We always like to ask our guests on this show what gives them hope as they think about the future and our changing climate, particularly with regard to the systems they work in. For our first episode of 2023, we made a collage of some highlights from our guests’ responses to this question. As this new year begins, we hope you’re finding things to fuel your fire, and perhaps you might find some additional inspiration in the words of others!
Episode image credit: USDA Photo by Lance Cheung
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[Emile Elias] Welcome to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub
[Sarah LeRoy] and the USGS Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, or Southwest CASC. I'm Sarah LeRoy, Science Applications and Communications Coordinator for the Southwest CASC.
[Emile Elias] And I'm Emile Elias, Director of the Southwest Climate Hub. Here we highlight stories to share the most recent advances in climate science, weather, and climate adaptation and innovative practices to support resilient landscapes and communities.
[Sarah LeRoy] We believe that sharing some of the most innovative forward thinking and creative climate science and adaptation will strengthen our collective ability to respond to even the most challenging impacts of climate change in one of the hottest and driest regions of the world.
The contents of this podcast are for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as endorsement for any of the products, technologies, or strategies discussed.
[Sarah LeRoy] Happy New Year! Emile and I are excited to share that we just posted our 35th episode! We have had the privilege of speaking with scientists, practitioners, and leaders about climate impacts and innovative solutions on many topics. One part of each episode has remained fairly consistent – we ask each guest what gives them hope for the future. For some, this is the easiest question and for others it is much harder. We find the thoughtful responses to this question to be one of our favorite parts of our conversations. So, for our first episode of 2023, we want to share some “hope” with you. We have compiled some of our favorite responses to this question into one episode, and in so doing we learned that there are “themes of hope”. Some find hope in taking action - like in doing something to reduce climate impacts. Others find hope in untapped solutions - such as leaning on the knowledge that we can and will do more. And some find hope in collaboration, which brings to mind the quote by Margaret Mead where she says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world.” And others find hope in the creativity and innovation of young people and new scientists. As you listen to these thought leaders speaking about where they find hope, we invite you to reflect on what gives you hope and share it with us.
For our first clip, we want to go back to where the concept of Climate Hope was first mentioned on our podcast, by Ann Marie Chischilly. Here, she explains how climate hope evolved for her.
[Ann Marie Chischilly, Diné] So climate hope for me arose in the summer of 2019. So it feels like a million years ago but last summer I was at a camp up in Montana.
There was a tribal camp and I began talking to a lot of the professionals there that were working and out of that one little conversation we had my breakout session or session, I found that a lot of the tribal professionals who work in this field were very distraught. And so, you know, we had this long conversation back and forth and it was a very open conversation.
Out of it, we grew what was called climate hope. You know, that we had to have it to continue. How do you work around that? How do you acknowledge that you are distraught when you're a frontliner? I mean, that frontliner has taken on a new concept now that we're in the pandemic, but before the pandemic, climate professionals were at the front lines, really getting into what was happening and every person that they were in contact with was traumatized because they were suffering on many different levels.
So really understanding the tribal professionals that we worked with, you know, understanding that they were hurting and listening to them. How do we develop a better sense of taking care of ourselves and taking care of our communities? What does that look like? And so I went on to go talk about climate hope and putting a name on it because I would think a lot of professionals in our field, you know, didn't want to say they were hurting, you know, they were frontline.
So saying it's okay to be afraid. It's okay to be sad and worried and tired. So it was, it was quite a conversation. And so I went on, as soon as I- it's like a flood gate, as soon as I just said, you know, as a tribal professional in my field, I- I'm tired. I'm sad. I'm scared. It allowed everybody else to do it.
So as soon as we got through that acknowledgement then we worked through the other side, where do we go from here? That then turned up climate hope. So, you know, living your life in a circular plan, you know, being thoughtful in everything you do and understanding that we're accountable to the next generation was really important to me.
And making sure that everyone who's worried about this issue to make sure they don't have to be, you know, the star of the show. They, in their own life, just have to acknowledge that what they're doing is enough, you know, what they're doing in their homes, teaching their kids, teaching themselves how to be a better human being is enough.
