03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Finding Hope Amid Despair in Copenhagen

The mood in Copenhagen on the second to last day of negotiations is characterized by exhaustion and defeat. Few people have pleasant things to say about the climate negotiations.

At the KlimaForum (a conference center in the center of town), I asked people how they feel about the talks now that things are winding down. Two girls with long blond hair told me they were planning to shave their heads in protest the next day. I told them I was the Hopenhagen Ambassador and they replied, "We have no hope."

Another group of twenty-somethings complained that they were beaten by the police during their peaceful protest. I asked if they had any optimism. They said "we have faith in people, not politicians."

A woman in her late forties said she was struggling. She felt "more than fear, less than despair."

There is some hope. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced 100 billion a year in financing for developing nations. A breakthrough for, among other things, preserving the world's forests. But it is clear that world leaders are not pledging to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to a level that will keep warming under 2.0 degrees Celsius. (More tomorrow on why I think this is.)

Al Gore today reminded us of how far we've come. He acknowledged that this problem is incredibly difficult and that a deal will take time -- he should know having fought for environmental policies for decades. Pointing to a sign of progress, he recalled that in Kyoto only one head of state was in attendance. Now over 160 will arrive to negotiate.

If you want to show support for a meaningful deal, join six million people and sign the petition at You can also call Barack Obama and show public support for climate action.

Below are messages of hope - messages that individuals emailed me to answer the question: "What gives you hope that we can solve climate change?"


As far as hope is concerned, I feel that I have to focus on the incremental steps that I see people around me making. My school, for instance, is finally talking about recycling more than paper, not turning on lights when they aren't necessary, etc...
Anne Stanek
Hadley, MA

I have hope that we can solve climate change because of the many brilliant minds that we have working on it, from academics like Professor Stephen Schneider at Stanford, to students who are working on this problem all over the country. People are gradually coming to realize the enormity of the problem, but once they all do there will be a solid base of knowledge and passion to kick problem-solving efforts into high gear.
Doug Allen
San Francisco, CA

The fact that young people don't know the meaning of the words 'Give Up.'
JP Kemmick
Seattle, WA

Over the past two decades or so there's been an amazing grassroots revolution in this country, with small scale farmers, consumers, home gardeners, and community organizations working together to create models for local, sustainable, cooperative food systems. We've seen an explosion in farmers markets, CSA farms, and local/regional distributors; increasingly direct connections between consumers and producers; a huge increase in Fair Trade networks internationally; and a growing ethic of cooperation and a do-it-yourself attitude. People are eating way more local and organic food which has obvious benefits for the environment and for the health of rural economies and communities, but they are also finding that it's more fun, fulfilling and enjoyable to do so. We've come to understand that rather than being an act of self-denial, the environmentally sound choice actually makes our lives fuller, our communities stronger, and our food tastier. And all this has happened with almost no change in federal agricultural policy. I'm hopeful that we can apply this same small scale, cooperative approach to other areas of our lives - energy, transportation, waste management, etc. - and make big strides in combating climate change. The changes in the food system have shown that we don't need to wait for national and international leaders to get their heads out of the sand before creating solutions at a local and regional level.
Ethan Hazzard-Watkins
Brattleboro, VT

If people in France can ride tiny cars and have a shared bicycle system like the Velib that let's everyone bike around town, then, I have hope that we can do that everywhere in the world.
Stephanie Greene
Paris, France

What gives me hope? The power of love is stronger than the love of power.
We love our children and grandchildren too much to leave them a chaotic, unjust, and diminished world.

The sacred power that created us also dwells in our hearts, connects us with our sister/brother creatures around the world, and will give us strength to make the changes of lifestyle and policy that we urgently need to make.
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas
Amherst, MA

You don't have to speak the same language or believe in the same god or make similar incomes, but you can all relate to one another on a very human level.
I already know we can do it. But what makes me hopeful is that it is something that can bring us all together.
Ian Monroe
San Francisco, CA

People really knowing, understanding, other people.
In our tiny Wisconsin town of 11,000 people, Fort Atkinson citizens with historically incongruent backgrounds and/or drastically polar political persuasions have most recently recognized the positive effects (whether from an economic perspective educational perspective, community development perspective or conservation perspective) of a tiny windmill being built at our local community college- Madison College (formerly MATC). They are taking the time to be active, investigate, ask good questions, let go of assumptions and really listen to everyone participating. This has allowed them to see the communities potential, positively affecting our local economy and reducing our carbon footprint as well as positively affecting the greater cause.

When it comes down to it, the big changes, the difficult changes that must happen locally and worldwide, will come from people giving other folks, "different folks", a chance to enter their world view. These exchanges of perspective and knowledge, communication with a heart, gives me hope that citizens from all nations can come to a consensus about climate change.
Cynthia Holt
Fort Atkinson, WI

Young People.
And the fact that we ALREADY have all the solutions we need to climate change... and the biggest solution is us.
Alexis Ringwald
Mountain View, CA

When I visit my organic family farm and see how much food we can produce locally, without fossil fuels, I'm filled with hope that everyone can contribute solutions to climate change.
Ethan Schaffer
Seattle, WA

It gives me hope that citizens care and that many more people are recognizing that this is a much more serious issue than just political rhetoric (and that Inhofe has been a little bit more quiet lately, and Gore more vocal!).
Mariah Titlow Tinger
Boston, MA

As an educator, many things give me hope that we can solve climate change. The Paly Green Team which I am the faculty sponsor for is actively working on getting our school green certified, and more and more of my students are committed to green lifestyles choices such as biking to school, using solar panels for energy, and finding other green ways of transportation.
Liz Brimhall
Palo Alto, CA

I would say that the challenge is difficult, but the last thing we can loose is hope. We have come together as a race when disasters have happened before (hurricanes, earthqueakes, etc). The impacts of climate change are even worst, and the opportunities to solve it are out there; we need to start with a change in behavior above all. And for that, we need carbon to have a price.
The best incentive that can be given to the market is to put a price on carbon, the rest will follow.
Carla della Maggiora
San Francisco, CA

I believe that we can solve climate change because the people of the world know what is at stake, and world leaders must ultimately do what the people ask of them--or they will no longer be world leaders.
Mark Dixon
Pittsburgh, PA

The U.S. Department of Transportation is now funding the creation of the first full-blown Solar Road Panel: the heart of the Solar Roadways system, which could ultimately cut worldwide greenhouse gases in half. For full details, see
Scott Brusaw
Sandpoint, ID

The number of U.S. and global business leaders in Copenhagen who understand the problem, are serious about finding solutions and are clamoring for clear rules from policy makers to get started with the race into a new clean energy future.
Gernot Wagner
New York, NY

The new Northstar Commuter Line that runs through my backyard.
That my 60-year-old uncle, who grew up cattle ranching, just became a vegetarian.
Peace Coffee -- delivered by bike to all Minneapolitans.
The convergence of societal forces in the increasing momentum of the local food/economy movement.
That even the stodgiest of companies are trying to think green.
Municipal composting.
Smart metering.
Julia Silvis
Minneapolis, MN

We are buoyed by the creation and expansion of bicycle route networks across the planet. In the last decade, there has been an explosion of activity to create national and international cycling networks for active, healthy, carbon-free transportation and recreation:
Seeing communities and nations come together to create networks that will allow cyclists of all ages and abilities to ride safely and conveniently to the corner store -- and around the world -- is incredibly inspiring and shows us that the desire to tackle climate change is truly an international, people-powered movement.
Winona Bateman (Adventure Cycling)
Missoula, MT

Jessy Tolkin gives me hope:
Emma Wendt
San Francisco, CA

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