Open Thinkering


Tag: climate change

Hope vs optimism

Last night I went to a local climate action reading group. As I have learned to do, I listened to what was being said before speaking, noticing the word ‘hope’ had come up a number of times. I wondered out loud whether hope was something that we needed to have to respond to the climate emergency?

Another word that you could use instead of hope is ‘optimism’. Semantics, maybe, but the way that I understand hope is that you’re looking to other people to save you. ‘Optimism’, on the other hand, is something that you generate yourself, intentionally. As Gramsci put it:

You must realize that I am far from feeling beaten…it seems to me that… a man out to be deeply convinced that the source of his own moral force is in himself — his very energy and will, the iron coherence of ends and means — that he never falls into those vulgar, banal moods, pessimism and optimism. My own state of mind synthesises these two feelings and transcends them: my mind is pessimistic, but my will is optimistic. Whatever the situation, I imagine the worst that could happen in order to summon up all my reserves and will power to overcome every obstacle.

(my emphasis)

In other words, having a clear-eyed picture of what is going on (pessimism of the intellect) can be useful in summoning up an internal state to do something about it (optimism of the will). This then enables us to band together to enact change, rather than simply picking through various bits of climate news for the things which are ‘hopeful’.

I’m an admirer of Adam Greenfield’s work, and was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him last week for our podcast. I took along his article from last year about ‘Lifehouses’ and read the first half of this bit to the group:

Here’s the crux of it: local communities should assume control over underutilized churches, and convert them to Lifehouses, facilities designed to help people ride out not merely the depredations of neoliberal austerity, but the still-harsher circumstances they face in what I call the Long Emergency, the extended period of climatic chaos we’ve now entered. This means fitting them out as decentralized shelters for the unhoused, storehouses for emergency food stocks (rotated through an attached food bank), heating and cooling centers for the physically vulnerable, and distributed water-purification, power-generation and urban-agriculture sites capable of supporting the neighborhood around them when the ordinary sources of supply become unreliable.

He continues:

The fundamental idea of the Lifehouse is that there should be a place in every three-to-four city-block radius where you can charge your phone when the power’s down everywhere else, draw drinking water when the supply from the mains is for whatever reason untrustworthy, gather with your neighbors to discuss and deliberate over matters of common concern, organize reliable childcare, borrow tools it doesn’t make sense for any one household to own individually, and so on — and that these can and should be one and the same place. As a foundation for collective resourcefulness, the Lifehouse is a practical implementation of solarpunk values, and it’s eminently doable.
Formally, the infrastructural services I imagine Lifehouses offering are distributed, as opposed to centralized, which makes them robust to the kind of grid failure we’ve been experiencing more and more often.

As I walked home from the group, I reflected on the scale of what we need to achieve as a species. Even if everything pumping out emissions shut down tomorrow, there’s already enough carbon in our atmosphere to mean that we’re in serious trouble.

I can see why the original title of Greenfield’s new book was Beyond Hope: Collective Power and Mutual care in the Long Emergency. Although the revised title is snappier, I’m convinced that we require does, indeed, require going ‘beyond hope’. Perhaps I need to resurrect something like (although someone is now squatting that particular domain)

Update: a follow-up up post over at Thought Shrapnel thanks to Will Richardson, who left a link in the comments section below: Hope vs Natality

Image: DALL-E 3

Hang on to what you’ve got?

Dithered black-and-white image of a car exhaust

Three years ago, when we came to the end of our lease of a Toyota Auris hybrid, we tried to get another one. For one reason or another (poor customer service, delays on shipping from Japan) that didn’t happen. So we bought a 2013 diesel Volvo V60. It’s a lovely car, but it’s now at the age where it’s started to need things doing to it. Things that cost £££.

Given the climate emergency, our reflex was to investigate leasing or buying a new hybrid. Over the long-term, that is obviously the right thing to do. But for us right now I wanted to do some investigation. After all, cars don’t appear out of thin air, and manufacturing them causes carbon to be emitted. Living near the centre of town and working from home we don’t use our car for commuting or taking the kids to school. So should we switch? Or should we repair what we’ve got?

I used a carbon calculator to work out that driving 12,000 miles in our car emits 2.96 tonnes of CO2 per year. As we don’t have a drive and there’s no EV charging points on the road where we park, we’d have to go for a hybrid such as a Toyota Corolla. We literally couldn’t plug in a fully-electric car.

Manufacturing a mid-sized EV with an 84-mile range results in about 15 percent more emissions than manufacturing an equivalent gasoline vehicle. For larger, longer-range EVs that travel more than 250 miles per charge, the manufacturing emissions can be as much as 68 percent higher.

Source: The Green Age

From what I’ve read, it can take up to two years or 50,000 miles for a fully-electric vehicle to ‘pay off’ the increased manufacturing emissions compared to cars with internal combustion engines. For hybrids, that figure will of course be higher.

So although we’d love a new car, it doesn’t make much sense to get a new one right now. We’ll be hanging onto our Volvo V60 for the foreseeable, even if it does have a diesel engine. Sometimes the best thing for the environment might to hang on to what you’ve got and keep it going.

Of course, the ideal scenario thing would be for forward-thinking councils and governments to show leadership in this area. To re-instate subsidies. To install more than 12 EV points in an entire county in a year. To encourage transport via mass transit such as buses and trains. To create more bike lanes for safer cycling. But while we’re atomising our transit choices, and paying for it all individually, these are the trade-offs we have to make.

Image adapted from a photo by Matt Boitor

New side project: - documenting the end times

After the modest success of, I’ve decided to embark on another side project. This one also has a cool domain in the form of and is a place where I can write about all of the death, destruction, and havoc I see being visited upon the planet we call home.

As my wife pointed out, it’s not the cheeriest thing to be doing, but here’s the About page I composed this morning to give a flavour of why I decided to create the site:

This website is a project of Doug Belshaw. I’ve been concerned about the impact we’ve been having on the Earth for a while, and have been paying attention to the work of people like Vinay Gupta and the Dark Mountain community.

The tipping point, though, was reading Jem Bendell’s paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. It put things in such stark terms that it prompted me to start trying to think more deeply about the end of our species.

I tend to make sense of the world through writing and documenting, so I thought I’d set up this simple site as a way to help me prioritise my own time and effort. It may also be useful as a place to point others who may find this kind of resource useful or provocative.

Not everyone is motivated into action by reading about death, destruction, the ineptitude of our politicians, and the corruption of big business. So, if you would rather read positive news on this topic, I recommend the excellent Future Crunch.

You can get in touch at: [email protected]

There’s an auto-generated RSS feed for the site which you can subscribe to. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! (unless they’re the same as my wife’s, in which case I get it) 😉


This post is Day 94 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at Image via BBC News.