applied optimism

Applied Optimism with Brianne Palmer

Our biocrust buddy is back, Brianne Palmer. Even though we discussed biocrust ecology at length in episode 3, I originally reached out to Brianne because I read her Opinion Article that appeared in Restoration Ecology. It was first published in late Fall 2019 and it is titled “Restoration ecology: the study of applied optimism.”

Optimism is defined in a few ways: “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something” OR “the doctrine, especially as set forth by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz the german philosopher of the Enlightenment, that this world is the best of all possible worlds.”

Does that resonate with you?

And I agree. Restoration promises a brighter future for human livelihoods and health as well as a just transition in a warming world. It covers some topics that are germane to my own practice and issues you may be contemplating or balancing in your life too, such as hope and doubt, environmental change, the scale of projects, community, environmental heroes and gratitude. I think it is an important time to talk about how to let people in. I mean this in a few ways.

I started the podcast with a few key elements in mind. While I haven’t explicitly stated these before, I am now. The framework for the show is supported by the following intentions.

  1. Educate about the foundations and key concepts of restoration ecology. We are going to noodle around Western science while accepting local, community-powered knowledge as well as traditional ecological knowledge that is built upon relationships with the Earth.

  2. Make restoration relevant and accessible to the general public. That’s why I focus on people and conversations neatly packaged into a medium that is essentially free and easy for people to listen to. Sadly, there won’t be a next generation of restorationists if people do not know what the heck we are doing out there.

  3. To create a forum for discussion about current topics in restoration ecology and the practice of restoration. I find restoration missing from much of science communication, and I wanted to enhance it while giving restorationists a voice. While it may be lonely living the dream out there, just know you are not alone in your desire for this kind of practice in your life. Restoration is happening right now, all over the world.

  4. Provide information to young or new practitioners that help them navigate their new study and practice of restoration. The next generation’s story will not be the same as my story. It may take awhile to get rooted, but they will find this discipline is wildly interesting and a portal to channeling creativity and positive energy.

I’ve been reminded more than a few times recently that this year marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. Not only will one find events events and celebrations in April, but we expect to see an entire year of commemoration and service to Gaia.

So, in that spirit I am happy to present a brief conversation I had with Brianne on “restoration and optimism.” Enjoy.

Palmer, Brianne. "Restoration ecology: the study of applied optimism." Restoration Ecology 27.6 (2019): 1192-1193.


Applied Optimism in a nutshell. I have been sitting with this episode for awhile, and I was really tempted to blow it out of proportion. I made it super weird for myself. Mostly because I started googling around on the definitions and philosophies of optimism. There are whole books and probably sub-disciplines of psychology about it. Do you know how many different types of optimism/optimists there are? Neither do I. There are 4 or maybe 8. There are half glass full, half glass empty, happy there is a glass, spots on the glass sorts of optimists. Optimism is not clear cut, easily defined, and as you can tell, thinking about it has manifested in my interviews when I ask people to tell me about their hopes and doubts.

I even had to call Brianne for a pep talk. She is a good listener. Anyway, she said she started writing about pessimism, but then it took a turn for optimism – using it synonymously with hope.

Is it wrong to be hopeful about climate change? By Diego Arguedas Ortiz 9th January 2020

Matthew Gallagher, the psychologist who wrote the The Oxford the handbook on hope.

“Optimism is a more general expectation that good things are going to happen,” he says, “even if you don’t know how they’ll happen.” Hope, meanwhile, has positive expectations about the future but is driven by our capacity to identify goals and set strategies to achieve them, he says.

How Hope and Doubt Affect Climate Change Mobilization Marlon et al 2019 Frontiers in Communication

To follow Brianne’s work and wanderings, you can track her on Twitter @briecology. Then, the website she named is Again, her essay on applied optimism can be found in the Restoration Ecology journal.

I refer to a question Eric Higgs posed in a March 2019 lecture in Seattle: Who defines ecological restoration and who does the practice belong to? In order to meet our own local needs and those global restoration ambitions mentioned at throughout this episode, we will need to accept a diversity of opinions that will shape a compelling vision of restoration. We will not meet our goals if the philosophy and practice of restoration doesn’t resonate with people.

Thanks to the Seattle band Dumb Thumbs for the theme music from their EP "In the Wild." You can directly support them by visiting Bandcamp.

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