As another year comes to a close, I wanted to give you 10 reasons to be hopeful for animals and nature by focusing on some good news from 2022. Depending on what you focus on, you can find many reasons for despair or many reasons for hope, and I’m here to you some of the latter. (You can also listen to the Food for Thought podcast on the same topic.)
Make no mistake, however: optimism is not complacency.
Acknowledging victories provides an opportunity not only for well-deserved celebrations, but also for examining what tactics are working and what projects we may want to get involved in or support.
My hope is not complacent; it’s provisional. It’s the difference between wanting things to change and taking action to facilitate that change.
And so, here are 10 Reasons to be hopeful for animals and nature — just from 2022 alone!
1. Companion animals are no longer considered inanimate objects under Spanish law.
While it might be obvious to you and me that animals are sentient beings, this is not reflected in civil or criminal law in most places. While “livestock” animals are still considered property in many cities and countries throughout the world, more and more, dogs and cats are being given legal status that protects them in both criminal and civil cases. With the passage of this law in Spain, the welfare of dogs and cats must be considered in divorce proceedings, for example. They will no longer be able to be seized, abandoned, or separated from one of their human guardians in the case of a divorce or separation, without their wellbeing and welfare being taken into account.
2. In Wyoming, miles of fencing are being removed to help wildlife migrate.
Scientists conservatively estimate that more than 600,000 miles of fences crisscross the American West, hindering wild animals from moving around freely and safely. In some cases, the fences are simply left-over remnants that were erected decades ago and no longer serving any purpose. In others, they were constructed with little thought about their impact on other species.
Today, through an emerging field of research known as fence ecology, land managers and conservation groups in the United States are increasingly aware of how fences can harm wild animals. And they are beginning to push for fence removal or replacement as a solution that many otherwise-at-odds constituents can get behind. In Wyoming, the Absaroka Fence Initiative — a public-private partnership between willing landowners and land managers — sees volunteers, landowners, and federal agencies working together to help wildlife by removing miles and miles of fencing.
3. 400 years after they were hunted to extinction, beavers are now a protected species in England.
As of October 1st, 2022, it is illegal to deliberately capture, injure, kill or otherwise disturb the charismatic rodents, who have reclaimed a foothold in their native land in recent years. Beavers — known as “nature’s engineers” because of their industrious dam-building skills — create wetlands, which are an important habitat for many plants and animals. In doing so, they also prevent flooding and drought-related problems such as wildfires by keeping water in the land. While new incoming governments can always change this law, this is welcome news for now.
4. The largest wildlife crossing in the United States breaks ground.
In April 2022, construction began for a long-awaited a $90-million wildlife crossing above the US-101 Freeway in Agoura Hills in southern California. This is the result of a 20-year campaign to create an easier path of travel for mountain lions, foxes, and other wildlife to cross 10 lanes of Highway 101 without encountering a single car.
The efforts to save both animals and people have led to a proliferation of road crossings for animals along traditional migration routes and other crucial locations around the world. The practice originated in France in the 1950s and quickly spread to the Netherlands, which now is home of the world’s longest wildlife bridge at .5 miles (.8 km). According to the Federal Highway Administration, about 300,000 wildlife collisions happen on U.S. roadways each year, and those are just estimates. Many smaller animal deaths never get reported. This new bridge will save thousands of lives.
5. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shows the best signs of coral recovery in 36 years.
Two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia recorded the highest amount of coral cover in nearly four decades. While the reef is still vulnerable to climate change and mass bleaching, these latest results demonstrate the Reef can still recover in periods free of intense disturbances. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered from widespread and severe bleaching because of rising ocean temperatures. “What we’re seeing,” said Dr Paul Hardisty of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, “is that the Great Barrier Reef is still a resilient system. It still maintains that ability to recover from disturbances.”
6. 200 nations agree to a landmark deal to promote biodiversity and save species from extinction.
The UN biodiversity conference, known as COP15, has been considered the last chance for nature’s recovery. One of the most significant parts of the pact is an agreement to protect 30 per cent of nature by 2030. This ‘30×30’ target is one of the biggest land and ocean conservation commitments in history. The deal includes a pledge to conservation in the developing world and protections for Indigenous peoples’ rights. Governments also agreed to take urgent action on preventing the extinction of species at threat from human activity and promote their recovery.
7. The largest U.S. climate legislation in history was signed into law.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) commits $370 billion to combat climate change. Aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions to around 40% by 2030 and curbing consumer energy costs at the same time, it is the largest federal response to climate change in history and will set the course for substantial changes in how the nation produces energy over the next decade.
