Facing the climate crisis with hope and courage

In a new book launching this week, MSSI Professorial Fellow John Wiseman draws on diverse sources of learning and wisdom to find positive ways forward into an uncertain future.

Protest for climate action

The world’s leading climate scientists have issued a “code red for humanity” via the latest major report on climate change released last month.

The assessment by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including contributions by University of Melbourne experts, warns that we are facing our “last best chance” to act to avoid the “worst consequences of the climate crisis”.

The message is clear that time is running out to act decisively to change the course of our future, or risk ecological disaster.

But when faced with such dire predictions and daunting ultimatums, how do we muster hope for our future, or the courage to do anything about it?

MSSI Professorial Fellow John Wiseman explores this question in his new book launching on 16 September 2021, Hope and Courage in the Climate Crisis: Wisdom and Action in the Long Emergency.

In the book, Prof Wiseman draws on diverse sources of learning and wisdom on the matter of hope and courage – consulting climate scientists and activists; philosophers and social theorists; Indigenous cultures and ways of life; faith-based and spiritual traditions; artists and writers.

Through his conversations, he uncovers lessons to strengthen our capacity to live courageous, compassionate and creative lives in the face of accelerating risk.

Discover below how some of our leading scientists and activists find the hope and courage to continue their work in the face of adversity.

Prof David Karoly, Climate Scientist at the University of Melbourne

“What gives me hope? What I see as ‘hope’ is what’s happening with some examples of rapid action, particularly both amongst young people and the School Strikes for Climate, as well as some examples of rapid action and successes in the both business sector and in the community sector around transition to renewable energies and solar panels in Australia ...

“What I would describe as ‘affirmative hope’ or ‘active hope’ is difference from ‘passive hope’ ... framing hope as ‘active hope’ helps people, I think, to better understand that a positive view can allow people to become much more involved and engaged in the need for urgent action to address climate change.”

Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, Chair of Climate Action Network Australia

“We know from a lot of community work and experience that people who are most depressed about our current situation, who are finding it very overwhelming, are often quite isolated in their experience of that. They're sitting at home, reading the paper about this unfolding disaster, and not feeling any sense of connection or efficacy in being able to change this ...

“Whereas, being active in community is not only necessary for the sorts of outcomes we want, but is an antidote to that despair. And we will only be getting through this together. So, creating that togetherness now, in the moment, is essential.”

Prof Tim Flannery, Chief Councillor at the Climate Council and author of The Climate Cure

“Sometimes … you have to work without hope or courage. You have to just keep going. And there are moments when that’s happened to me, I think. I’ve run out of courage, and I've run out of hope. But you know, you pick yourself up and you keep going because there really is no alternative. There's no way that any of us can afford to just sit back and let things take their course. So, in terms of what I rely on, [it] is my friends and colleagues, they are hugely important to me ...

“I also, I think, have developed a great confidence in the common sense of the average person. That really came to me through being Climate Commissioner, when I went to so many ordinary Australians, and you realise, there is great potential there for this common-sense view to prevail, if you can just get the politics and ideology out of the way.”

Prof Katharine Hayhoe, Chief Scientist at The Nature Conservancy, and Distinguished Professor in Public Policy and Public Law at Texas Tech University

“In fact, my faith is the reason I am a climate scientist. What changed the trajectory of my life is when I learned that climate change is not only an environmental issue … I learned that climate change is in fact an ‘everything’ issue. It affects every aspect of our lives. To care about climate change, you only have to be one thing, and that’s a human, living on planet Earth. And not only that, but climate change is profoundly unfair. It disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet, and that is absolutely not fair. And so, to me, that resonated most with my heart and with my faith … 

“That realisation was what led me to become a climate scientist, because what I felt most deeply was true and what was right, climate change is action against all of those things, and so I felt like, how could I not do everything I could to help fix this problem?”

Anna Rose, CEO of Environmental Leadership Australia and Board Director for Farmers for Climate Action

“The way that I think about it is as a dating analogy. So, say you’re single and you’re going out on a Friday night, and you might hope that you meet someone. To me, that’s quite passive. Whereas, courage is like, I’m going to be brave, I’m going to go to the bar and strike up a conversation. And I'm going to talk to five people and see if I click with anyone. And if it doesn’t work, I'm going to go out on Saturday night and do the same thing, and ask my friends, do they know anyone who’s single, and be much more active around it ...

“So, I know some people use that ‘active hope’ phrase, but for me I prefer the word ‘courage’ because I guess it’s more inspiring to me. But the main thing is – whether you call it ‘active hope’ or whether you call it ‘courage’ – we can’t just expect that someone else is going to solve this problem.”

Grant Blashki, Assoc Prof at the Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne and Lead Clinical Advisor, Beyond Blue

“I think one of the first things I’d say is to recognise the limit of any single human being. Even presidents of the most powerful countries in the world just aren’t going to be able to solve it on their own. So certainly, I think people working on this issue should never feel like it’s all on their shoulders. This is a group activity. And I guess in some ways, fantasies about rescuing the world are their own worst curse …

“I find that I work with other like-minded people, like-minded organisations, so that I can contribute my little piece to the puzzle, but recognise that there’s some pretty important societal changes – in business, in politics, in leadership – that I don’t have control of. So, I recommend people to find that bit of the puzzle that they can contribute to.”

Hope and Courage in the Climate Crisis: Wisdom and Action in the Long Emergency is published by Palgrave Macmillan and now available for purchase. Find out more about the book.

An online book launch took place on Thursday, 16 September 2021, along with a panel discussion chaired by Prof Kate Auty, joined by author Prof John Wiseman, Prof David Karoly, Victoria McKenzie-McHarg and Prof Kathryn Bowen. Catch up on the launch and discussion.