Hope is a Verb

David Orr


     ... Environmental Activist and Educator. Active worldwide as scholar, teacher, writer, speaker and entrepreneur, Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse is Professor Orr’s seventh book. He helped launch the green campus movement and organized the first-ever conference on the effects of impending climate change on banking in the 1980s. He led the creation of the first “green” building on a U.S. college campus, the iconic Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College, where he is Distinguished Professor and Special Assistant to its President. Dr. Orr leads Oberlin’s Green Region initiative. He is also a Professor at University of Vermont and has received numerous awards.



No prosperous economy can be built on a planet in ruins. Period. While neither economics nor technology will save us, David Orr, the renowned environmental educator and activist, believes facing facts just might. His choice of tools for putting certifiably alarming facts to work surprises many: hope, a sense of humor, and systems thinking.

“There’s a tsunami approaching the shore where we're playing in the sand. We've got to equip people to see that, and understand that, and take precaution and precautionary measures before we're inundated with disaster.

“As serious as things are -- and they are serious -- I think we have to acquire a sense of humor which is to be able to step out of ourselves and see the human experiment in this human story,
“If you tell people that climate change is real, impoverishment is here, oceans are acidifying and all these kind of thing, you raise their anxiety level. The question is then what do they then do? You've got to redirect that energy in a positive way.

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. You can't go to despair, that’s a sin. And ‘optimism’? You just don't know enough. Hope is the sweet spot. If you're hopeful, you have got to be active. You've got to be DOING stuff.”

Professor Orr presents the inescapable facts in Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse and employs his unconventional tools as a teacher and as the spearhead for the audacious “Oberlin Project” -- a planned green redesign of the entire Oberlin community. It’s now part of the Clinton Climate Initiative.

Having chosen education as his venue, systems thinking is especially important to Professor Orr.
“That's being able to work laterally across the curriculum and understand, ‘Gee-whiz! Ethics has something to do with ecology here. And economics has something to do with both of them. And so on. That's just seeing the pattern.”

This is the approach he took creating the now iconic building, the Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College, where he is Distinguished Professor and Special Assistant to the President.

“(The Lewis Center) was a learning experience. Now we're going to do the whole downtown, starting with the 13-acre block that the whole college owns. Can you do a block that's powered entirely by sunlight, has zero discharge -- no waste product leaves it -- made out of local materials, and then can you use that as a driver to create a green economy?

“We want roughly ten years to do this project, hopefully sooner. And a thousand young people -- Oberlin students and high school kids and kids from votech schools -- along with this incredible team of designers we've assembled around the project. They'll learn how to roll up their sleeves and get down to work and solve problems, and do things in the world.”

Professor Orr’s realism permeates his worldview, including the leading role he insists the United States must play and he recognizes the leading role money plays.

“In the United States we spend about a trillion dollars a year on either military weapons and defense budget or war fighting. I don't think we have a snowball's chance in hell of getting anything like sustainability as long as we maintain a military presence of that size and scale. I'm not interested in making the military more efficient. I want to make a military smaller. Imagine if we cut the military budget in half, so you had $500 billion. That solves a lot of what can be solved.”


[This Program was recorded November 20, 2009, in Oberlin, Ohio, U.S.]

Conversation 1
Conversation 2
Conversation 3
Conversation 4
Conversation 5



• • •

Building Sustainability: David Orr



David Orr’s choice of education as his life’s work assured he would never be far from the epicenter of our era’s most critical and controversial question: the future of life on earth. Current and former students now carry his vision into the world, generating authentic hope in the course of extremely rough sledding. David (as practically everyone calls him) continues to present us with opportunities to learn, to act, and to keep despair at bay by positive action. We are inspired by David’s unfailing hopefulness and commitment to truthfulness, strengthened by his wondrous sense of humor, and honored by his cherished friendship.

Special appreciation to three singular individuals in the office of the President at Oberlin College: Jennifer Bradfield, Ginny O’Dell, and Caitlin Donnelly James. With equal good cheer and quiet efficiency, they made sure this Conversation came to pass. The experience was further enhanced by recording in President Krislov office, which was as warm, welcoming and energizing as he is. We thank them all.

Related Links:


Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse is published by Oxford University Press.

- the Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College ... more details and data here.

Our first program with David Orr was recorded on September 16, 2000, during the dedication of the Lewis Environmental Studies Center at Oberlin.

David Orr mentions Ray Anderson in part 1 of this program. Mr. Anderson has demonstrated how profitable a truly sustainable industrial company can be.

Amory Lovins has been working on the energy part of the sustainability challenge for years.

And, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.


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