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In wilderness lies the hope of the worldJohn Muir

I am currently researching into the role of hope in the human condition and amidst the current world context. As I read, listen to and dialogue with others, one common theme arising is the importance of nature for nurturing the human spirit.

Neurologist and Author, Dr. Oliver Sacks believed in the importance of nature to both our physical and mental health. “I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.”

One study found that taking a walk in nature alleviated depression in 71% of cases, while walking in a mall decreased depression in 45% of cases, and increased it in 22%. In another study, memory and attention increased after people spent an hour in nature. The data appears to support what we have long known in our bones – our connection with the natural world is vital for healthy human flourishing.

The Earth is slowly garnering more of our appreciative attention than it has had in some time, fortunately. We have: Earth Hour, Earth Day, protests by school children inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Extinction Rebellion holding peaceful marches in London and a new BBC documentary by David Attenborough entitled, Climate Change: The Facts. We now know, beyond any doubt that biodiversity loss impacts us all.

Speaking at the 2018 Global Climate Action Conference, San Francisco, CA, last September, Harrison Ford exclaimed, “Nature doesn’t need people. People need Nature.”

Rachel Carson; scientist, ecologist and author of The Silent Spring, was quoted as saying, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

Artist Janet Laurence is currently showing her exhibition, After Nature, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia with the aim of creating intimacy between nature and the exhibition’s audience so that they might be stimulated to care for our planet and recognise the deep-rooted interconnectivity of it all.

“We have to get back in touch with nature in order to care for it. We’ll all be lost if we don’t

do that, there’s an amazing groundswell of activity happening, of caring for the planet happening, but how can we deal with this enormous global capitalist force that’s still so powerful? And it’s almost incomprehensible how it’s still so powerful. So I do believe it’s going to take probably something almost disastrous to break that…Because I’m involved in what I think of as an activist practice and because by acting we get hope, I don’t feel overwhelmed by those forces myself, but I know they’re there.”

Since December last year, motivated by a desire to ensure that I experience daily mini-mindfulness-moments (the 3 M’s) with Nature, I started taking a picture a day of wherever I happened to be. This ritual gives me a few moments free from the rush of daily business, and makes sure that every day I appreciate and reconnect with the beauty and majesty of nature, as well as delighting in the extraordinary ordinariness of our planet.

Small tactics like this can be helpful to increase our interactions with Nature in our lives, to give us time and space to breathe, and to notice the world around us; from the birds as they flit from tree to tree to the hustle and bustle of the ants and the buzzing of the bees going from flower to flower.

What practices do you have to keep your connection to our living planet strong and spirited?

The world is vast and beautiful; it is time to heal it as much as we still can, time for hope to bring about action, and action to bring about change.

In recent years, many organizations have implemented Diversity & Inclusion policies with the aim of creating inclusive and supportive work environments free from discrimination, where everyone is able to participate and where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Sometimes this is done because everyone else is doing it and to ‘tick the box,’ sometimes it is done because the company considers it the politically and/or morally correct thing to do, sometimes it is done because it delivers better financial performance, sometimes it is done to both attract and retain talent, and sometimes it is done for a mixture of the above reasons.

Recently, Iceland passed a law requiring companies to prove they pay employees of both genders the same. By 2022, they hope that the gender pay gap will be closed. In March 2019, Philip Morris International became the first international company to be certified globally for equal pay by the independent third-party EQUAL-SALARY Foundation.

Research by Mckinsey & Company, entitled ‘Delivering through Diversity,’ shows a correlation between diversity, (defined as a greater proportion of women, and ethnically/culturally diverse individuals) in the leadership of large companies and financial outperformance. Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. The highest-performing companies on both profitability and diversity had more women in line (i.e., typically revenue-generating) roles than in staff roles on their executive teams.

Whilst progress has been made by companies on the D&I front in the past few decades, the data indicates that there is still a considerable amount of work to ensure fair and just treatment of all employees, irrespective of their gender, age, race or sexual preferences. On March 14th, and 15th 2019, IMD Business School held an LGBTQ+ event where speakers and participants shared inspiring stories as well as the significant challenges they face to feel accepted as equals in organizations, irrespective of the job that they perform. According to McKinsey’s study, companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. That this relationship continues to be strong suggests that inclusion of highly diverse individuals – and the myriad ways in which diversity exists beyond gender, and race (e.g., LGBTQ+, age/generation, international experience) – can be a key differentiator among companies.

We are more humane, more productive and more sustainable when we embrace diversity and inclusion in organisations.

Now, let us extend the concept of diversity and inclusion more broadly from that of people and organisations to species and our planet. When we view earth through the D&I lens, the ecological situation is critical and urgent for all its inhabitants. Dramatic losses in biodiversity threaten our very existence. Some key statistics from scientists include the facts that:

—the Earth is undergoing a "mass extinction event,” the first since the dinosaurs disappeared some 65 million years ago, and only the sixth in the last half-a-billion years

Archaeopteryx [by goldswoof]

— about 41 percent of amphibian species and more than a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction.

— about half of coral reefs have been lost in the last 30 years.

—globally, monitored populations of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians have declined in abundance by 60% on average between 1970 and 2014.

According to Ceballos, Ehrlich & Dirzo:

All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life."

In the last few decades, there have been catastrophic declines in both the numbers and sizes of populations of both common and rare vertebrate species through habitat loss, over-exploitation, invasive organisms, pollution, toxification, and more recently climate disruption.

If we want to continue to flourish on this earth, we need to act now to protect our planet. Abiding by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals covering areas such as no poverty, zero hunger, gender equality, climate action, life below water, life on land and affordable and clean energy- could be a powerful way to make a difference to all living species, our own included. Organizations, and the leaders of organizations, have a critical role to play in creating hope by moving from denial to awareness, from defense to acceptance and from distraction to action.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, on January 25, 2019,  the young environmental activist, Greta Thunberg , spoke about hope and the global need for immediate action. On October 2018, she tweeted: 

“When we start to act hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope - look for action. Then the hope will come.”

I found her words particularly stimulating, as have many, as she speaks in harsh truths, acknowledging that action is needed in order to heal the hurts we have inflicted on our world. My doctoral research is on the living experience of hope in the current world context. Greta's approach to hope, action and responsibility aligns with questions I am asking myself:

What is hope?

Why is hope so important for human beings?

How & why do we experience hope? Is despair necessary for hope to arise?

What does hope look, feel, and sound like?

What is the relational nature of hope?

What is hope's connection to action and activism?

These are some of the questions I am exploring with my co-researchers.

In the context of today’s world it feels as though Hope is needed for us to heal. In reality, healing our planet is a choice. We need to feel the suffering that will come if nothing is done, and acknowledge the suffering that has already been wrought upon us by the drastic environmental impacts of our past actions. We need to open our eyes, and awaken from our cosy slumber in order to act with the urgency needed to support life on this more-than-human world. 

We must shift our perspectives and embrace a different sense of urgency; if we discovered an asteroid hurtling towards earth that would obliterate our planet in twelve years time, all space agencies, governments, businesses would combine to attempt to find a way to change the trajectory. Climate Change is that asteroid - and it is accelerating. Why waste our time and resource fighting against our neighbors instead of working collectively to harness our ingenuity to protect what we have before it is too late? 

Hope is about all of us having the courage to call out the nonsensical nature of current attitudes. We’re focusing on the wrong things and distracting ourselves with a myopic interpretation of issues that surround us already.

Time to wake up, open our eyes, and answer the question with intent, with hope, and with action:

"What did we do once we knew?"

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