In today’s newsletter I will speak about optimism, people and systems.
You will find out how this beautiful community that you are part of is evolving, joining forces with friends, and going forward as the Idealists Quarterly. Make sure to mark your calendars for 22 June, 6pm to celebrate this merger together.
Many of us know: Climate action can be exhausting. Why? Because the systems we live in make it hard to do the right thing. Trains are more expensive than flights, plastic packaging is more accessible than sustainable alternatives, and trying to convince any doomer that change is possible can suck the lifeblood out of you.
So why bother?
For a good few years, I’ve been struggling with eco-anxiety. I was scared. I was angry. After a few loved ones told me that I’m depressing to be around, I started to consider: Maybe, just maybe, I’m investing my energy in the wrong things.
But it seemed impossible for me to be optimistic. After all, people around the world were relentlessly calling for change, and yet, so it seemed, nothing was changing. Being told I should be more hopeful, I remembered the words of Greta Thunberg: “Hope is not something that is given to you. It is something you have to earn, to create”.
Reading an article about the different types of optimism and pessimism by Hannah Ritchie, I learned: while I wasn’t right in my approach, I wasn’t all that wrong either. Through her work at Our World in Data – an institute collecting research and data to help make progress against the world’s largest problems – she makes the case for optimism, but the right kind. She places people’s attitudes along two axes: their level of optimism, and of changeability, i.e. thinking the future can be shaped by the decisions we make today.
This leaves us, roughly, with four types of people. The two types of climate pessimists doom us to a terrible future. But complacent optimism is no better, because without action we would just sleepwalk into an untenable future. The “good” type of optimism is, like hope, something you have to earn and create.
In other words: Be optimistic about catching that bus – and then run as fast as you can.
It was out of that need to combine optimism with agency and action that I created the Tech, Policy, Sustainability network. I wanted and needed to connect with like-minded people, learn from them and give diverse voices a stage to talk about the actions they are taking.
For example Tino Chibebe, who has made it his life’s mission to improve underrepresented, and especially Black founders’ access to venture capital. He is convinced (and now I am too) that these are the companies that are going to change the world for the better. They are creating solutions to problems that have been overlooked or ignored by the majority, and thereby benefit the innovation ecosystem as a whole.
Or Aikaterini Liakopoulou, a business coach for “clean tech” and “deep tech” startups, helping them advance clean tech, artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing and more to tackle global and environmental challenges.
Or Tamara Makoni, an award-winning diversity and inclusion specialist and CEO of Kazuri Consulting, who applies an intersectional and cross-cultural lens to inclusion to challenge systems of inequality like climate injustice.
Dr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik, CEO of Trianon scientific communication. Her mission is to make sustainability profitable. Dr Ngomsik believes that social sustainability (people), environmental sustainability (planet), and economic sustainability (profit) should be tackled hand in hand to answer today’s sustainable challenges. Therefore, Dr Ngomsik not only strategises on the way to decrease a business’ CO2 emissions, but also to increase inherent and acquired diversity (DEI) among decision makers of any organisation. Her final goal is that corporate sustainability becomes business as usual and is integrated in organisation’s DNA for business success.
Another one of those like-minded “changeable optimists” is Bruno Selun. In 2016, he started The Idealist Quarterly, bringing people together to have a good time and to make connections with optimism in mind.
I am excited to announce that I will be taking over this project, and merge the two communities into the Idealists Quarterly. It does what it says on the tin: once a quarter, we’ll assemble impact-driven people to mingle, exchange knowledge and look for ways to collaborate – all while listening to inspiring talks and having a drink. Please join us to celebrate this merger with us – on 22 June at 6pm, in BeCentral in Brussels.
Optimism and dedicated people are great, but at our event on 22 June we will talk about the elephant in the room: The system – or rather, the many systems – that make up the world we live in. And of course any attempt to change something must take into account the systems that said “thing” is embedded in.
Systems are incredibly hard to change, and the resistance that sustainability-minded voices have been up against for the past half-century are proof of that. And yet, it is not all that wrong to choose optimism.
This is also the stance of sustainability expert Solitaire Townsend. She explains that change seldom happens in linear, and more often in exponential curves. And the fact that, over the past years, sustainability has become a mainstream topic is proof that: after many, many years of small, invisible changes across our human systems, big systemic change is beginning to happen.
Through that lens, our best (or worst) times are indeed ahead of us. Of course it’s not a given that it will go well – that would be the complacent “not-changeable-optimism”. But giving up is not an option either (no thank you, “not-changeable-pessimists”!)
Let’s choose to believe in a better future, let’s work for it, and let’s meet on 22 June to do it together. You can expect interesting lightning talks from our speakers, who will dive into the systems that define their life and work. We will speak about nature as a system. Our planet’s continent as a system. Money as a system. Lifestyle as a system.
Raoni: The Fight for the Amazon (1978). Shot in Brazil in the Amazon rainforest, this documentary deals with the Kayapo tribe and their famous Chief Raoni Metuktire who are fighting to preserve their lives and the Amazon rainforest. This Belgian-French production was nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary.
Tapestries of Life: Uncovering the Lifesaving Secrets of the Natural World by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson. The natural world is the system if there ever was one. It provides life-supporting goods and services like food, fresh water, medicine, pollination, pollution control, carbon sequestration, erosion prevention, recreation, spiritual health and so much more. This book is packed with beautiful storytelling and fascinating knowledge.
Outrage and Optimism, a podcast by former UN Chief Christiana Figueres and the team who brought about the Paris Agreement. It embodies the concept of “changeable optimism”: it faces the climate crisis with the appropriate outrage, but reminds us that we collectively have the power to bring about change. Recommended for everyone who wants to channel their (out)rage constructively.
While we’re on the topic of rage: In her latest edition of the Green Fix, Cass Hebron asks “What’s so bad about being an angry woman activist anyway?” After all, it’s an important and necessary catalyst for change. “Polite deference doesn’t put rich white men in court. Being convenient does not uproot the system.“ Check out this newsletter if you’re interested in information and free practical resources on helping fight the climate crisis.
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