Reasons for hope, part 1

An excellent question, from comments:

Is there any reason for hope? … What is there to be hopeful about?

I think everyone has asked that question at some point. If you haven’t, then you should have — it’s one of the most important questions there is.

And it’s a question that calls for more than one answer. Or maybe for one big answer in many, many parts.

Here’s one part:

That video is from Plant With Purpose, originally Floresta, a Christian relief and development agency that plants trees. Their work is a bit more complicated than that — helping to develop sustainable communities in sustainable environments. But basically what it boils down to is that they plant trees.

Many people think of poverty and the environment as separate issues, but in fact they are hugely interdependent. Most of the world’s poor are rural poor. Many are subsistence farmers, completely dependent on their environment for survival. But as a result of widespread deforestation, the land isn’t providing like it used to.

Land that once bore bountiful crops that could be sold or eaten, isn’t producing. Streams that used to provide water to drink, now run dry. Out of desperation, the poor cut down more trees to sell as firewood, even though doing so means further destroying their one chance of survival.

By reversing deforestation, Plant With Purpose helps the poor restore productivity to their land to create economic opportunity out of environmental restoration. Since 1984 we have helped thousands of people in nearly 250 villages lift themselves out of poverty through our holistic approach to sustainable development.

Tree-planting seems like a good first place to look in search of reasons for hope. Every reason for hope seems to parallel the process of planting trees. It starts with something tiny that grows into something large and beneficial that will likely outlive the person who got it started.

In the past 27 years, Plant With Purpose has planted nearly 7 million trees in Haiti, Tanzania, Burundi, Thailand, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Those countries might not be the first places you’d think of if you were looking for something to be hopeful about, but here is something tangibly better than it was.

X + 7 million trees > X. That gives me hope.

You can donate to Plant With Purpose, of course, or to some other nonsectarian tree-planting agency if you prefer, and that’s a really Good Thing to do. But my point here isn’t to drum up donations.

My point here is that this is happening. Trees are being planted and good news is growing among the poor. Right now, this is happening.

Bad things are happening too, of course. The bastards who profit from injustice have power, influence and deep pockets. Injustice seems to have both momentum and inertia on its side. But off camera, off the front page and out of the spotlight, trees are being planted and lives are being improved.

The question “What is there to be hopeful about?” usually comes when we feel like whatever it is we’re doing isn’t enough — it’s too small, or not working fast enough, or it’s underfunded, exhausting, exhausted, too little, too late. But look at that video and remember that whatever it is you’re doing isn’t the only thing being done. You’re doing your part, others are doing theirs. It adds up. Trees are being planted.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    But seed corn is so YUMMY!

    To extend the metaphor, the financiers are in the business of providing seed corn to the farmers, who then plant it in their land, grow full corn, and then give some of the seeds back to the financiers with interest so that they can do it again.  Unfortunately, some idiots in those financial institutions realized that they could trap the farmers with fine print into giving up more and more of their crop, until they had nothing left to eat.  At that point, the financiers can no longer receive seed corn from the farmers, as the farmers no longer have enough left to plant, and those financial institutions crash.  

    So they pled with the government to open the silos of reserve seed corn that the government had been taking as a tax and holding to meet expenses.  They do this because, despite the ill-will toward the financiers for their short-sighted greed, all those farmers still depend on the financiers to get them their seed corn.  However, rather than spread that seed corn out to as many farmers as possible, even at a loss, so that they might make up their deficit as quickly as possible and restore equilibrium to the system, the financiers hoarded it in their own villas, to put into amphora in their pantries and lock them tight, leaving the financiers secure and the farmers starving.  

    [EDIT to add]: Then when the farmers start demanding that the government do something to rectify their situation, and the chancellor of the governmental council considers levying a higher tax on the landowners to recoup the costs and get the lands productive again, the financiers pay heralds in some of their seed corn to yell from street corners that taxing the landowners is class warfare, and it hurts the peasantry because their lords will just saddle them with the additional burden. The patrician members of the governmental council then threaten to block any such reforms the chancellor might want to push through, and since his position is largely ceremonial in these matters, there is little he can directly do to force their compliance.

    Maybe I am over-simplifying.  :p

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    But seed corn is so YUMMY!

