My son, who is 22 and gets most of his news from Reddit, recently observed that the world is a mess. I know there is truth in this statement. There is deprivation and violence all around the world. It appears that corporations have taken over; directing public policy toward profit-generation at the expense of people’s needs; convincing us that we are consumers who must buy our way to happiness. The gap between the rich and poor is growing. Our governments appear to be closing down opportunities for democratic debate and evidence-based decision-making. We are reaching the tipping point with climate change. And yet, I remain hopeful about the world.
I work with people across the country who are working to re-create our communities so we are less reliant on cars; so we can walk and cycle more. Some promote these changes because they are good for human health; they make communities more equitable and accessible; they foster social interaction and a sense of community. Other promote them because they are more sustainable; making us less reliant on fossil fuels and reducing our impact on the climate. So, in my work, I am surrounded by people who are working to make our communities healthier and more sustainable.
I have a twitter account to track and share the advances in my field. Every day I read about new pilot projects, new investments and new programs in communities around the world designed to encourage walking, cycling and public transit; bike-sharing programs, car-sharing programs, investments in separated bike lanes, walking paths and inviting public spaces. There is a quiet revolution going on at a municipal level, sometimes with financial support provided by regional, provincial and national governments, to re-claim our communities from the automobile; a revolution that can have a profound effect on human health, the quality of life, and the environment.
On my twitter account, where I follow public health researchers around the world, I also learn about new campaigns, new research and new programs designed to extend our reach into other areas of public policy. While I do not work in these fields, I am thrilled and relieved to know that others do! Some are working to improve access to nutritional foods in aboriginal communities. Some are working to help decision-makers and the public understand the strong link between poverty and poor health. Others are working to address mental health issues, alcohol abuse and drug addiction.
So, the world appears to be a mess. There are days when all we hear about are stories of war, violence, corporate greed, corrupt governments, or the antics of the rich and famous. But there is more going on; so much more that many of us don’t hear about. People taking care of each other. People working to change public policies. People working to lessen our impact on the planet and reduce inequities between people. I find comfort in these stories. They restore my faith in humanity. They inspire me to act. They give me hope about life on our planet. They give me reason to believe that change can happen even in those desperate situations around the world where it seems impossible.