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Letter,” written in 1960), imagining regular injections of uplifting, morale-­‐boosting rhetoric. But there 

was nothing of the kind. In the opening panel, Gretel Ehrlich choked back tears as she spoke of her 

hope—which she said comes and goes like the ice sheet in Greenland she has been visiting regularly 

since 19931 “We are falling into another world,” she said; “We are in a new climate land. I’m like a 

metronome oscillating between laughing and crying all day long...” Kathleen Moore sounded a similar 

note: “Yes, we are caught up in a river rushing toward a hot, stormy, and dangerous planet. The river is 

powered by huge amounts of money invested in mistakes that are dug into the very structure of the 

land, a tangled braid of fearful politicians, preoccupied consumers, reckless corporations, and 

bewildered children – everyone, in some odd way, feeling helpless. Of course, we despair. As a 

philosopher, however, Moore also spoke in favor of a moral abdication of both hope and despair.” 

“Matching our ways of living with our deepest values,” she said, “is way better than hope.” “Hope,” in 

other words, was not something any of the opening speakers seemed to be able or willing to 

confidently embrace.

But it is hard to feel gloomy in Point Reyes when the 

sun is shining and the coastal headlands are deep 

green and there are red-­‐tailed hawks soaring and 

gray whales breaching and elephant seals lolling on 

the sand. On the first day of the conference—one of 

many clever moves on the part of the organizers 

(the conference is sponsored and coordinated by 

Point Reyes Books)—all participants were sent

outdoors on field trips. We were dispatched in groups of fifteen, each with a resident expert, to farms, 

beach, wetlands, riverbeds, dairy ranch—in the case of my group, to the marine headlands, where fog 

lifted just as we reached our look-­‐out (enabling me to see my first whales ever). In other words, we 

were thrust into communion with some small part of the land before taking our seats on folding chairs 

indoors to listen to talks about the land. We returned from our forays bonded with the flora and fauna 

of this place, flushed and shimmering and full of stories about what we’d seen and felt and heard. To

1 See Ehrlich’s “Rotten Ice: Traveling by dogsled in the melting Arctic”, in the April 2015 edition of Harper’s Magazine. The 

most moving and the most terrifying report I have read from the front lines of climate change.


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