    To extend the metaphor, the financiers are in the business of providing seed corn to the farmers, who then plant it in their land, grow full corn, and then give some of the seeds back to the financiers with interest so that they can do it again.  Unfortunately, some idiots in those financial institutions realized that they could trap the farmers with fine print into giving up more and more of their crop, until they had nothing left to eat.  At that point, the financiers can no longer receive seed corn from the farmers, as the farmers no longer have enough left to plant, and those financial institutions crash.  
    So they pled with the government to open the silos of reserve seed corn that the government had been taking as a tax and holding to meet expenses.  They do this because, despite the ill-will toward the financiers for their short-sighted greed, all those farmers still depend on the financiers to get them their seed corn.  However, rather than spread that seed corn out to as many farmers as possible, even at a loss, so that they might make up their deficit as quickly as possible and restore equilibrium to the system, the financiers hoarded it in their own villas, to put into amphora in their pantries and lock them tight, leaving the financiers secure and the farmers starving.  

    Maybe I am over-simplifying.  :p

  • http://ifindaudio.blogspot.com/ Murfyn

     1)  Not everything can be proven, It is necessary to make certain basic assumptions
    2)  The most necessary basic assumption is that life is worth living

  • http://ifindaudio.blogspot.com/ Murfyn

     1)  Not everything can be proven, It is necessary to make certain basic assumptions
    2)  The most necessary basic assumption is that life is worth living

  • Anonymous

    For everyone who suffers hardships, here is Ace Rimmer’s opinion.

    Ace: By his terms, he got the break. But being kept down made me. The humiliation. Being the tallest boy in the class by a clear foot. It made me knuckle down, fight back. And I’ve been fighting back ever since.
    Lister: While he’s spent the rest of his life making excuses.
    Ace: … Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps I did get the break.

  • Anonymous

    For everyone who suffers hardships, here is Ace Rimmer’s opinion.

    Ace: By his terms, he got the break. But being kept down made me. The humiliation. Being the tallest boy in the class by a clear foot. It made me knuckle down, fight back. And I’ve been fighting back ever since.
    Lister: While he’s spent the rest of his life making excuses.
    Ace: … Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps I did get the break.

  • Anonymous

    What’s that apocryphal Martin Luther quote?  “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, still I would plant my apple trees.”

    Or as Tom Stoppard put it in Jumpers:

    Do not despair — many are happy much of the time; more eat than starve, more are healthy than sick, more curable than dying; not so many dying as dead; and one of the thieves was saved. Hell’s bells and all’s well — half the world is at peace with itself, and so is the other half; vast areas are unpolluted; millions of children grow up without suffering deprivation, and millions, while deprived, grow up without suffering cruelties, and millions, while deprived and cruelly treated, none the less grow up. No laughter is sad and many tears are joyful.

  • Anonymous

    What’s that apocryphal Martin Luther quote?  “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, still I would plant my apple trees.”

    Or as Tom Stoppard put it in Jumpers:

    Do not despair — many are happy much of
    the time; more eat than starve, more are healthy than sick, more curable
    than dying; not so many dying as dead; and one of the thieves was
    saved. Hell’s bells and all’s well — half the world is at peace with
    itself, and so is the other half; vast areas are unpolluted; millions of
    children grow up without suffering deprivation, and millions, while
    deprived, grow up without suffering cruelties, and millions, while
    deprived and cruelly treated, none the less grow up. No laughter is sad
    and many tears are joyful.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    What’s that apocryphal Martin Luther quote?  “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, still I would plant my apple trees.”

    I thought that was Francis of Assisi.  Of course, if it’s an apocryphal quotation we could attribute it to anyone.

  • chris the cynic

    What’s that apocryphal Martin Luther quote?  “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, still I would plant my apple trees.”

    I thought that was Francis of Assisi.  Of course, if it’s an apocryphal quotation we could attribute it to anyone.

  • ako

    You look at the universe, take in what you see, and decide whether you
    expect certain things to get better or worse.  You then try to make it
    better.  The second step does not really depend on the outcome of the
    first.  Whether you think that we’re all screwed or that we all have an
    awesome future, ethics still works the same way.

    I’m wondering if we’re talking about different scales?

    For instance, 450 children die of measles every day.  I can’t solve that problem and bring that number down to zero.  That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing anything.

    If I give fifty dollars to Doctors Without Borders, that’s enough for fifty people to be vaccinated.  That isn’t necessarily fifty people saved (even in Sub-Saharan Africa, more than ninety percent of people who get measles survive), but fifty people who don’t get sick, and a reduced chance of anyone dying.  Even if I could only give enough for ten vaccines, or five, or one, that would be worth doing.  Because those fifty people, or ten, or five, or one, are better off.

