Hope is not an endangered species

Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. His words came to me when I was asked to write a blog piece about the biodiversity crisis. I started reading about how scientists in Alaska have identified that global warming is happening far faster than anybody feared. About glaciers in the Himalayas melting twice as fast as previously predicted, causing drought and famine for large parts of South Asia. How insect populations in Europe have crashed. To call it an “environmental crisis” makes it seem somehow out of our control, but this a very human crisis – the devastation wreaked on the natural world has been caused by human beings. And to go back to Einstein’s words, we’re not going to get out of it by using the same thinking that caused it.

However, when you start trying to look for new ways of thinking and new solutions, it would be very easy to become despondent. The game-playing and self-interest displayed by people with power all over the world, while their fellow citizens struggle and the very basis of their existence is under threat, is despicable and inexcusable. The obsession with economic growth and the belief that GDP is any kind of measure of a healthy society is driving the engine of destruction. To paraphrase Einstein again, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – and a lot of decision makers are exhibiting just that insanity right now.

But it’s not all bleak. There is hope. It’s not a simple thing: as the writer, Rebecca Solnit, said in her book “Hope in the Dark”, “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency”. We need hope to keep us going and to take more action. So instead of writing about gloom and destruction, I want to celebrate a couple of recent examples of hope, of situations where people have found new solutions to the problems that face them.

Let’s celebrate the fact that hopeful things are happening in countries that are all too often represented in the news as being places of war, Ebola and despair.

In Liberia, after years of campaigning by CSOs and local communities, the recognition of community land rights will be made concrete reality and communities will be able to exert real control over their own lands and resources. A landmark Land Rights Act was passed in 2018 and just this month, work started to support communities on the ground to secure and protect their titles[1].

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, communities are starting to get titles for large areas of their customary forests and are planning how they are going to manage them for the benefit of all their community members. It’s not straightforward – although people have been looking after their forests for centuries, the process of getting formal recognition has taken a long time to put in place and it is still being tested and contested. Well Grounded’s small part in a much bigger struggle is to work with Congolese organisations like GASHE and CAGDFT, who are helping communities think through how they want to manage their forests for the future – and leading a national conversation about the importance of community led forest management.

In the Central African Republic, just as in DRC, communities are starting to experiment with how to hold and manage titles to their community forests. National organisations and indigenous networks that Well Grounded has been supporting, such as MEFP and RECALPA, are helping communities in this process and are pushing their government to make changes to make it simpler and more accessible for other communities to do the same thing.

Let’s celebrate the fact that citizens all over the world are calling their governments to account by joining climate strikes[2], demanding an end to economies driven by fossil fuels.

We are in dark times, but people’s willingness to take action means that there is always hope.



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About the author

Cath Long

Cath has been with Well Grounded since June 2010: she is one of the founder members. Her formal training was in Ecology and Environmental Science. She has worked for many years with communities, civil society groups, and local authorities and national governments on community management of natural resources. She has skills and experience in developing and managing projects, programmes and organisations, is a successful fundraiser, and has strong skills in training and facilitation. She has been working in the Congo Basin since 2002 and also has experience in East, Southern and West Africa, Latin America and Europe.