Climate Emergency - How Do We Close the Hope Gap?

We look at what happens when people feel helpless in the face of climate change

Many people are worried about climate change, with good reason. Global temperatures over the last decade have been the hottest on record. Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, linked to human use of fossil fuels, are rising rapidly. In fact, nearly two in three Americans are now worried about global warming, up from fewer than half in 2010.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. In fact, worry about the climate can go hand in hand with hope. Annual US studies from 2010 to 2018 which asked people how worried they were about global warming found that found that the two were not mutually exclusive.

Mona Chalabi, data editor of the Guardian US, speaking at the Envision Virgin Racing Innovation Summit in New York in July 2019, explained: “You might think it would be inevitable that hope and worry are the opposite so when one increases the other is bound to decrease. You’d be wrong.”

In fact, one might need  the other to motivate people to take constructive steps forward. One study published in 2014 by researchers at the University of Westminster in the UK and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications in the US found that the emotions of worry and hope were among the strongest predictors of public support for climate change policy.

Unfortunately, it’s not inevitable that hope and anxiety about the future work hand in hand. Between 2014 and 2016, both hope and worry increased according to the annual US studies. But after 2016, the two have been diverging.

In fact, ‘The Hope Gap’ is the term coined for when people start to feel helpless and lose hope in the face of a Climate Emergency. Mona Chalabi says that "in the past couple of years levels of optimism have declined" and the hope gap has widened. She blames it partly on the shift in messaging from the previous administration which "emphasised both the urgency of the threat but also our ability to do something about it.”

 ‘The Hope Gap’ is the term coined for when people start to feel helpless

“Hope matters and this gap matters,” she said. “The more hopeful you are, the more likely you are environmental policies like regulating CO2 emissions, donating and volunteering to environmental organisations.”

Governments have to take the lead in closing the hope gap, but companies and businesses of all kinds also have an important role to play. We look at how companies can help close the ‘hope gap’ and help people feel more empowered in the face of the climate crisis.


Most of us still do a big shop weekly in the major supermarkets that dominate the sector, including Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. According to the 2018 Opinium Retail Tracker, 78 percent of people tend to shop weekly in supermarkets, buying most of their groceries in one store.

Fittingly, supermarket chains are leading the way in helping their customers feel proactive about making change happen. 

A simple but effective example is the successful Community Matters project, launched by Waitrose in 2008, which allows customers to allocate tokens to range of good causes. These causes change regularly - the more tokens they get, the bigger the donation they receive. So far, the pot is £30million and counting.

Waitrose has now started a project designed to remove unnecessary plastics from the supply chain as well as reducing food waste, 'Partners Against Waste'.

“We know the impact of plastics on our environment is a serious concern for both Partners and our customers,’ says Tor Harris, head of corporate social responsibility. “Together, we can make waste a thing of the past.”

Junk Food

Few industries are considered worse climate change offenders than franchised fast food restaurants, yet they are often the ones going furthest to make changes to reduce their impact on the environment. The McDonald’s Scale for Good initiative, which supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, includes measures to reduce carbon emissions from its restaurants and offices by 26 percent by 2030, compared to 2015 levels as well as support forests and make beef farming more sustainable. 

And the company is also responding to customer demand that animals that produce the food they eat are treated according to the highest welfare standards. McDonald’s has earned a spot near the top of Tier 2 (there are six tiers in all) of the 2018 Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare report, showing that its goals are being delivered.

Empower your workforce

Major companies may have tens of thousands of employees, and it’s a good idea to empower your own workforce and help them believe they can make a difference too. 

That’s the view of Solitaire Townsend, founder of global change agency Futerra, who has written on the topic for Forbes. There are 28.2million people working for Fortune 500 brands around the world. “Each of those people are likely to feel the same way as the general public. Your people are the touchpoint between your brand and everyone else,” she says.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists based in London has developed its own Green Group staff committee which monitors and implements good practices in waste and energy management at the College. As well as encouraging staff to take part in Climate Week and promoting cycling to and from the College, the RCOG holds a ‘Green Day’ on the day of the Admission Ceremony. Members and Fellows are asked to calculate their carbon footprint and discover what the College is doing to tackle climate change.

Although not directly related to climate change, GSK, the pharmaceutical multinational, has developed its own employee volunteer programme, Pulse, which matches employees with not-for-profit partners to allow them to take a hands-on role in practical assignments. Each assignment can last between three to six months and volunteers contribute their specialist skills to solve healthcare problems like lack of clinics or inadequate cancer care in remote regions of the world. 

Social Media and Apps

The power of social media should not be underestimated when it comes to closing the Hope Gap. Hashtag Climate is a not-for-profit platform that allows people who have social media followers to discover and promote climate change projects and actions. When you sign up, you are asked to select environmental categories that mean a lot to you, locations that you want to focus on and how often you want to receive push notifications. 

Commuters in the US who want to travel by car to work but make their journey more environmentally friendly have been able to use the carpooling app Carma Carpooling for over a decade now. The company has already verified millions of carpooling trips, and developed technology to allow people to benefit from automated high-occupancy toll discounting.

A Wise Investment

Bridging the Hope Gap is good for business too. Accenture Strategy’s Global Consumer Pulse Research report, published in 2018 found that consumers of all ages care about the way that retailers behave on a range of ethical issues. And more than 60 percent of young consumers carefully consider a company’s ethical values and transparency before buying.