The iconic book Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone was first published in 2012 and then re-issued in 2022 in an updated version. Things have changed substantially in the last 10 years. Does the book still hold value for today’s activist? Is it still worth a read?
Last fall a group from Carbon Conversations Toronto met online for a virtual book club to study the book, using both the 10 year old original version and the most recent edition. We met for 6 sessions of 90 minutes each, covering on average two chapters at a time; it could probably be done at a quicker pace. Now that we are done, what was our conclusion?
The book contains a treasure of information for newcomers to climate change. The science can be very overwhelming and maybe lead to despair. The book is full of new perspectives and exercises in active hope to get us through and keep us going. It is a wonderful foundation.
For those of us who come to the book with much experience in climate action, the content remains a great inspiration and guidance for life practice; the ideas will likely not be new and or life changing, but it can serve as a excellent resource for the journey.
All of us in the book club agreed that the most impressive and meaningful part of our experience were the exercises, especially when we got to practice them with others, as recommended in the book. One of us summed it up well by saying they were a ‘great tool to try new things and get me out of my head.’ Another of us said they felt ‘the exercises could be very helpful to those who want to make climate action a priority and want a framework to create their own path and vision’. Someone else mentioned that this type of book was not something they would normally gravitate towards but they find it interesting and were grateful to have had the group to help them get through it. And lastly, many of us felt the stories and reflections in the book might act as a good refresher or point of inspiration for those who are feeling worn out with climate change and climate action; the fresh viewpoint and exercises might help people find hope and joy in work that is often hard and may feel like a burden.
And so we feel that Active Hope is still an important resource for those engaged in taking action on the climate crisis. We highly recommend reading it with a friend or as part of a small group as we did. Most people said the exercises were the highlight of the experience.
And focusing on the exercises allowed the sessions to be designed in a way that participants didn’t have to read every page to join in – something helpful in keeping us committed and motivated when other responsibilities stretched us thin. There is now an online training for facilitators of Active Hope work. The website calls it “a free video-based online course designed to nourish and strengthen your capacity to act for positive change in the world.” It’s seven sessions and more than 10 hours of video content but it is a worthwhile endeavour as there is much beneficial advice and many invaluable exercises contained there that will enrich what is contained in the Active Hope book.
A departing recommendation – read the 2022 version if possible. Most of the content is the same as the 2012 edition, but the introduction is completely different and there is a large chunk of new content in Chapter 1. However, if you have the earlier version sitting on your bookshelf, you can use it as your base and read the new content online for free.