The Geography of Hope Is Anchored in Our Precious Great Lakes


Photo of Maude Barlow by Michelle Valberg.

As the 53rd Earth Day approaches, it is difficult for some to look optimistically to the future. Accelerating climate change, microplastics fouling oceans and the Great Lakes, our stubborn reliance on fossil fuels, and a governance system resistant to the holistic environmental reforms we need are only a few of our worries.

But hope is more critical than ever—and two famous environmental leaders are sources of optimism.  

In his 1960 Wilderness Letter, conservationist and author Wallace Stegner famously coined the phrase “geography of hope,” referring to the impulse that led Americans to the wilderness idea.

Now, in 2022, comes another prophet of hope, Maude Barlow. A lifelong and world-renowned champion of water, Maude has authored a book built on her career of activism. Its title, appropriately, is Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism.

“Hope often defies logic and gives us the strength to continue when all the ‘facts’ tell us things are hopeless,” Maude writes. “Hope helps us to put one foot in front of the other when despair would tell us not to move.” If, after decades of advocacy, Maude can remain hopeful, surely we who have not carried such burdens can do so also.

In the book, Maude tells stories of her work on many issues, perhaps most importantly her successful advocacy of water as a human right. Resisted by many governments, this idea faced enormous challenges, but in July of 2010, the work of Maude and allies resulted in a declaration of the human right to water by the United Nations General Assembly. The vote was 122 nations in favor, with 41 abstentions—no nation voted against the resolution.

“Hope often defies logic and gives us the strength to continue when all the ‘facts’ tell us things are hopeless,” Maude writes. “Hope helps us to put one foot in front of the other when despair would tell us not to move.” If, after decades of advocacy, Maude can remain hopeful, surely we who have not carried such burdens can do so also.

Save the Date: FLOW will host a livestream book event featuring Maude Barlow on Wednesday, June 15, from 6 to 7 p.m. Eastern. Registration information coming soon.

In this part of the world, our geography of hope is anchored in the Great Lakes. Despite centuries of neglect and abuse since European settlement began, these lakes remain majestic, a source of inspiration and wonder. We can do better for them, and I know we (FLOW and you) will do so.

We can’t afford to lose hope. Many reasons for hope persist. On Earth Day 2022, let’s make a vow of hope, and remain undaunted by the challenges we face.

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