10 signs of hope in a dark world

It’s easy to despair at the state of the world, but Green MEP Molly Scott Cato highlights a different story, “one where people, organisations and governments are treading a path towards a more just, peaceful and sustainable planet.”

Extinction Rebellion Youth activists in San Francisco, April 2019
Extinction Rebellion Youth activists in San Francisco, April 2019

Peg Hunter / Flickr

Extinction Rebellion Youth activists in San Francisco, April 2019: rising youth engagement with politics and the environment is just one reason to be cheerful

Molly Scott Cato

Wildfires ravage the Arctic, Britain is in the midst of a far-right coup and hatred fuelled mass killings take place with depressing regularity in the US. It is easy to despair at the state of the world. 

But, as ever, there is a different story to tell. One where people, organisations and governments are treading a path towards a more just, peaceful and sustainable planet. There are many signs of hope; here are just ten. 

Let’s begin with the climate emergency. Perhaps the most encouraging news of all here is the fact that 71 per cent of British people say climate change is more pressing an issue than Brexit. Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes for climate have undoubtedly helped shift public opinion and mobilise people into action. 

Secondly, the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewables has recently received a massive boost. The European Investment Bank (EIB) has vowed to end all subsidies for oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects by the end of next year in order to align its strategy with the Paris Agreement climate targets. 

And if the EIB is looking for somewhere to put its money, a new report from the EU provides a clue. It says that converting areas within Europe currently supporting coal production and coal-fired energy generation to solar panels could provide more electricity and more jobs. The report concludes that the 240,000 people working in coal related jobs in the regions studied could transition to 135,000 construction jobs and 124,000 jobs in the operation and maintenance of solar PV systems.

Ian Mecklenburgh of Alian Energy installing a rooftop solar thermal system
Ian Mecklenburgh of Alian Energy installing a rooftop solar thermal system

Image: Morecambe Bay Community Renewables (MORE Renewables)

The third reason to be cheerful: jobs in coal can be transitioned to sustainable industries

Fourthly, positive moves are afoot in the transport sector. Germany’s Green Party has proposed an end to all domestic flights by 2035 – a future in which trains will totally replace planes. While the policy is aspirational at this stage, support for the Greens continues to grow and as the country’s leading party they are likely to have substantial influence over the shape of policy. 

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, plans to counter the effects of deforestation and climate change have led the drought-prone country into the record books. Citizens, civil servants and politicians have all contributed to planting more than 350 million trees in a single day – a new world record. But it doesn’t stop there. Ultimately the country plans to plant four billion indigenous trees. A good fifth reason for optimism. 

The sixth reason to be cheerful is the huge rise in veganism. Demand for meat-free food in the UK increased by 987 per cent in 2017 and the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation in 2018. Whilst clearly better for the climate, other key motivations for giving up animal products include health issues, animal welfare and broader environmental concerns. Young people are leading this dietary transition, with close to half of all vegans aged between 15 and 34. I am delighted to learn that Bristol in my South West constituency is the most popular city in the country for veganism.  

Aside from addressing the climate emergency, nations are also pulling together to make the world a safer place in other ways. This month marks Hiroshima Day, when we remember the horror of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city which left more than 100,000 dead and hundreds of thousands facing disability or sickness due to the impacts of radiation. So a seventh reason to be hopeful is the fact that 120 countries have voted for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

This has been signed by 70 countries so far with 24 officially ratifying the agreement. The treaty will enter into legal force once 50 nations have ratified, something which is expected to be achieved in 2020. The organisation behind a global ban on nuclear weapons, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), won the Nobel peace prize in 2017. 

Clearly, we are living through a time when our democracy is being tested to the limit. But an eighth reason for optimism is the fact we do still have, despite its many flaws, a functioning parliament where many MPs are willing to put their country first. It is clear that the only way Boris Johnson can crash the UK out of the EU without a deal is by ignoring the will of Parliament. In other words, by acting undemocratically. We must have confidence that Parliament will not allow this to happen and will pull every string to prevent this nightmare scenario. 

A ninth and closely related reason to feel upbeat is the changing mood of the people. Evidence constantly suggests that the ‘will of the people’ has changed and that more people now want to remain in the EU than want to leave. This is particularly true among young people: 78 per cent of people aged 18-24 say they would now vote to remain in the EU. If we get another say, we can be confident we will vote to remain.  

Which leads to the ultimate reason to be hopeful. Whether it be the school strikes for climate, initiated by the now legendary teenager Greta Thunberg, a deep concern for animal welfare and the environment, or an internationalist outlook which accepts, in all our wonderful diversity, that we are all part of a global village, young people are championing a better world. The future is in their hands. And the earth will be in safe hands. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green Party MEP for the South West and Green Party speaker on Brexit.