Major provisions include major new or expanded funding to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, encouraging a domestic supply chain for electric vehicles and energy storage systems, promoting agricultural practices that capture carbon dioxide, expanding offshore production of energy (both fossil and wind), and providing federal support for energy efficiency. The IRA also includes dozens of new and extended tax credits for renewable energy, electric vehicles, electric transmission, and related industries.
8. In Europe, wolves, brown bears, and white-tailed eagles are making a dramatic recovery.
Some of the top predators are thriving in Europe, according to a major new report commissioned by Rewilding Europe, a charity working to restore wild spaces across the continent. Effective legal protection, habitat restoration, and wildlife reintroductions are all helping to drive species recovery. Among the top predators, the grey wolf is making the strongest recovery. Once hunted to near extinction, 17,000 wolves are now found right across Europe.
9. The urban bee population is no longer declining in The Netherlands thanks to a pollinator strategy.
The native wild bee population in the Netherlands has been declining since the 1940s, but recognizing the crucial role played by wild bees in the pollination of food crops, the government announced a national pollinator strategy in 2018. The strategy included 70 initiatives aimed at creating more nesting sites for bees and strengthening their food supply. Amsterdam has been working on various bee-friendly initiatives that include putting up “bee hotels,” which are a collection of hollow plant stems or thin bamboo that provide space for bees to nest. All of the efforts are working. The latest count of native bees since the project began showed no population decline.
10. A landmark bill will ban the shark fin trade in the United States.
Before the U.S. Senate passed this legislation, 14 states and three U.S. territories had already banned the sale and possession of shark fins. The new bill will prohibit the fin trade across the entire U.S. It’s estimated that fins from as many as 73 million sharks annually end up in the global market. This historic bill bans the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States, thereby removing our country from the global shark fin trade. Shark fins are mainly in demand for shark fin soup, a luxury dish popular in China, Hong Kong and many other places across Asia.
This forthcoming ban follows other measures to protect sharks, including the listing of many shark species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and a ban on gear that is used to target sharks in the Pacific.
What did I miss? What are your reasons to be hopeful for animals and nature from 2022 or in general? Share your stories of hope with me in the comments below!
Yes, I have hope. No, I’m not a mythical creature.
I wrote and recorded this radio editorial for KQED Radio, called Why I Am Hopeful. Listen on KQED’s website, or just click play on the audio player below.
In any case, please share. I think animal advocates and vegans need to hear this message more than ever.
I have been an animal advocate for more than 25 years, and I see enough cruelty every day to have a pretty bleak view of the world.
And yet, I have hope.
No, I’m not a mythical creature. No, I’m not delusional, and yes, I’m paying attention — so much so that I’m quite aware, for instance, that in the U.S. every year, over 9 billion animals are brought into this world only to be killed for human consumption.
Elephants are killed in their homes for their tusks.
And wild animals face the consequences of global warming.
And yet, I have hope.
I have hope because I focus on what I can solve rather than what I can’t.
I have hope because there’s much to be hopeful about. History gives you great perspective if you just step back.
I have hope because outrage doesn’t change the world. Vision and vigilance do — along with the political, technological, economic, and moral forces that drive progress forward. I’m hopeful, because:
I live in a Democratic country, I can criticize elected officials, I can vote them out, and I can exercise my power and privilege to help those who have neither.
Scientific advances and technological breakthroughs, such as cellular agriculture, have the potential to save billions of animals from misery and death.
I live in an economic system that empowers visionaries to test their innovations in the marketplace and that gives me the choice to support companies and products that reflect my taste and ethics — and reject those that don’t.
My hope is not delusional; it’s rooted in facts, science, reason, and statistics.
My hope is not complacent; it’s provisional. It’s the difference between wanting things to change and taking action to facilitate that change.
My hope is rooted in joy. We don’t have to be angry all the time to demonstrate we care. We don’t have to be outraged to show that we’re conscious. We can be acutely aware, actively engaged, politically minded, and still have hope.
And so I’m hopeful, and I hope you are, too.
With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
People ask me all the time how I stay so hopeful. The answer is two fold:
1) because there is much to be hopeful about 2) because I dwell on solutions rather than problems
Yes, there is much work to do, but:
*I live in a Democratic country, and I exercise all of the powers and privileges that affords me. I can criticize elected officials, I can vote them out, I can help others vote, and I can start a political action committee (like I did — East Bay Animal PAC) to help elect animal-friendly officials.
*I live at a time when, yes, technology makes it possible to mechanize animals’ lives, confine billions of individuals at a time, and systematically slaughter them. But I also live at a time when technology can help end that.
*I live within a system where I have the choice to purchase cruelty-free products from a wide-range of companies and innovators. I have the freedom to buy what I want and reject what I don’t want.