[Sarah LeRoy] Anne Marie sets the stage for other thought leaders on climate hope. Next we hear from Mike Hoffman, Christy Brigham and Katherine Hayhoe. For them hope comes from action.
[Mike Hoffmann] Sometimes this is a difficult question to respond to because I follow the literature, both scientific, popular press, et cetera. And it's not always encouraging as to what's not being done. But I also tell people that the antidote to despair is action. And so we can all get involved and do something. I call it finding your greater purpose. And if you want a greater purpose, we got one for you. This challenge is enormous, but we can, I call it, I use the word confront, defy, face up to, I love that word. We can confront climate change if we have the will.
[Christy Brigham] I really like what Rebecca Solnit says about hope, which is that hope comes from acting in the face of uncertainty. Yes, it's uncertain and how do we deal with that? By taking action, by slowing the pace of climate change, by reducing wildfire severity in Sequoia groves, by trying approaches like assisted adaptation and assisted migration. So we take action together for our values in the face of uncertainty to hopefully get the future outcomes that we want, which are healthy forests, healthy communities, healthy people, all living together.
[Katharine Hayhoe] Hope comes from acting, from acting together with others and from seeing how we can make a difference, because hope is not, it doesn't begin from positive circumstances. If life is going well, and everything's fine, you don't need hope. Everything's okay. Hope begins when things are bad, when things might get worse.
When the chance of a much worse future seems pretty probable. That's when we most need hope and hope is the small chance of that better future, however faint it might be. And knowing that what's going to get us to that better future is by us doing something about it. And by us using our voice to engage others, to do something about it.
And for us fighting as hard as we can for everyone that we love, everything that we love, and every place that we love, that's where our hope comes from.
[Sarah LeRoy] Along these lines and also with the spirit of taking action, Steph McAfee, Linda Nagel, Mark Schwartz, Margaret Evans and Jesse Bell each share that people actively planning for the future & making mindful decisions gives them hope.
[Steph McAfee] I think I'm starting to see people plan for the future and try to think about how to make their communities and businesses, families, even more resilient to changing climate. And I'm seeing this happen all over Nevada from small towns to tribal governments to major metropolitan areas are planning to be robust, healthy, wonderful places to live into the future. And just seeing how widespread this is, is really amazing.
[Linda Nagel] What gives me hope is that the natural resource community is taking climate change very seriously. They're highly motivated to do something about it.
And that gives me a lot of hope. When we first started, as I mentioned, 12 or 13 years ago, we were kind of bringing this topic to the management community and, you know, basically saying this is really important. We need to figure out how to think about climate change within the management practices and decision making that you're doing.
We can't ignore it. And today people are coming to us. From all across the country, wanting to learn how to think about climate change and the management of our forests and our lands, wanting to become part of this ambitious project so that they can make a difference. And that I find really exciting and it gives me a lot of hope for the future.
[Margaret Evans] I think the thing that makes me most hopeful is the, the people that I've been able to work with on this project have all been so passionate and so concerned about forest health and the future and the forested lands of the Navajo nation.
[Mark Schwartz] I think that what gives me hope is that I see our resource management agencies being very careful and thoughtful about how they go about decision making.
They are in a world now where they recognize the need to engage stakeholders. And they're embracing this idea of how they're going to bring the broadest community possible into making the best decisions possible. And so there's a lot of work going on out there in a lot of different areas, with a lot of different people, all bringing these ideas of how you make good, robust, durable, collective engaged decisions, and then taking action on those decisions. And this is ours is just one example of these, but I, I feel very hopeful that we're moving to a much better place in resource decision making.
[Jesse Bell] I'm impressed with how our level of knowledge around drought and the impacts that it has on human health, on climate and the impacts that has on human health. It's just growing over time. And the more that we understand and the more that we know, the better that we can be prepared for some of these events.