    If I had no hope of helping anyone, and was absolutely certain that no amount of talk or money or action on my part would help a single person, it wouldn’t be worth putting myself to any inconvenience.  Why deprive myself if there’s no prospect of doing anyone else even the slightest bit of good? 

    So big-picture hope isn’t necessary for me to behave ethically (although it’s nice, and if I don’t have the information to definitively predict the future, concluding that things might get better seems to be the most logical response).  But without small-scale “I might at least make something better!” hope, I don’t see why to make an effort.

  • ako

    You look at the universe, take in what you see, and decide whether you
    expect certain things to get better or worse.  You then try to make it
    better.  The second step does not really depend on the outcome of the
    first.  Whether you think that we’re all screwed or that we all have an
    awesome future, ethics still works the same way.

    I’m wondering if we’re talking about different scales?

    For instance, 450 children die of measles every day.  I can’t solve that problem and bring that number down to zero.  That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing anything.

    If I give fifty dollars to Doctors Without Borders, that’s enough for fifty people to be vaccinated.  That isn’t necessarily fifty people saved (even in Sub-Saharan Africa, more than ninety percent of people who get measles survive), but fifty people who don’t get sick, and a reduced chance of anyone dying.  Even if I could only give enough for ten vaccines, or five, or one, that would be worth doing.  Because those fifty people, or ten, or five, or one, are better off.

    If I had no hope of helping anyone, and was absolutely certain that no amount of talk or money or action on my part would help a single person, it wouldn’t be worth putting myself to any inconvenience.  Why deprive myself if there’s no prospect of doing anyone else even the slightest bit of good? 

    So big-picture hope isn’t necessary for me to behave ethically (although it’s nice, and if I don’t have the information to definitively predict the future, concluding that things might get better seems to be the most logical response).  But without small-scale “I might at least make something better!” hope, I don’t see why to make an effort.

  • Lyra

    Does anyone have any nonsection options other than the one PepperjackCandy offered? It would be much appreciated.

  • Lyra

    Does anyone have any nonsection options other than the one PepperjackCandy offered? It would be much appreciated.

  • P J Evans

    A lot of paper made in the US is from planted trees – they’re grown for the purpose, in big forest-plantations.

  • P J Evans

    A lot of paper made in the US is from planted trees – they’re grown for the purpose, in big forest-plantations.

  • MaryKaye

    I have a letter in the mail from the Carter Center this morning announcing that Guinea worm has been officially eliminated in Ghana.  Only four more countries to go.  They would like people to send messages of congratulations to the President of Ghana.

    Guinea worm is a parasite that enters the body via contaminated water, grows to a large worm, and then pokes out through a hole in a limb–usually a leg–to lay its eggs.  You can’t pull the worm out as it breaks off and infects the wound.  The victim is in extreme pain for weeks and it’s difficult for them to work.

    The two things that seemed to be needed were community education and inexpensive water filters.  Local musicians wrote songs explaining the Guinea worm hygiene rules.  Local artists drew comic books and posters.  Women and children were put in charge of tending the family water filters.  And it worked.

    A world in which people are not laid up in excruciating pain while a worm bores out through their leg is a better world.  The letter suggests that singing is an appropriate response to this news, and I agree.

  • MaryKaye

    I have a letter in the mail from the Carter Center this morning announcing that Guinea worm has been officially eliminated in Ghana.  Only four more countries to go.  They would like people to send messages of congratulations to the President of Ghana.

    Guinea worm is a parasite that enters the body via contaminated water, grows to a large worm, and then pokes out through a hole in a limb–usually a leg–to lay its eggs.  You can’t pull the worm out as it breaks off and infects the wound.  The victim is in extreme pain for weeks and it’s difficult for them to work.

    The two things that seemed to be needed were community education and inexpensive water filters.  Local musicians wrote songs explaining the Guinea worm hygiene rules.  Local artists drew comic books and posters.  Women and children were put in charge of tending the family water filters.  And it worked.

    A world in which people are not laid up in excruciating pain while a worm bores out through their leg is a better world.  The letter suggests that singing is an appropriate response to this news, and I agree.

  • MaryKaye

    I have a letter in the mail from the Carter Center this morning announcing that Guinea worm has been officially eliminated in Ghana.  Only four more countries to go.  They would like people to send messages of congratulations to the President of Ghana.

    Guinea worm is a parasite that enters the body via contaminated water, grows to a large worm, and then pokes out through a hole in a limb–usually a leg–to lay its eggs.  You can’t pull the worm out as it breaks off and infects the wound.  The victim is in extreme pain for weeks and it’s difficult for them to work.

