Climate and Nature

'Performing hope' – how a campaign to spur climate action offers an antidote to apathy

At Davos 2024, the not-for-profit initiative, Climate Basecamp, launched a new campaign called 'Performing Hope in the Face of the Climate and Nature Crisis'.

At Davos 2024, the not-for-profit initiative, Climate Basecamp, launched a new campaign called 'Performing Hope in the Face of the Climate and Nature Crisis'. Image: Arctic Basecamp / Edward Henderson Photography.

Gail Whiteman
Professor of Sustainability, University of Exeter Business School, University of Exeter
Gill Einhorn
Head, Innovation and Transformation, Centre for Nature and Climate, World Economic Forum
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The nature and climate crisis is an existential threat, worry is a normal and healthy response to this.
  • #performinghope can be done by anyone, every day when choosing to act on the science and inspire others in that journey.
  • Taking a long view, we act in the knowledge that we are a part of a collective unfolding that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Our planet Earth is in trouble — 2023 was the hottest year on record at 1.48 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial averages, a trend that continues in all parts of the globe. This leads to a toxic combination of extreme weather, critical changes to Earth systems, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse. This is recognized by the private sector, government, academia, international organizations and civil society in this year’s Global Risks Report.

10-year risks in order of priority
10-year risks in order of priority Image: World Economic Forum, Global Risks Report 2024

The 2024 Global Risks Report is a perceptions survey of risk. Extreme weather, threats to food and water, sea level rise, humanitarian crisis — these impacts are already being felt in many parts of the world. Indeed, extreme weather is the second most prominent 2-year risk in terms of severity too.

In such a world, hope can feel like a naive daydream. In the face of these impacts, it is natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious or paralysed. Indeed, eco-anxiety is a normal and healthy response to existential threat. It can seem comforting to bury one’s head in the sand or blithely wish that someone else – anyone else — with more power, knowledge or resources will rise to the occasion and save the day. The irony is, in the absence of hope there is a tendency to freeze up and surrender exactly when the opposite response – action — is imperative.

Yet, the topic of hope was high on the agenda at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024, both inside and outside the Congress Centre. The launch of Earth Decides highlighted the role of informed optimism in responding to the level and scale of the threat we face. Jane Goodall, shared her message of hope, highlighting the role of young people, our intellect, nature's resilience and the indomitable human spirit, as key ingredients. Inspiration is infectious and this was delivered from the joint heads of the IMF and World Bank to young people bringing about the change they wish to see in the world. Culture Moves was also introduced to infuse the vision of a net-zero, nature-positive world into the cultural tenets of food, entertainment, the arts, sports and fashion to foster living well for all.

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In the mountains surrounding Davos, the not-for-profit initiative, Climate Basecamp, launched a new campaign and manifesto called Performing Hope in the Face of the Climate & Nature Crisis. This began its journey on January 18, 2024, with an outdoor event featuring performances of hope for the glaciers by cellist Nicolas Alstaedt, choreographer Demis Volpis and ballet dancers Lara Delfino and Damian Torio.

The performance viscerally conveyed the message that the world must avoid a requiem for the world’s glaciers. Switzerland has lost 10% of its glaciers in a two-year period and polar glaciers are also reaching critical climate tipping points. The performance of hope is a reminder to each of us, including those convened in Davos, of the responsibility to perform hope in concrete actions - as we have a unique window now to adjust the course of history.

Performing hope has three key ingredients:

1. Acknowledging our existential threat

There is extensive scientific evidence on the human-induced causes of global warming and the increasing threats to human and non-human life. 1.5°C is a physical limit, not a political target. Breaching this threshold holds unprecedented risks due to the dynamics of climate tipping points. The threat we face is existential in nature and our anxiety is a normal, healthy response.

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How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

2. Performing acts of hope

All cultures embrace hope as a powerful collective energy that gives meaning to and sustains human existence. Yet, hope isn’t just a state of mind or something that we simply have or buy or wish into existence. Hope, in the nature and climate crisis, happens when our thoughts translate into words and actions large and small. It includes daily decisions and behaviours that we enact as individuals, organizations and communities. These align our needs with the needs of the planet and harness the power of our individual and collective imagination to forge a future where all life can live well on Earth.

Think about the thoughts, words and actions you express as an individual or a professional. Consider how these might become a performance of hope, bringing about the change you wish to see in the world. It may be a change in your cultural paradigm, supporting a technological or societal breakthrough, dedicating yourself to a new profession or simply speaking your truth. You can start today by sharing on social media how you are #performinghope.

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3. Taking a long view

We don’t need to know exactly how, if or when our actions will bring about the remedies we need. Many of the first suffragettes were never given the chance to vote – yet their courage and action allowed for the freedoms millions of women enjoy today. By taking a long-term view – even longer than our own lifespan – we can bring about a multi-generational shift that lays the foundations for a society in touch with and supportive of our planetary systems. By inspiring others on the journey too, the power of our individual choice becomes a beacon of collective inspiration.

The 2024 Global Risks Report reminds us of the risks we face, while #performinghope offers each of us the agency to act with our own ingenuity. We pave the way to a more conscious, inclusive and responsive world. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Let’s do it.

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