Applying Hope in Today’s Tumultuous Times

Jules Kortenhorst
CEO, Rocky Mountain Institute

In May of 2011, Rocky Mountain Institute cofounder Amory Lovins started his commencement address at the College of Natural Resources, University of California at Berkeley, talking about applied hope. “Many of us here stir and strive in the spirit of applied hope,” Amory said.

“We work to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the pragmatic and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about… Applied hope requires fearlessness. Fear of specific and avoidable dangers has evolutionary value… But pervasive dread, lately promoted by some who want to keep us pickled in fear, is numbing and demotivating. When I give a talk, sometimes a questioner details the many bad things happening in the world, all the suffering in the universe, and asks how dare I propose solutions: isn’t resistance futile? The only response I’ve found is to ask, as gently as I can, ‘I can see why you feel that way. Does it make you more effective?’”

Today more than ever, Amory’s words ring with wisdom and insight. Could he possibly have foreseen, more than 5 years ago, the current state of affairs, where many of us in the environmental movement are struck by fear and worry?

How do we find comfort in applying hope to our current situation? How do we apply hope to the urgent agenda of the energy transition, when the new administration is creating so much uncertainty about the path to a sustainable energy future, which we have been plotting for the 35 years RMI has been in existence?

The first hopeful point is that so much of the transition is now global, broadly supported, cost-effective, and therefore more and more irreversible. In recent years, the progress of renewable energy, electric vehicles, and other sustainable energy technologies has made a sustainable energy future both technically feasible and commercially viable.

The transition toward low-carbon energy now has the support of business leaders from around the world, and solar and wind power enjoy broad public support from across the U.S. political spectrum. Countries across the globe are starting to accelerate the decarbonization of their energy systems, with some of the boldest ambition coming from vulnerable and developing nations. As a result, it is hard to see how the U.S. would return to burning coal or wasting energy as the economic energy solution of the future.

Similarly, the agreement reached in Paris in late 2015 and ratified last fall is not buckling under the uncertainty raised by the new U.S. administration. In fact, countries around the world have underlined their commitment to the Paris agreement.

At the 2017 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated in his opening plenary address: “The Paris Agreement is a hard-won achievement which is in keeping with the underlying trend of global development. All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”

And the consensus among nation states is undergirded by similar commitments and actions from cities and provinces, where so much of the regulations and implementation of the energy revolution actually take shape.

Even while the new administration may be equivocating on its commitment to the Paris agreement and on the facts of climate science, civil society, business leaders, and philanthropists are not confused at all.

Our team at RMI is doubling down, defining new ways to scale our impact, and ensuring that our programs are robust in the new political context. Our business partners are standing with us, and are telling us that they are not changing their direction.

In fact, at a recent conference for members of our Business Renewables Center, 67 percent stated that the election has no impact on their renewable engagements in the U.S., while 25 percent said that it will actually increase their engagement. And increasingly our donors are helping us out, finding new and increased ways to support our work and that of our colleagues across civil society.

So all is well? We can be optimistic? No! Clarity of direction in the energy transition is a powerful enabler for the investments that are needed. This government is not yet providing that clarity. Similarly, we are concerned that science, facts, and logical arguments are no longer valued. And above all, we are deeply worried that our planet cannot afford slowing down progress toward a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future.

But we go back to Amory’s wisdom and we apply hope.

First, we will continue to speak truth to power, to let our arguments do the convincing, and to stick with our mantra: In God we trust, everyone else bring facts. And for the avoidance of doubt, our government leaders fall into the second category.

We will cherish diversity, we will continue to build our international presence, and we will treat all people with respect no matter their gender, race, religion, sexuality, political convictions, or nationality.

We will look after each other, we will back each other in the battles to come, we will stand together and prove that we are in fact that unrivaled team we seek to be. And we have made the commitment to our colleagues that as an organization, they can all count on us having their backs.

And above all, we will not back down; in fact we will double down. We will carry on with our work in the conviction that we have the truth on our side, and justice in our corner. That what we do matters now more than ever. We sincerely hope that in this experiment of applied hope we find you on our side.

Image courtesy of iStock.

This article first appeared in  RMI Outlet and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.


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