    The two things that seemed to be needed were community education and inexpensive water filters.  Local musicians wrote songs explaining the Guinea worm hygiene rules.  Local artists drew comic books and posters.  Women and children were put in charge of tending the family water filters.  And it worked.

    A world in which people are not laid up in excruciating pain while a worm bores out through their leg is a better world.  The letter suggests that singing is an appropriate response to this news, and I agree.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    When I was in junior high, in 1983, if you’d asked any of my classmates what the future would be like, we all would have answered that there’d probably be a nuclear war before we were grown up.  Ronald Reagan would be the last president.  We all did our homework and watched TV and lived our adolescent lives, but it was all spread over this fundamental assumption that probably, somehow, we wouldn’t have an adulthood.  Lunchroom conversations included such topics as, “If there were a nuclear war, would you drive away from the city, to survive it — or toward the city, so that you wouldn’t?”

    I’ve mentioned this before. My fundamental theory of The 80s is that you first have to understand that there was a big chunk of the 80s where everyone was entirely certain that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust in our lifetimes, and without understanding that, pretty much nothing that happened in the 80s makes the slightest bit of sense.  Maybe not “end” end, but there was a discontinuity in our civilization coming. It was going to turn the entire world into the australian outback and force us all to wear leather and ride motorcycles and wear our hair in mohawks. 

    More, I think a big part of the cultural shift we;ve undergone over my lifetime links back to that. While people in the 50s and sixties imagined a future full of clean high-tech science, with tail fins and flying cars and moon colonies and no minorities, I grew up in a generation that did not consider “the future” as an abstract concept to be something that we particularly needed to worry about. We’re living in a future that we didn’t pluck out of our dreams, but rather which we just sort of happened upon and were surprised and confused to discover that we weren’t dead: a cultural shift from reaching-for-the-stars to sort of desperately hanging on for dear life right where we were.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    When I was in junior high, in 1983, if you’d asked any of my classmates what the future would be like, we all would have answered that there’d probably be a nuclear war before we were grown up.  Ronald Reagan would be the last president.  We all did our homework and watched TV and lived our adolescent lives, but it was all spread over this fundamental assumption that probably, somehow, we wouldn’t have an adulthood.  Lunchroom conversations included such topics as, “If there were a nuclear war, would you drive away from the city, to survive it — or toward the city, so that you wouldn’t?”

    I’ve mentioned this before. My fundamental theory of The 80s is that you first have to understand that there was a big chunk of the 80s where everyone was entirely certain that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust in our lifetimes, and without understanding that, pretty much nothing that happened in the 80s makes the slightest bit of sense.  Maybe not “end” end, but there was a discontinuity in our civilization coming. It was going to turn the entire world into the australian outback and force us all to wear leather and ride motorcycles and wear our hair in mohawks. 

    More, I think a big part of the cultural shift we;ve undergone over my lifetime links back to that. While people in the 50s and sixties imagined a future full of clean high-tech science, with tail fins and flying cars and moon colonies and no minorities, I grew up in a generation that did not consider “the future” as an abstract concept to be something that we particularly needed to worry about. We’re living in a future that we didn’t pluck out of our dreams, but rather which we just sort of happened upon and were surprised and confused to discover that we weren’t dead: a cultural shift from reaching-for-the-stars to sort of desperately hanging on for dear life right where we were.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    When I was in junior high, in 1983, if you’d asked any of my classmates what the future would be like, we all would have answered that there’d probably be a nuclear war before we were grown up.  Ronald Reagan would be the last president.  We all did our homework and watched TV and lived our adolescent lives, but it was all spread over this fundamental assumption that probably, somehow, we wouldn’t have an adulthood.  Lunchroom conversations included such topics as, “If there were a nuclear war, would you drive away from the city, to survive it — or toward the city, so that you wouldn’t?”

    I’ve mentioned this before. My fundamental theory of The 80s is that you first have to understand that there was a big chunk of the 80s where everyone was entirely certain that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust in our lifetimes, and without understanding that, pretty much nothing that happened in the 80s makes the slightest bit of sense.  Maybe not “end” end, but there was a discontinuity in our civilization coming. It was going to turn the entire world into the australian outback and force us all to wear leather and ride motorcycles and wear our hair in mohawks. 

