Environmental Optimism: Looking for the Helpers

From the plastic pollution to climate change to animal extinctions, environmental issues can feel overwhelming. How do we stay positive in the face of negative environmental news? We can start by looking for the helpers.

Mr. Fred Rogers once shared a piece of advice from his mother on dealing with catastrophes. “Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.” Unfortunately, the helpers don’t often get much attention, but finding the helpers in our environmental crises reminds us that there is hope. Here are the stories of a few that have had an impact on me over the years.

You may have seen the headlines that scientists estimate that plastic in the ocean will exceed fish by weight by 2050. Boyan Slat, a Dutch inventor, is working to change that. I first heard of him back in 2013 when I learned through my co-workers about this teenager that was going to save our oceans. Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup project at just eighteen years old. I have been following his work since then, and it has been such an encouragement to watch the progress. The organization has been developing a system that can be deployed into the ocean to collect and retain plastic on the surface of the water, and has tested two models. Although the system is not yet fully functional, The Ocean Cleanup has a goal of achieving a 90% reduction of floating ocean plastic by the year 2040. While you may find conservationists split over his approach, Slat’s creativity, passion, and determination are inspirational.

Another organization that I learned about through my work is the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Persevering through challenges such as civil unrest and the Ebola virus outbreak in 2016, the hard-working, passionate GRACE staff, made up of members of the local community, give their time and effort to provide care and a safe space for Grauer’s gorillas that have been rescued from poachers. They also work to educate the local community about this critically endangered species. Knowing that there are people like this fighting for endangered species around the globe is a huge reason to hope.

You don’t have to be a teenage prodigy or dedicating your life to the conservation of a species to be a helper, though. One of my constant inspirations (in all areas of life) is my own mother. Several years ago, she took online classes to learn about the impact of environmental issues on global health. Since then, she has sought to make changes in her own life, even making the commitment to buy a hybrid car to reduce her carbon footprint. I have friends who are actively taking steps to reduce their waste, growing their own food, volunteering their time to conservation organizations, and even starting their own eco-friendly businesses. They remind me that helpers are everywhere, doing things large and small, to positively impact our planet.

So, as Mr. Rodgers said, the next time you feel bogged down by the state of the environment, remember to look for the helpers. And, like my mother, don’t forget to be the helper, too.

Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

What are some of your favorite conservation organizations? How do you seek to be an environmental helper? What are some other ways that you keep from being overwhelmed by environmental news? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Book Club for Nature Lovers


The past couple of days have been Indoor Days. We have had quite a bit of unseasonably warm weather in the past month or two, but yesterday the temperature took a nosedive. I’m actually quite happy to see some normal winter weather, but I admit that I was happier to see it from inside with a blanket, hot chocolate, and a good book (or five)!

This doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t get myself a dose of nature. I am one of those people who reads multiple books at once (you never know what you’ll be in the mood for!), and I’m currently in the middle of three books connected to our natural world:

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: an amusing memoir about hiking the Appalachian Trail
  • Serve God, Save the Planet by Matthew Sleeth: a Christian perspective on the importance of environmental stewardship
  • Writing about Nature by John Murray: a guide covering different genres of nature writing, including examples, tips, and practice exercises….here’s hoping this blog will be good one day!

I do love exploring nature through books. As a kid, I wasn’t big into outdoor exploration, but loved fiction books like My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves, both by Jean Craighead George, and the Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen. These books helped me develop a sense of wonder, appreciation, and connection to the natural world, even while being surrounded by four walls and a roof. I name Hatchet as one of my favorite books to this day.

It wasn’t until college that I got interested in non-fiction nature writing. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey are two I enjoy pulling off the shelf occasionally. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild put ideas of thru-hiking in my head (although I would much prefer the AT to the PCT), and Gary Paulsen has some amazing non-fiction books covering his own experiences in nature.

I’m always up for a good book recommendation, so let me hear it! What are some of your favorite books on nature? Have you read any of the books shared above?