*I spend my time with the most compassionate, intelligent, committed people I know — dedicated to solutions for a brighter future and to experiencing a beautiful present. I’m grateful to be surrounded by the most incredible people I get to call my friends — and husband.
*I read about what’s wrong, but I focus on the agency I have to make things right. I also read about what has improved. I believe in progress. It’s not all bad out there, though the media and cranky pessimists certainly paint that picture.
*I see beauty all around me all the time in everything I do and in everywhere I go. In my husband, in nature, in animals, in friends, in wildlife, in perfections, in imperfections.
And because of that, I am hopeful — unapologetically and unabashedly.
I recently returned from a dream trip to Rwanda seeing mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, and chimpanzees — all of whom are threatened due to human activity. But still I have hope.
Afterwards, we saw lions, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, ostriches, hippos, zebras, and elephants in Botswana, a country that banned trophy hunting but is still dealing with poaching. But still I have hope. In fact, we were in Botswana when we heard the news that China is banning the legal trade in ivory, which is a thing to celebrate although the work is not done. It never is.
Even as I stood awe-struck looking at the animals characterized as “exotic,” I thought of the animals in my Oakland backyard—the ones considered mundane—the deer, the squirrels, the foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks, crows, and jays. Rather than pay to view them, people pay to eradicate them, but nonetheless, they’re valuable to me, to themselves, to the entire ecosystem.
I thought of our state’s coyotes, mountain lions, and wolves—all of whom are demonized by private ranchers who use public land to graze their livestock, then blame the predators for being who they are.
I thought of our nation’s animals, who will be negatively impacted if the current administration makes good on its promises to support fossil fuels, curtail plans to cut carbon emissions, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, construct oil pipelines, dismantle the Endangered Species Act, and build a wall that will impact the lives and migratory habits of native species.
And still I have hope. While I daily urge our federal congresswomen and congressmen to pass legislation that protects animals and reject legislation that harms them, we have much work to do on a state and local level, both of which can get neglected when our fears are focused on an animal-, environment-, and human-hostile White House.
I have hope because possibility dwells in uncertainty. The darkness that lies before us is not inevitably bleak; it’s just unwritten. And we are its authors. We have a future to write—for the animals near and the animals far. For the human and the non-human animals. And I intend to write it.
When people ask who inspires me, I often say that my main inspirations are the animals — who can show grace and forgiveness after enduring trauma and abuse. And that’s true. Or I say that my inspiration is you — and everyone else who comes to my work with an open mind and heart. And that’s true, too. But I think people who ask are looking for something more specific. So, I’ll tell you.
The past. Nothing gives me more hope for the future than the past.
When facing the darkest times individually or collectively, one thing we can be certain of is that we’ve been here before and we’ve been through worse. In our collective consciousness or in our individual experience (or both), we’ve been through sadness, disappointment, war, upheaval, conflict, fear, grief, loss, uncertainty, dictatorship, bigotry, and divisiveness.
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With each age that passes, we gain both wisdom and amnesia. We seem to learn a little and make some progress until myopia prevails, and then we forget that we’ve been here before. But just a glance at the past reveals the human condition in all its radiant splendor and darkest malevolence.
The resilience we possess to endure, weather, and learn from adversity is incredible (and it’s not unique to humans); it’s also something we can experience vicariously. Just knowing someone else has faced the same challenges, the same odds, the same mistakes can give us comfort. “You are not alone” can be the most healing words.
We are not alone. The ghosts of the past — yours, mine, theirs, recent, immediate, ancient — dwell among us and have wisdom to impart. So, yes, strangely, I embrace the fact that avaricious, megalomaniacal, narcissistic people have come before us, because if we disavow who we’ve been, we forget who we are. We. Humans.
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Historians certainly give us the gift of hindsight; sages give us the gift of insight; together they work in harmony. Everyone needs a sage, and for several years now, mine has been Lao Tzu via his ancient text, the Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (Perennial Classics), written around 2,400 years ago. Thousands of years later, his book demonstrates, and our human experience is the same. Our needs, fears, flaws, and foibles remain the same. That doesn’t make me despair; it gives me comfort, it makes me humble (and it also makes me laugh).
For me, no other text or philosophy of living resonates more than the Tao Te Ching, summarized perfectly by poet Stephen Mitchell, the interpreter of my favorite translation:
“A classic manual on the art of living, written in a style of gemlike lucidity, radiant with humor and grace and large-heartedness and deep wisdom: one of the wonders of the world.”
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May you find your sage, engage with the past, absorb, learn, and repeat. It’s true, as poet and philosopher George Santayana observed, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but the first part of that maxim is equally true and rarely quoted: “Progress…depends on retentiveness. When experience is not retained, infancy is perpetual.”