    More, I think a big part of the cultural shift we;ve undergone over my lifetime links back to that. While people in the 50s and sixties imagined a future full of clean high-tech science, with tail fins and flying cars and moon colonies and no minorities, I grew up in a generation that did not consider “the future” as an abstract concept to be something that we particularly needed to worry about. We’re living in a future that we didn’t pluck out of our dreams, but rather which we just sort of happened upon and were surprised and confused to discover that we weren’t dead: a cultural shift from reaching-for-the-stars to sort of desperately hanging on for dear life right where we were.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I’ve mentioned this before. My fundamental theory of The 80s is that you first have to understand that there was a big chunk of the 80s where everyone was entirely certain that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust in our lifetimes, and without understanding that, pretty much nothing that happened in the 80s makes the slightest bit of sense.  Maybe not “end” end, but there was a discontinuity in our civilization coming. It was going to turn the entire world into the australian outback and force us all to wear leather and ride motorcycles and wear our hair in mohawks.

    From the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), 1962:

    “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. …

    With nuclear energy whole cities can easily be powered, yet the dominant nationstates seem more likely to unleash destruction greater than that incurred in all wars of human history. Although our own technology is destroying old and creating new forms of social organization, men still tolerate meaningless work and idleness. While two-thirds of mankind suffers undernourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous abundance. Although world population is expected to double in forty years, the nations still tolerate anarchy as a major principle of international conduct and uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the earth’s physical resources. Although mankind desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than ‘of, by, and for the people.’”

    So, it started a long time before the 1980s. And we survived it. And most of us are not now living in the Australian Outback, with mohawks and leather. Except for Deird.

    A link to the full Port Huron Statement, which is worth reading: http://www.h-net.org/~hst306/documents/huron.html

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I’ve mentioned this before. My fundamental theory of The 80s is that you first have to understand that there was a big chunk of the 80s where everyone was entirely certain that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust in our lifetimes, and without understanding that, pretty much nothing that happened in the 80s makes the slightest bit of sense.  Maybe not “end” end, but there was a discontinuity in our civilization coming. It was going to turn the entire world into the australian outback and force us all to wear leather and ride motorcycles and wear our hair in mohawks.

    From the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), 1962:

    “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. …

    With nuclear energy whole cities can easily be powered, yet the dominant nationstates seem more likely to unleash destruction greater than that incurred in all wars of human history. Although our own technology is destroying old and creating new forms of social organization, men still tolerate meaningless work and idleness. While two-thirds of mankind suffers undernourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous abundance. Although world population is expected to double in forty years, the nations still tolerate anarchy as a major principle of international conduct and uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the earth’s physical resources. Although mankind desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than ‘of, by, and for the people.’”

    So, it started a long time before the 1980s. And we survived it. And most of us are not now living in the Australian Outback, with mohawks and leather. Except for Deird.

    A link to the full Port Huron Statement, which is worth reading: http://www.h-net.org/~hst306/documents/huron.html

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I’ve mentioned this before. My fundamental theory of The 80s is that you first have to understand that there was a big chunk of the 80s where everyone was entirely certain that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust in our lifetimes, and without understanding that, pretty much nothing that happened in the 80s makes the slightest bit of sense.  Maybe not “end” end, but there was a discontinuity in our civilization coming. It was going to turn the entire world into the australian outback and force us all to wear leather and ride motorcycles and wear our hair in mohawks.

    From the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), 1962:

    “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. …

    With nuclear energy whole cities can easily be powered, yet the dominant nationstates seem more likely to unleash destruction greater than that incurred in all wars of human history. Although our own technology is destroying old and creating new forms of social organization, men still tolerate meaningless work and idleness. While two-thirds of mankind suffers undernourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous abundance. Although world population is expected to double in forty years, the nations still tolerate anarchy as a major principle of international conduct and uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the earth’s physical resources. Although mankind desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than ‘of, by, and for the people.’”

    So, it started a long time before the 1980s. And we survived it. And most of us are not now living in the Australian Outback, with mohawks and leather. Except for Deird.

    A link to the full Port Huron Statement, which is worth reading: http://www.h-net.org/~hst306/documents/huron.html

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Deird has a mohawk? Cool.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Deird has a mohawk? Cool.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Don’t all Australians have mohawks? Don’t you? And, presumably, you are highly skilled in crocodile wrestling, Thunderdome fighting, sheep rustling, and Matilda waltzing…

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Don’t all Australians have mohawks? Don’t you? And, presumably, you are highly skilled in crocodile wrestling, Thunderdome fighting, sheep rustling, and Matilda waltzing…


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