And so, you know, hopefully through this knowledge and through all this information that we're gathering, our communities will be better prepared and hopefully that'll help save some lives at the end as well.
[Sarah LeRoy] In this next set of clips, we hear how the opportunity and response that is often spurred by crisis can bring hope. Rachel Braun, Nate Stephenson, Ladd Keith, and Mike Crimmins share how this brings them hope.
[Rachel Braun] Yeah, I think an interesting point about that question is it's sometimes the worst things lead to the hope, right? So like when you have these situations where you have these extreme heat waves or you have the wildfires or you have smoke filling all these cities really terrible air quality, that leads to more awareness for people.
And I think that's what gives me hope. People are more aware of these problems. They want solutions to these problems. They are thinking about, we can't keep going on as business as usual. What changes can we make?
[Nate Stephenson] I do get a lot of hope from the younger generation, and it doesn't even have to just be young people. I, I wonder if the public at large, as, it's unfortunate, but as more of these sort of disasters happen where you lose a whole bunch of forest and it's scorched earth left behind. That's capturing the public's attention in a greater and greater way. And the public engagement into solutions will become stronger through time.
[Ladd Keith] My area of hope is we did a literature view of heat planning papers and found that 60% of the research has been done in the last five years.
And if you look at the graph every year, there's just more papers coming out, more research that's being done. I know Dave and I are contacted constantly by more talented students interested in this area going forward in the future. So I think there's going to be a lot more research in this area that will help inform cities, which is a good thing.
And then I think you know, the Pacific Northwest heat wave that occurred in July, 2021 was a huge wake up call for a lot of communities that didn't realize that heat was actually a current problem and not something that was going to be a future problem. And you know, my area of hope is that the cities actually have a lot of regulatory power, like I mentioned earlier. We have land use regulations and zoning codes that we use to regulate flood risk and wildfire risk and all types of other risks. And so we have the tools in place, we just need to utilize the tools that we have you know, from an urban planning perspective that are already there.
And so I think there's a lot of things that cities can start to do right now to address heat.
[Mike Crimmins] it's, you know, the crisis creates the opportunity, right? And I think that the water situation and honestly, the crisis is causing people to, who maybe didn't wanna work together, work together.
And it's showing that compromise is necessary. But I think that, that actually, I hope, and I think there's some evidence of that this is extending into the climate sphere too, is that, you know, okay, we work on water, but we need to work on climate more broadly. And if we can do water, we can do climate. Right.
And we should think about them together here in the Southwest. And so, and it does give me hope that I think this will spur on more working together and having agriculture participate in the solutions to climate change rather than feeling threatened by, you know, policy and those kinds of things. So I'm hoping this is the advent of this new era of good, solid, compromise and working across the aisle and, you know, getting the job done on this stuff, cuz we can't continue to punt anymore. The water situation is clearly shows the punting can only go so far.
[Sarah LeRoy] And that leads perfectly into our next theme, which is collaboration. Jen Henderson, Joanna Nelson, Jamie Yazzie and Shasta Gaughen say hope comes from people from different groups & interests working together to solve tough problems.
[Jen Henderson] What I was really struck by is sort of the empathy that people have and build for one another. And their circumstances, even though it might not, you know, benefit them in all the ways that just simply staying siloed benefits some of these actors, but the empathy that you can build and the trust that can be built across groups who would seem to have conflicting at times, conflicts of interest, or at least, you know, worldviews or points of view that might not jive with one another, that they can come together with that empathy and really compromise and do so in kind of conversation with one another work through really hard problems and keep at it I think is really inspiring. So that gives me a lot of hope.
[Joanna Nelson] I have a lot of hope around intergenerational action and everybody bringing their skills, wisdom, energy. And also what I love about that is it's different than piling everything on the youth will save us, right on like the teens will hold everything. So I love intergenerational action. I get a lot of hope out of doing the work that I do in the communities that I'm in, right. That feeling of working on it. I get hope out of working on it because armchair hope doesn't show up for me.
