Skip navigation

Hope?

How do you feel about the state of the planet? As a researcher, this is not a question I have ever been asked. I am often asked about facts. How much carbon can we store by changing farming practices? Does ”nudging” people to make more environmentally friendly food choices work? It’s almost taboo to mention emotions in a professional setting and yet what most environmental researchers and communicators are working for – a better planet – is increasingly out of reach.

Date published
3 June 2022

This photo story was created by SEI Senior Research Fellow Neal Haddaway, where he describes his photo project “Hope? And how to grieve for the planet”.

The latest IPCC reports paint a terrifying picture of the state of the planet and our immediate future in the absence of huge system change. I’m genuinely terrified most days. At the same time, we’re expected to maintain objectivity and present facts that we hope will motivate those in power to make better decisions.

Last summer, I began to ask my colleagues and friends – most of whom are environmental researchers and communicators, like me – how they felt about the state of the planet, our future and how their work fits into this. I started to realize the many feelings I had – fear, anger, guilt, despair, sadness – were shared by others: I wasn’t alone. By sharing our feelings, we all began to feel a bit better. Perhaps this was just catharsis, but perhaps it was something more. Perhaps we were building a community. At a time when community and connection were in short supply because of the pandemic, it felt viscerally important to create human connections with other people like me. We know all too well the precarious position we stand in as the climate crisis takes hold, but often feel we have nobody to talk to about it.

outraged
outraged
betrayed
betrayed
hopeless
hopeless

As a photographer as well as a researcher, I began a project with the aim of starting a conversation about environmental emotions: how we researchers and communicators feel about the state of the planet that we so desperately want to save. I wanted to create a space for people to talk safely, perhaps gaining some relief, building a sense of community and perhaps identify ways to help us cope with increasing anxiety and despair. I interviewed researchers and communicators about their feelings and if they feel hope. Each participant chose three adjectives to describe how they felt and helped to select one photograph for each word. What you see are their words and images.

Hope? compilation

Photos: Neal Haddaway .

I also wanted to highlight to the broader public that those of us tasked with understanding our impacts on the environment – what may be coming and how to adapt and mitigate the changes – are absolutely serious when we say the risks we face are dire and the consequences of insufficient action unacceptable.

fickle
fickle
fraudulent
fraudulent
resolute
resolute

But more than this, I also wanted to highlight that there is hope. Some of us might not feel that hope – that much is clear from several participants’ photographs and words. But what struck me was that some felt hopeful: several talked about mixed emotions, others mentioned hopefulness and excitement about opportunities the future might hold. Sharing how we feel also gives us an opportunity to share positive viewpoints and learn from one another.

guilty
guilty
guilty
guilty
hopeful
hopeful
guilty dismayed hopeful

guilty                                                                                          dismayed                                                                                          hopeful.
Photos: Neal Haddaway .

We all feel differently about the state of the planet and our future, but we all feel. Sharing those emotions can be really important in helping us to cope with the challenges we face as a global community and as a community of researchers and communicators with shared values and aims. Whatever you feel, it’s OK to feel that way.

“Hope? And how to grieve for the planet” was exhibited at the “Sustainable planet, sustainable health – how science-based solutions can drive transformative change” academic conference on 1 June 2022 as part of the Stockholm+50 UN international meeting.

The project is available online including an immersive, virtual gallery. See the free virtual exhibition online at www.nealhaddaway.com/hope .