As a young man, there was a book that inspired me deeply. Reading it helped spark a personal transformation. I went from paralyzing information overload and eco-anxiety to raising my hand to volunteer to help create change. And from there, onto a path of leadership in advocacy for justice, public health and wild nature.
The book is “Hunting for Hope,” by Scott Russell Sanders, a professor at Indiana University where I was enrolled in the graduate program at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I recently rediscovered the following quote spoken to the author by his son, and which served as the inspiration for him to write a book about searching for and finding hope.
“Your view of things is totally dark. It bums me out. You make me feel the planet’s dying and people are to blame and nothing can be done about it. There’s no room for hope. Maybe you can get by without hope, but I can’t. I’ve got a lot of living still to do. I have to believe there’s a way we can get out of this mess. Otherwise, what’s the point? Why study, why work – why do anything if it’s all going to hell?”
Finding it strikes me like a spear, again. Except now, I’m on the other side….I’m the father.
Working daily as an environmental advocate, I inevitably bring it home. Whether it’s discussing the latest climate warnings from scientists, checking paper products for eco-logos or other information on their fibre content, carrying pamphlets with photos of desperate orangutans that have lost their habitat to deforestation, or traveling the southern U.S. and scowling at clearcuts of natural mixed-hardwood forests being converted to pine plantations…I know my kids are listening and watching.
With the wisdom of my many mentors such as Scott Russell Sanders to inform me, I strive to share hope with my children through communicating about balance, respect and being part of the solution.
Through balance, we can understand that we all have real needs, including happiness and fun (think paper airplanes) and that we can meet our needs without being wasteful and/or greedy.
Through respect, we remember the human element. We remember that people are basically the same everywhere, with the same basic needs, no matter what they do for a living.
Through being part of the solution we remember that we have a choice, and a responsibility to make good choices. We remember that we all have the power to do the right thing.
By keeping these things in focus, I’ve held onto that hope that I hunted down back in graduate school. I’ve tried to carry it into fatherhood. And today on this Earth Day I’m feeling especially hopeful about the work ahead for the conservation movement and corporate social responsibility.
The Environmental Paper Network, the accomplishments of its member organisations, and their relentlessly hopeful vision of a better world are a major part of that feeling. Just look at the recent announcement by International Paper and Dogwood Alliance. After more than a decade of strident debate over forest management in the southern United States, they announced a remarkable agreement to work together toward several significant conservation goals.
While our government institutions remain locked in immobilizing gridlock over climate change, and nearly every issue, these two parties rose above the rhetoric to act and move forward. Dogwood Alliance and International Paper are an inspiring example of old adversaries forging an agreement that respected what each was bringing to the table. There’s certainly much more work to be done, to actually implement the agreement and achieve its goals, so stay tuned and get involved. But this is a true breakthrough.
But it not just a nice story of paper politics and personalities. It means something real. It means millions of dollars for more land conservation. It means millions more acres to be managed to the gold standard of forestry, the Forest Stewardship Council. And it means millions of acres in the Southern U.S. will be mapped for the first time to identify High Conservation Value Forests to be protected for their ecosystem services and carbon storage value.
This agreement and the campaign pushing for a paper company to reform, is not “anti-paper.” If it’s “anti” anything, it’s anti-gridlock. It’s anti-status quo. It rejects the concept of “anti” altogether by recognizing there is room for improvement and by finding a bold common ground and an achievable way to make it happen.
And now we’re one step closer to a world where all paper airplanes and children’s books are ethically produced.
The world uses A LOT of paper, that’s why its ethical production is critical. Even though use is declining in North America, it is expected to DOUBLE globally in the next three decades. (WWF – Living Forests Report). This demand will put even more pressure on our natural resources, our air, our water, and our climate.
There are more than two sides to any story, especially in an industry as heterogeneous and complex as the paper industry. There are leaders, and there are laggards. And there is always room for improvement for any company, when pulp and paper’s enormous water and energy use, its expanding raw material demands, and its intensive chemical needs are a fundamental and necessary part of its production.
On this Earth Day, I invite responsible companies and conservation organisations to join the Environmental Paper Network in letting hope guide and inspire our hard work and increase our collaboration with others. Let’s leverage hope, balance, and respect and orient ourselves towards finding new and unexpected partnerships and relationships and new breakthrough solutions in the coming year.
Our Network’s advocacy and partnerships have helped to begin that shift towards serving our essential paper needs in a humane and environmentally responsible way, but we are a long way from done. Please explore our resources, such as the Paper Calculator life-cycle tool, and join our Network to partner with us in pursuit of solutions.
Like the son of Scott Russell Sanders quoted above, I’m sure that in the coming years my kids will say all kinds of things to challenge me and provide a brutally honest reflection of my imperfections. And if they grow up and decide to go into forestry, or publishing, and they are trying their best, I’ll truly be so proud of them.
I know they’ll bring balance, respect and a focus on solutions to whatever they do. And hopefully, a bit of humor and some paper airplane whimsy as well. Happy Earth Day!