And I have a lot of hope as I've mentioned that, dominant culture is doing less marginalizing and shoving to the edges and more listening to sovereign indigenous native communities who have always been here and still are doing the work and the tending. And there is more exchange and listening and collaborative action.
[Jaime Yazzie, Diné] our engagement with these departments within the division of natural resources is really inspiring because we're not only ensuring that we can provide information about forest health, but we're also ensuring that these findings and these outcomes are accessible to the tribal community, to tribal managers. And this is super important because for tribes, for tribal nations, there's a long history of, of silence and erasure of indigenous people.
And for, for us to be able to have full autonomy over our forests, over our landscapes, over our seascapes, and to be able to manage the land and really, through different strategies. Whether that is utilizing information from Western science or indigenous knowledge, to be able to make informed decisions that will be put forth for a sustainable future for the tribal communities.
And what gives me hope is just building on these relationships and ensuring that there's, there's reciprocity at all these bridges that we're building. And not, not just with the people, but with the forest so that we can address this huge challenge of a changing climate.
[Shasta Gaughen] We're starting to see people saying. Oh, wait a second. This is happening now. Now that seems like a strange thing to be hopeful about, but the hope comes from maybe more people taking the three minute drought shower because they know that it matters. And, you know, the hippies everywhere are overjoyed that we're suddenly realizing we don't have to take a shower every day. But that, that it is a hopeful thing that people are starting to become aware that they can take steps as individuals that collectively create change that's going to be good for all of us. So if I want to put it as kind of a joke, I just, I hope that there are more slightly smelly people because they realize they can take fewer showers.
[Sarah LeRoy] Humor often helps as we cope with big challenges, so thanks Shasta for that. Next we hear from Sam Fernald, Dave Hondula and Brad Udall. For them, hope stems from research, technology and innovation. They note that we haven’t implemented or exhausted all our options yet and untapped innovations lead to hope.
[Sam Fernald] I've mentioned some of the hope I have in our approaches. What occurs to me is the changing per capita water consumption and municipalities. And if you look over time in the US, many cities have gone below a hundred gallons per capita. In Europe, many cities have gone below a hundred liters per capita. So. There's more and more efficient municipal water years. And as I described for agriculture, if you can add some water to your water budget and have efficient agriculture, then that can really be cost effective. And I think that's true for municipalities also that over we will have, especially in places with access to brackish water, whether it's an underground aquifer or a coastal location.
I think that where water has a high value, desalination has great a great future. And I think it's, it'll hopefully have a cascading effects that impact the environment positively. With what's happened in the Southwest is with over extraction of freshwater aquifers we've seen drying of rivers and stressed riparian areas, stressed aquatic ecosystems.
If we can use some of the brackish resources for a water supply and free up some of the water that's coursing through our natural river systems then we can have healthy hydrology along with fully supplied municipal areas. So I think these big system approaches will become more common in the future.
And I think it's exciting to think how we can bring these together for healthy cities and economies and the environment.
[Dave Hondula] we're really not using the tools in our toolbox and we can make the case I think that we're even just like learning what tools are there and how to use them. And to contextualize that state of infancy from a public health perspective, humans have shown at least in developed countries, have shown an amazing ability to adapt to climate related hazards over the past several decades. In the United States, fewer people died from heat in the 2010s, than did in the 2000s, than did in the 90s, than did in the eighties. We are on and have been on a very positive trajectory. And the question is, can we maintain that momentum as we encounter intersecting challenges of warming, aging infrastructure, aging people, and other factors that are going to make it harder to keep up with these climate related challenges, including extreme heat. I think what gives me hope is that we're just beginning to learn how to use the tools in our toolbox. We still have a lot of opportunity, a lot of weapons at our disposal to try to keep up that momentum as we move forward. It's not as though all of our solutions are exhausted and it's a hopeless situation.
In fact, it feels like exactly the opposite and we have a big challenge. We've hardly deployed any of our tools yet to try to tackle that challenge. So I'm very encouraged and optimistic about where we can go.
