In early October, when I called artist-naturalist Obi Kaufmann at his home in Oakland, the California Bay Area was approaching its sixth consecutive week of unhealthy air quality as smoke from the state’s worst wildfire season in recorded history choked the West Coast. Juggling between N95 and Covid-19 masks had only added to the grim realization that the current ecological and public health crises had been foretold by scientists — and largely ignored by our political leaders.
So, Kaufmann and I talked about hope. Not a passive, prayer-like hope, but an active rethinking of how we relate to and value the natural world. “Hope is only good to us as an actionable tool,” he told me, before recalling a quote from writer Rebecca Solnit: “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency.”