, Germany. Engineering student.
Those Who Responded “Something Else”
[19 responses total - published answers below]
I really don’t know. There are going to be major global disturbances I believe, environmentally – species, chemical, weather, water supply etc, with major environmental impacts, and uprooting billions maybe. Bit I do believe we will survive as a species.
- Martin Squibbs, San Jose, California
I am an inevitablist (yes, I made that up); I believe that it is inevitable that we will transition to a sustainable society. We will react and change will be made.
Well, the globe will surely transit to sustainability, that is, another physical and ecological equilibrium. Large parts (populations) of the human race will be part of this new state. To me, one of the important questions is: will the so-called Greek approach to scientific discourse, the Roman approach to the rule of law and the Christian approach to ethics remain fundamental in/for any of these populations?
To add another aspect: we could still make a (bumpy) transit, therefore we must dash for it, so why bother wasting time on betting on chances?
- Janos Zlinszky, Head Of Department for Strategy and Research, Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations, Budapest, www.obh.hu
The realist in me is pessimistic that we will voluntarily transition to sustainability on a global basis, at least in time to significantly mitigate the host of nasty implications facing the world over the next few decades. I’m afraid the rates of change are overtaking any possibility of reversing this paradigm’s trends and inertia.
However, I am an absolute optimist that over the long run this profound crisis will ultimately push and pull humanity toward a new collective level of awareness, an ecological consciousness, which represents a necessary evolutionary step we probably wouldn’t get to without having gone through this painful global initiation.
While there are no guarantees for such a positive outcome, I think our 13.7 billion year cosmic history bodes well for the ultimate success of our evolution of consciousness.
- Alan Zulch, Director of Educational Development, Global Oneness Project, USA, http://www.globalonenessproject.org
Unfortunately, it may take more than one regional eco-disaster to prod voters and governments into concerted action. Perhaps further collapse of fish stocks will trigger action. After that, we probably have resources and technology (iHelium-3 fusion?) to provide sufficient food and energy to sustain 9 billion people. But neoliberal capitalism has shown it is not the framework to achieve global sustainability, considering the burgeoning number of pensioners compared to the working population. I look to political economic models of social democracy in Scandinavia, continental Europe and other parts of the world to lead us to sustainability.
- Bruce A. Scholten, PhD, honorary research fellow in Durham University Geography Department, the UK, www.durham.ac.uk/b.a.scholten
Overall negative view bordering on pessimism. It is too late to contain the environmental balance and climate as we might have known it in the 17th century, but humans will (painfully) adapt and “bumble along” to mitigate large catastrophes and complete ecosystem and social system collapse at a huge cost to natural biodiversity.
- Sanjay Prakash, Principal Consultant, Sanjay Prakash & Associates, Sustainable Building Technologists, India, www.sanjayprakash.co.in
I am a Bittereinder – an Afrikaans word referring to someone who does not give up even though all evidence shows that, despite my side winning some small skirmishes, the war is already lost. I cannot give up, not because of any real hope that a miracle will save us at the very last minute, but out of sheer bloodymindedness and the need to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say I did everything I could right up to the end. And because there may be some survivors who will need every little bit of help we can leave them to regenerate society and the planet.
- Chrisna du Plessis, Principal Researcher, CSIR, South Africa
I am a born optimist but given the current state of affairs I have serious doubts if we could get our acts TOGETHER IN TIME. I see corruption as the major challenge. Corruption is so pervasive…. it is a bottomless hole for wasting limited resources; it adds unnecessary vulnerabilities and compromises resilience and adaptive capacity. My major hopes are in people of integrity and with vision and committment to act together.
- Andrea Deri, Consultant, UK
I need to see some changes before I’ll be optimistic but we mustn’t be pessimistic and give up. I hope the message will get through to those who are supposed to be our leaders (they shouldn’t just follow public opinion) that big changes must be made and that they can be made without wrecking the world (although some rip-offs must cease)(and not making them WILL wreck the world).
Hopeful: Kierkegaard said that “hope is a passion for the possible.” I believe it is possible to respond to climate change, peak oil, species extinction, and other critical trends.
- Duane Elgin, author, US, www.awakeningearth.org
Because it all depends on how both “the majority” AND individual decision-makers decide and act. And on the effectiveness of those who do know better than most. And the resilience of those who do not WANT to understand. It is a question of the balance between funded deliberate propaganda and attempts to spread the truth – the balance between the capacity of every human being to understand what is real and what is phony and the craftiness in tricking this capacity.
- Dr. R. Doebel, Institute of Sociology, University of Muenster
I call myself a pragmatic optimist. I believe we MIGHT make it if we work very hard RIGHT NOW! Of course the degree of optimism varies day to day based on the news, but since I work hard locally I do feel we can make a major difference in our community. Whether that’s enough to save the world????
But I’ll keep it up! As was said in the Eiger Sanction when the two climbers on the cliff face are discussing whether they will make it – Clint Eastwood tells the other guy to hang in there, that they can make it. The other guy says, “I don’t think so, but we will continue with style.”
Whether we make it or not, I pledge to continue with style.
- Kris Holstrom, Regional Sustainability Coordinator for Telluride, Mountain Village and San Miguel County, Colorado, USA. The New Community Coalition is the non-profit entity that houses us. www.newcommunitycoalition.org. I’m also a high altitude (9000′ elevation), off-grid organic farmer so I’m used to challenges.