[Brad Udall] You know, I never do one of these without saying we also got to solve the root cause here. Right? We got to pursue net zero emissions as soon as we possibly can. The cool thing about that is every time I studied the technologies around these, you actually do get pretty excited about what's going on here. Capitalism is working in that sphere and fabulous things are headed our way, including price decreases in technologies that don't emit greenhouse gasses.
So, while that won't solve this more immediate problem of water related and climate warming issues in the long term, it's a solution we gotta have on, on the table. And it's actually pretty exciting and that we're going to change the world almost always for the better here with these new technologies.
So that, that excites me. I trust the people in the American West to talk and resolve these issues. When I look at American water issues, it's actually governance working the way it should be, where people compromise and they talk and they learn about their neighbors and their other States and, and incorporate their needs into their own actions. And, and I feel actually pretty good about what's going to come out of this despite some real challenges ahead.
For many people, thinking about the promise they see in who will carry the torch after us brings them hope. Joel Brown and Stephanie Bestelmeyer share that hope comes from working with young people and scientists.
[Joel Brown] I'm constantly amazed by the exceptional skills, the enthusiasm, and the creativity of our new young scientists. As well as, you know, over the past decade or so, we really have emphasized that we want to increase the diversity of people that work in this field.
And I think that increasing diversity has brought in a whole new wave of new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. And that's just has fueled our creativity. I think for people that are, are mid-career and, and further along in their career, the biggest challenge right now is to figure out how to encourage and capture that creativity so that we can take advantage of it in the science.
[Stephanie Bestelmeyer] I am definitely inspired by and have a lot of hope based on working with the younger generation and, and I feel very privileged to have those interactions with students very frequently.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I had one of many types of great stories to tell. This one just happened, a fifth grader. At the end of the lesson said he had had such a great time learning with us and, and doing science with us, that he was gonna go to the library and look up some more information about science because he wanted to think about getting a job where he could actually do something to protect the earth in the future, in his future.
So, you know, you have stories like that and you can't help but be hopeful. And I will also mention that I'm also, you know, really inspired by the teachers who work so hard. To make sure that we're equipping this next generation with the skills they're gonna need. We probably can't even imagine the knowledge that they're gonna need, but we certainly can equip them with the skills and those critical thinking skills that will allow them to meet whatever challenges happen to come their way in the future.
[Sarah LeRoy] We hope you have enjoyed listening to these clips about climate hope as much as we enjoyed putting them together. We’d like to close our hope compilation hearing from Katharine Hayhoe again, with a couple of quotes from her episode on hope and healing in a divided world.
[Katharine Hayhoe] hope is not just wishful thinking and hoping everything's going to be okay. And somebody will come along and save us. Hope is an active practice that begins from a dark place, but holds that chance of a better future. And so the, the two quotes I chose to end the book, I think just really encapsulate that and encapsulate the fact that this is a fight. And what determines whether we reach that better future is us.
And so the last chapter in my book is called finding hope and courage, which implies action. Right? You have to go out and you have to find it. It's not going to find you. And these are the two quotes I used. First of all, from Katherine Wilkinson, who was one of the two authors along with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who put together the wonderful compendium of women's voices on climate change called All We Can Save.
She said this, she said, thinking about where we are today, “it's bad and it's going to get worse. But there is that chance of a better future.” And here's what she said. She said “it is a magnificent thing to be alive in a moment that matters so much. This is the moment that will be written about in the history books, but it's up to us, whether there will be history books.”
And then the second quote comes from the opposite end of the spectrum from 2000 years ago, it's attributed to St. Augustine. It says “hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage, anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
[Emile Elias] Thanks for listening to Come Rain or Shine podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub
[Sarah LeRoy] and the USGS Southwest CASC. If you liked this podcast, don't forget to rate or review it and subscribe for more great episodes. A special thanks to our production crew, Skye Aney and Reanna Burnett. If you want more information, have any questions for the speakers or would like to offer feedback, please reach out to us via our websites.