Active Hope: Facing the Mess We’re in with Resilience and Creative Power

by Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone

Do you have the feeling that our world is falling apart? Or that our human civilization and planetary ecosystem are in dangerous decline? That’s what we mean by the Great Unraveling, a term suggested by visionary economist and author David Korten when considering how future generations might talk about our time. The Great Unraveling is more than just a few isolated disasters. As we’ll explore, there’s a larger pattern at work.

Canaries were once used in coal mines to provide warning of toxic gas. When the birds died from breathing invisible poisons in the air, miners knew they were in danger and needed to act quickly. The massive decline in global bird populations tells us something similar. Since 1970, nearly three billion birds have died in North America alone. Scientists have commented that this staggering loss suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling. Happening throughout our whole world, it is not just ecosystems that are unraveling, but our social systems too.

Over the past fifty years, each decade has become warmer. Extreme weather events, such as record-breaking heat waves, wildfires, droughts, floods, and storms, have become more common, a trend that will make future conditions much worse. As global heating continues, the proportion of land becoming too hot to live on is set to increase from 0.8 percent in 2020 to 19 percent in 2070.  This could displace between one and three billion people.

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Excerpted from the book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in with Resilience and Creative Power, copyright © 2012, 2022 by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. Printed with permission from New World Library Joanna Macy, PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, systems theory, and deep ecology, and a respected voice in movements for peace, justice, and ecology. To learn more, visit Chris Johnstone is codirector of ActiveHope.Training, a nonprofit organization offering online courses that help people grow their capacity to make a difference in the world. One of the United Kingdom’s leading resilience trainers, he pioneered resilience training in mental health promotion, in coaching practice, and in addressing concerns about the world. Visit his website at

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