Hope and Fear

I very much enjoyed Brad’s talk yesterday. I understand that he put forward the hypothesis that in recent years, typically two means were combined for making the public aware of an issue:
i) oversimplify the issue;
ii) dramatise it as an essential threat.

For quite some time, I have been wondering whether this is the only way for achieving public awareness, and whether it is a good way of actually addressing an issue of concern.

I think just threatening people is sub-optimal. Hope is a much more powerful incentive than fear, at least I think it is a more sustainable one. Or, in a more moderate tone: When fear is balanced by hope, one can mobilise people much better.

As a child of the cold war, I want to refer to two historical cases:

1. The cold war in general. At one hand, there was the Sowjet threat. On the other hand, there was a great vision: Freedom and prosperity for all nations.

1. The Sputnik shock. At one hand, it was the Sowjet threat that mobilised forces. On the other hand, Kennedy reacted by proposing an inspiring vision: Bringing a man to the moon.

It may sound strange when I speak about the spirits of the 60s, as I was only a child in those day. Nevertheless, being born in 1962, I still experienced the mood of the day, i.e. what I perceive as the last period in Western history of a fundamental and widespread hope that things will, overall, be ever improving. This mood gave way to the despair of the 70s, at least this is how I experienced the 70s.

If my analysis is right, there is a lesson to learn for the sustainability community. At least I try to lead by example and highlight the possibilities that lie ahead instead of threatening people into action.

I am curious about your opinion on all this.

One thought on “Hope and Fear”

  1. Relative to the hope and fear issues, I recently had an exchange of opinion with David Orr, who sent me an interesting contribution on this theme that he wrote some years ago (Conservation Biology Volume 21, No. 6, 1392–1395), in which he makes the case for a nuanced approach combining realism about the situation with the expression of hope (rather than optimism) in framing the issues that face us. Although his argument is directly related to the CO2 and climate change issues, I think it contains an interesting lesson for our communication of sustainability issues.

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