Earth Optimism in Times of Despair

Earth Optimism is a movement focused on the successes of people around the world to tackle a wide variety of environmental issues. It was started in 2017, a few years after the Ocean Optimism twitter campaign, by coral reef biologist Nancy Knowlton. Earth optimism has paved the way for people to be optimistic about other environmental issues shrouded with doom and gloom, such as forests and climate.

Some people worry that being too hopeful about the future of our planet is naïve. While a little bit of anxiety can help to spur action, bombardment with climate news can also lead to despair and inaction. The idea here is to allow the positivity of earth optimism to balance out the negative context of climate change. Radical listening is a key aspect of earth optimism, so people can understand why a problem exists, before coming up with the best way to fix it.

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For example, take this wetland restoration project in the Albertine Rift Valley of Uganda. Grey Crowned Cranes, featured in the photo above, are becoming less common in eastern Uganda due to the loss of wetland breeding grounds and capture for illegal trade. These same wetlands support domestic pigs and the fabrication of bee-keeping hives and baskets made from wetland reeds. Ugandan crane biologist and community leader Jimmy Muheebwa was motivated to restore the papyrus wetlands and rescue the bird population through a collaborative, community-driven project involving the Endangered Wildlife Trust, International Crane Foundation, and NatureUganda. So far, more than 49,000 m2 of papyrus wetlands have been restored. As wetland restoration continues, there is hope for lower soil erosion, higher soil fertility, and an improvement of human livelihoods in the surrounding Ugandan hill country.

This is one story among many which demonstrates the power of people to act, and the environmental successes of humanity despite climate change. Stories such as these have the power to provide hope, inspire invention, and more. Another famous story is that of the Soil Carbon Cowboys, which you can learn about through this short video.

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If you want to learn more, Earth Optimism will be featured at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on June 22–26 and June 30–July 4, 2022. The Smithsonian is also hosting “Women on the Move: Celebrating Women in STEM Who Track Animals Across the Land, Sea, and Sky“, a virtual Earth Week series held on April 20 and 22. The webinars will be recorded and shared afterwards. You can also visit the official Earth Optimism website here. Happy Earth Week!

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