“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”

– Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac


“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds,” wrote environmental philosopher Aldo Leopold in his classic book A Sand County Almanac. Writing back in 1949, Leopold was not discussing climate change specifically, but rather about the importance of preserving natural ecosystems and our ethical responsibility to care for the land. He taught others to view land as a community to which we belong – treating it with love and respect. If nature does not flourish, neither will we, seems to be his message.

Climate change is a wound that will inflict deep and lasting harm upon both humans and the natural world, altering ecosystems, endangering species, and threatening the very fabric of life on Earth. A survey of 380 top climate scientists by The Guardian found that 42 per cent of scientists think global temperatures will rise by more than 3 per cent, or double the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C. Only 6 per cent believe the target can be met.

In the face of these dark predictions, the surveyed scientists expressed feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and despair, with some suffering burnout and depression. Many felt guilty for not having succeeded in changing things for the good. “Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen,” continues Leopold. “An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

A question many today ask is: how can we flourish in the face of climate change? Pessimism (causing people to throw their hands in the air) is paralysing, and so for that matter can be optimism (why worry when it will all be fine in the end). How then should we think about the issue?

Scientists and citizens might do better to adhere to the philosophical perspective of meliorism, which comes from the Latin word melior, meaning “better”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines meliorism as the “doctrine that the world, or society, may be improved and suffering alleviated through rightly directed human effort”.

In the face of climate change, rather than wallowing in “a world of wounds”, a meliorist would instead believe in the potential for gradual, incremental improvements through human effort.

In other words, they’d step up to the task of making inroads for the better.


>> From the Flourishing edition, which can be purchased here from our online store