Comment on David Roberts’s piece, “Hope and Fellowship”

Click here to read Roberts’s article and watch his TED Talk.

Thank you David for your input on this most urgent of world problems.

I liked your TED talk especially. It’s the text above and below it that I would like to challenge.

Although I share with you the urgency of impending climate chaos, I’m concerned about the hope-centered rhetoric you chose to use in this piece. It seems a bit vague, and perhaps even naïve. It seems to gloss over the central question at hand, which is not hope v. fear, it is What Must Be Done, Exactly? I say this with all due respect to you, David, for you’re a formidable writer and thinker. I also say this with the intention of provoking more thorough debate about the actual means necessary for getting us – the 99% – from carbon conundrum to carbon zero.

Firstly, I’m concerned that your focus on hope is misguided. Hope is a human emotion born out of fear. We develop hope out of an insecurity, primarily, that what we want to happen will not come to pass. The problem here is that hope resides on one side of a coin, the other side of which is fear. The one cannot exist without the other. To have hope is, essentially, to have fear. As Margaret Wheatley elaborates in Shambala Sun, “fear is the necessary consequence of feeling hopeful again.” (1) She goes on to assert that they are a “single package,” binded with one another as if they were “intimate, eternal” symbiotes. Wheatley points out that if we hope to achieve a thing, we`re “also afraid [we’ll] fail.” I agree with her when she says that we must “abandon hope, all of us, and learn how to find the place ‘beyond hope and fear.’” if we are to succeed. This is a concept familiar to Buddhists but foreign to us. So it would appear to be very American to teeter on the hope-fear axis, but is it wise? I think that, beyond being folly, centering on “should we hope or not” is a diversion. It’s not what we need to be doing. And as Wheatley articulates, relying on the hope-fear axis may just be a threat to our emotional stability.

I like how she frames hope: in justice struggles, we need to understand that we are hope. We must avoid the hope we’re used to: that lofty future-oriented prospect, because to harbor such a thing detracts us from the struggle at hand, making us less effective. Instead we need to focus on our togetherness and the rightness of the work itself. We need to enact “those actions that feel right” as opposed to “those that might or might not be effective.” Insodoing, fear and hope caves to patience. We detach ourselves from the outcomes, because hell, we may not even get to see the fruits of our labor. The only important thing is to do the labor itself. To fight the fight itself.

Which leads us to the quintessential question that needs addressing: What Must Be Done, Exactly?

It’s pretty easy to answer. The IEA report from 2012 states: “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 degrees Celsius goal” that would prevent catastrophic climate change. (2)

THEREFORE (and let me be very clear here): we cannot allow those fossil fuels to be unearthed and burned.

So what does that mean for the battle itself? Corrupted legislatures and political pressure only take us so far, so fast; in other words, it doesn’t really take us anywhere, considering that the global oil industry is “developing production capacity that will reach 110.6 million barrels per day by 2020.” The very same Harvard analysis that put out that fact points out that if the world doesn’t begin using less oil, “demand will reach 94.6 million b/d in 2020. This is in line with a 6 degree Celsius average rise in global temperatures, which means ‘massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet.’ (IEA). (3)

Is pacifism really the answer in the face of a power-mongering and money-hungry industrial bastion? Perhaps in part. But as Arundhati Roy very lucidly elucidates, “Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.” (4)

And indeed, isn’t annihilation what we face? Sure, North America and Europe – considering all of their post-colonial wealth and resources – may succeed in sheltering their populations from the worst effects of climate chaos, but the 6 or 7 billion other people? With the most important rivers in the world threatened as Himalayan glaciers dissipate, lack of food sovereignty in Africa, and the declining integrity of the Amazon rainforest in South America, the rest of the world is going to be doubly furious with the Global North for having sentenced them to death.

So given the truly stark realities at hand, I’m a bit befuddled as to why you, David, don’t propose more radical actions to be taken. We can easily map out fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s that very infrastructure and the production cycle that goes along with it that needs to be disabled for us to prevent what will most likely be billions of deaths this century – hell, maybe even our own premature deaths, as privileged and white and North American as we may be.

We know what needs to go by now. It’s just that we “hope” we don’t have to resort at least in part to the means we’ve been told are “bad” to use – namely, force. I’m concerned – not afraid – that you and other mainstream environmental champions won’t be willing to actually do what needs to be done.

So, essentially we must:

  1. Do away with the hope-fear axis,
  2. Detach ourselves from outcomes,
  3. Determine what needs to be done, really, given corrupt national and regional governments, and finally
  4. DO IT.

May we forget hope altogether, and embrace fellowship as we move forward.




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