Trevor Hancock: Finding hope for our planet’s future

In an article about Canada’s health-care system a few years ago, two of my colleagues came up with what is my favourite definition of hope: Finding positivity in the face of adversity.

But finding hope can be challenging these days, what with the global ecological crisis, high levels of poverty and inequality, nasty xenophobic and nationalistic politics, and the general failure of governments and societies to respond effectively to these and other challenges of the 21st century.

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Which is why it was such a pleasure to attend several meetings in the past month where people of good will who care about others and the planet came together to find common cause and work for a healthier, more just and sustainable future. They are working on the basis of a long-standing maxim: Think globally, act locally.

The first meeting was hosted by the Victoria Foundation and the B.C. Council for International Development, and was the topic of my column two weeks ago. The meeting focused on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, It included participants not only from the social justice and environmental groups that one would expect to find there, but also from local government, the chamber of commerce and others from the business sector, faith communities, the academic community and others.

Among the priority issues for Victoria that emerged in the discussions were addressing poverty, climate change and the sustainability of our lands. The foundation’s commitment to addressing Sustainable Development Goal 11 — the creation of sustainable cities and communities — is exactly about bringing all the goals down to the local level. The fact that the goals are to be treated as a single unit, with all being addressed together, ensures a holistic approach to the challenges we face.

The second meeting was a public gathering of Greater Victoria Acting Together. GVAT is a group of 19 organizations (and growing) that includes many from the faith communities and the labour movement, but with others from the environmental, educational and social-justice sectors. They are motivated by concern for future generations and the need to find and pursue the common good because, as one speaker put it: “The next generation deserves a better world than this”.

GVAT’s approach involves in-depth listening and discussion over a long period of time to arrive at a clear and shared understanding of what the common concerns are and what common action can be taken. The process includes training in community organizing and empowerment. The intention is to “hold market and governmental decision-makers to account by speaking with one voice.”

Then there was a recent Conversation for a One Planet Region, with leaders from several faith communities exploring the role of faith communities in creating a One Planet Region. Since this issue will be the topic of a future column, I will not get into it in any detail. Suffice it to say that within many, if not all, faiths there is both a concern for “the poor” and a reverence for nature, the latter often in the context of nature as an expression of “the Creator.”

As noted in the two examples above, faith communities are important players in this work.

Finally, there was the first meeting and training session for the One Planet Saanich team of “community integrators.” These are 15 to 20 people of varying ages who have volunteered to work with a stakeholder (businesses, community groups and schools who want to join the initiative) to develop a One Planet Action Plan. The group, which came from a variety of backgounds, from architecture to psychology, business to education, farming to energy systems, was enthused and engaged. Their plans, large and small, will help move Saanich toward the goal of being a One Planet community.

These are just a few examples of which I am aware of people and organizations from a wide cross-section in our communities who are brought together by shared concerns about the social and ecological challenges we and future generations face. But while concerned, they are not paralyzed; they are determined to find ways to address these challenges and create a healthier, more just and sustainable community. They are finding positivity in adversity, and they give me hope.

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria's school of public health and social policy.

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