COP26 – Are we Hopeful or Cooked?

Wildfire: Pixabay

I had first sight of Jane Goodall decades ago at Edinburgh University where an excited audience gathered for her seminar. Looking like a slim owl in brown plumage, she wore a signature ponytail even then, though not yet grey. She spoke of her beloved Gombe National Park in Tanzania and described the pivotal moment when the chimpanzee she called David Greybeard made a tool to catch termites. The observation woke anthropologists to a deeper understanding of our relationship to animals and the realm of nature.

In those days, she spoke mainly to academics and conservationists, but now to a world audience. Then, she spoke about habitat preservation for chimpanzees in Africa, now about the threat to a sustainable planet.

This week thousands of children marched with Greta Thunberg through the streets of Glasgow for a gathering of world leaders at COP26. Some were accompanied by parents, not for security but in solidarity. This week seemed timely to listen to The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams.

She offers four reasons for hope—human intelligence, nature’s resilience, powerful young voices, and often refers to the ‘indomitable human spirit.’ Examples of that spirit are taken from history earlier in her life—the threat of Nazism and the Cold War. She might have chosen the lamentations of Jews exiled to Babylon or the prayers of enslaved people in the Americas from a long list of tragedy and suffering, although none is particularly apt for our times. Then, we recognized the enemy as the ‘other’ and formed alliances to combat it. Now, we are the enemy, and potential saviors.

To believe we will surrender the most wounding aspects of the economic and social status quo in time to protect life on Earth and intergenerational justice demands a tremendous leap of hope. Faith in institutions that served us in the past now wobbles and nation states seem unfit for global solutions. But cynicism is defeat; only brave hope will do.

Known as an activist, she conceals passion in a measured tone, trying to persuade with old-fashioned grace instead of a strident voice like those on the streets accusing governments and industries of copping out or greenwashing. It takes all kinds of voices to create movement.

Something else I learned about Dr. Goodall in this book. She enjoys a dram of Scotch at bedtime, perhaps as a hopeful toast for a healthy planet in future. ‘Slang-ge-var’ (to pronounce the Gaelic Stàinte mhath).

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