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The Source of Hope

by Peter Sawtell

Painting: Joy Garnett

In the face of global warming, I live deeply in hope. Because of hope, the indisputable evidence of rapidly accelerating climate change motivates me in urgent work for dramatic action.

By hope I do not mean optimism. There are times when I am not at all optimistic about the ability of the world’s most polluting nations to make hard decisions and to alter their behaviors. The hope that sustains me is the trust that I place in what is most real and most important. As a Christian minister, I dare to speak about “hope in God”—and then I usually have to clarify that I don’t expect a supernatural intervention to make everything okay.

Placing my hope in God is an act of commitment to values and communities. Hope broadens my ethical universe to include future generations and the entire web of life. The values that are at the center of my hope insist that a truly good, abundant life is found only within just and sustainable communities. Placing my hope in God affirms that—even if I never see stabilized levels of CO2 in the atmosphere—living ethically in that cause is a worthwhile pursuit.

Certainly, as we address the threat of global warming, there is a need for new technologies and new laws. The market system’s efficiencies and incentives must be used, even as we critique its blind spots and distortions. Indeed, there are people in this movement who place their ultimate confidence in technology or the market. For me, though, those are not sufficient sources for a sustaining hope. My hope, my core commitment, has deeper and more radical roots.

The reality of global warming convinces me that a profound shift in values is necessary, individually and culturally. We must come to see ourselves as part of the Creation, and we must find satisfaction by living within the constraints of Earth’s resources and systems. We need a change of heart even more than we need changed energy systems.

Within my faith heritage, I speak of my commitment to transformed values as “hope in God.” That hope guides all my life choices, including my vocation. I established Eco-Justice Ministries because of my faith commitment to addressing global warming from the perspective of values. I am able to continue this work, day by day, because my hope assures me that transformed values and expanded community are, ultimately, the most effective path toward healing the creation.

When the news is not good, practical optimism alone cannot nurture us in the long, challenging work that is required. Each of us must find a source of hope that can guide and sustain our efforts.


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Peter Sawtell is executive director of Eco-Justice Ministries in Denver, Colorado.

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