The Optimistic Pessimist

I was asked last week what part of my job is most challenging. Working for a non-profit environmental organization the obvious answer for me was raising money.  Depending on grants, donations and fundraisers to make the bills can be treacherous for the nerves especially in these fragile economic times.   But that wasn’t the first thing that blurted out of my mouth – instead I said “my pessimism.” I expanded on my answer to say that it’s hard to keep the faith when the evening news is dominated with Lindsay Lohan’s jail cell antics. It’s hard to keep the faith when the health of the world’s oceans is unraveling right before our eyes.  It’s hard to keep the faith when corporate giants like BP are willing to sacrifice human lives, wildlife and our natural resources to increase their bottom line. It can be bewildering, frustrating, maddening and– more often than I would like to admit – can fill me with outrage. But before this blog resembles a post therapy journal entry I will shift gears. 

As I was babbling on about my outrage and hopelessness, my diatribe unexpectedly changed course. I suddenly thought about the many environmental activists I have known over the years.  You won’t hear about most of them on the evening news but they deserve to make headlines. I thought about people like Peter Wallerstein, founder of the Whale Rescue Team in southern California, who for over 20 years has single handedly saved and helped to rehabilate thousands of marine mammals. I thought about the husband and wife team Chad Hanson and Rachel Fazio whose John Muir Project organization's cutting edge work has successfully protected thousands of acres of California’s forests.  I thought about Ara Mardersoian and Valerie Cassity of the Sequoia ForestKeeper, who living among California’s Sequoias are fighting diligently to save these iconic and sacred trees. I thought about my colleague Leslie Tamminen who has dedicated her life to protect the world’s oceans and who is currently in a valiant fight to ban plastic bags, which have been the culprit of so much devastation in our ocean ecosystems. I thought about my own boss Terry Tamminen – a visionary environmental advocate who has been a mentor to so many (including me). He has been a bold and tireless advocate for the protection of our planet and a modern day environmental hero (his list of accomplishmes are too many to list here). I thought about the staff and volunteers for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade who are tracking the impacts of the BP oil spill and how it has affected the health and wellbeing of their community. I thought about my husband, Brett, who gave up his car because the thought of driving a polluting vehicle was unacceptable (though yes he does borrow my car from time to time!). And finally I thought about my colleagues at Seventh Generation Advisors, Andria, Jenna and Sasha, each one coming from diverse backgrounds with diverse interests but each one fiercely dedicated to advocating for the protection of our planet.

Each day these people get up and fight to save our oceans, trees, wildlife, marshes, bayous, beaches, air and our health. How can I be pessimistic when I think about these people? I can’t. And that’s why I have decided to label myself an optimistic pessimist. (And hopefully when the evening news is populated with stores about Peter and Chad and Rachel and Peter and Leslie I can lose the pessimist part altogether.)