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Rebecca Solnit on hope, despair and climate action – Audio Long Reads

Those facing flood and fire can’t afford to lose hope. Neither should we.

By Rebecca Solnit and Emily Tamkin

Rebecca Solnit has been writing about hope for nearly 20 years, starting with her 2003 essay “Hope in the Dark”, which became a bestselling book of the same name. What began as a response to the cynicism that followed the invasion of Iraq (“we didn’t stop the war, we have no power, we can’t win”) has evolved into a sustained argument for the value of protest. You have to take the long view, says Solnit, to see the positive social and political changes that have occurred in the past half-century: “history is full of ruptures and surprises”.

In this powerful new essay, specially commissioned for Greta Thunberg’s guest edit of the New Statesman, Solnit examines the privilege of “climate despair”. It is easy for those who are safer from the impacts of global heating to surrender, she writes, or to decide that climate action is too difficult or too late; those who are in harm’s way – many of them in the Global South – do not have that luxury. 

Solnit looks at successful protests, from those against the Keystone XL pipeline to undocumented farm workers’ fight against McDonald’s, and through them makes the case for hope. She writes, too, about how she keeps her own hope alive: “I’ve learned that the feeling that nothing will change is just mental weather, and that the record is all in favour of change… I try to distinguish between despair as a feeling and a forecast.”

Rebecca Solnit is the author of Orwell’s Roses,Hope in the Dark, Men Explain Things to Me, andA Field Guide to Getting Lost. She serves on the board of the climate group Oil Change International, and recently launched the climate project Not Too Late (

This essay originally appeared in a special issue of the New Statesman guest edited by Greta Thunberg and featuring contributors including Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Ai Weiwei, Adam McKay and Björk. You can read the text version of Solnit’s essay here, and more from the issue here.

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If you enjoyed listening to this, you might also enjoy Wrestling with Orwell: Ian McEwan on the art of the political novel.

Written by Rebecca Solnit and read by Emily Tamkin.

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