We’re working very hard in China – training mayors, vice-mayors and other local senior officials about the benefits of public participation and cooperation to achieve sustainable community development.
While China is open to these ideas, the allure of profit and personal gain are significant hurdles.
Will we turn the corner in time? I’m operationally optimistic, but intellectually a bit pessimistic – more than a “transition to sustainability” is required. Rather, an overhaul of human nature may be needed – a tall order indeed.
Give up? Never…we are working harder than ever.
- Darrell Erb Jr., Associate Project Leader, The Program for Leadership Training and Cooperation for Sustainable Community Development in China, Harmony Foundation of Canada, www.harmonyfdn.ca
I am, like Jakob von Uexkull, the founder of the “Alternative Nobel Prize”, a “possibilist” and say it will happen if we make it happen, and we can! Little people doing little things in little places have changed the world. I see a magnificant proliferation of such people and feel them connecting to make the power of ‘one’ accelerate to the power of ‘many’. Change can happen if we join in and make things happen.To those who say it cannot happen, I say what has been said by some great optimist before – please get out of the way of the people who are already doing it!
- Anwar Fazal, Director, Right Livelihood College, University Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia, www.rightlivelihood.org
I think we have to be both. Optimism to drive us forward, to give us energy to imagine possibility and act on that possibility. Pessimism to keep from being lulled into complacency, inaction or even make things worse instead of better.
Being able to embrace this duality is for me a survival mechanism.
- Nancy White, Full Circle Associates http://www.fullcirc.com
I am an optimist and a pessimist. I am an optimist because I am aware that hundreds of thousands of new people, perhaps even millions, are taking action to create a more sustainable future all of the time. However I am a pessimist because we are destroying and depleting things so fast; pretty much none of our basic systems, nor communities, much less bioregions or countries, are anywhere close to operating in a sustainable fashion; and our governmental and intergovernmental organizations are still pretty slow at getting it – the scale and speed at which we have to change what we are doing so that it all becomes fully sustainable in nature as rapidly as possible.
I have represented a number of organizations at the UN for many years including the Global Ecovillage Network, US Citizens Network for Sustainable Development, etc; and I participate actively in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development every year. Every year the CSD Chairs say that they are going to achieve a substantive actionable outcome; but they never do. It is just a bunch of things that the governments all say they will try to do, but then they just leave it up to each country to try to figure out how and what they will do on their own.
Even when they do make agreements and commitments, they are incredibly slow in carrying them out. All of the UN Member States agreed in Rio in 1992 at the Earth Summit Conference that every community should create a Local Agenda 21 Sustainable Community Plan. But out of the millions of cities, towns and villages, and after 17 years, how many have actually done so. And where are the programs that will assist those communities, particularly in the developing world that do want to do so?
Still I am optimist because in both Europe and the US many of the larger cities have or are doing so. Now we just need to create programs and support for towns, rural communities, and cities in the developing world to do so as well.
Similarly, all of the UN Member States agreed to create National Strategies for Sustainability at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and then again during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 to begin to implement them by 2005. But how many countries are actually implementing their plans; and why hasn’t the US even developed one yet when it is probably doing more to undercut humanity’s sustainability than pretty much anyone else. And why is there no longer any support to help the developing world even develop much less implement their plans?
So, I am pessimistic when I think about how I have tried in so many ways during the past two years to get the Obama Administration, and earlier his Campaign, to take this commitment – to develop and implement a US Sustainability Plan – seriously and I can hardly even get their attention.
However I am hopeful and optimistic because I am working on an Campaign for a Sustainable America with the goal of making as rapid a transition to full sustainability as reasonably possible; and I have discovered that it is a very popular idea and that there seem to be millions of people in the US that would like to see it happen and are already doing what they can, in their own ways, to contribute to this.
And finally I am hopeful when I read Alan’s words in the Isis Agreement, when he lays out so clearly what is at stake and the imperative of making a rapid transition. And optimistic that AtKisson Inc. may be interested and willing to help us develop the Campaign for a Sustainable America and raise it to a level that it is a roaring success.
- Rob Wheeler
[Happy to help right away by publishing your web addresses, Rob! - Alan]
Campaign for a Sustainable America:
US Citizens Network for Sustainable Development: www.citnet.org
[And here is a great final answer from an educator ...]
I’d like to believe that I am an optimist and being from Canada and a place where people really seem to be conscious of sustainability and practice it daily I could easily say, “Yes,we’ll make it.” But as I travel around and live in different countries I just don’t see “sustainability” as a norm. In fact on my latest trip to Hungary, a member of the European Union, people do not recycle and still live as they did 100 years ago. They burn wood and coal, farm for their own personal use, buy cheap items that break easily and create masses of garbage. I think people just don’t know the facts. They don’t see the big picture as we do. So how can we reach the ones that aren’t transitioning to sustainability? Education…is the only key. And it must be practical and hands-on. The older generations are not going to change but the younger ones are our ONLY hope. So I guess I would say I am optimistic of the future and the generations that WE educate. As an educator myself I witnessed a 4th Grade class learn what it’ll take to “sustain’ this earth and you know what? They have the passion to do it. They have changed their lives in small ways and in turn their family’s.
- Rosanna Ellis, International Educator