Five things that made us optimistic in 2022 | Smithsonian Voices


2022 has had its ups and downs, but what’s new? Like any other year, many bright spots illuminated the darkest days of the calendar, from scientific innovations to conservation collaborations. We look back at a few things that have kept us feeling optimistic over the past 12 months as motivation to take on whatever 2023 has in store for us!

1. Discover (and rediscover) more of the world around us

Despite all that humanity has accomplished during our short cosmic time on this planet, we still have much to learn. The science headlines of 2022 revealed everything from big breakthroughs, like the first photo of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, to more down-to-earth discoveries, like the tracking of invasive marine species in Galapagos.

Not all discoveries are new, however, and some things we found this year were once thought to be gone for good.

Some keen eyes have spotted a few wildlife species that haven’t been documented in decades, including the Santa Marta swordtail hummingbird, Hill’s horseshoe bat, black-naped pheasant pigeon, and Cymatioa clam. Our planet’s biodiversity may not be out of the woods yet, but these reminders that life tends to find a way are heartening!

Species aren’t the only things that can go extinct, which is why many communities also celebrated the revitalization of cultural traditions and livelihoods in 2022. Helping Indigenous communities rediscover what they already knew about species that share their habitat and how to live harmoniously alongside them, we might find that solutions to our interconnected problems were before us all the time.

A researcher kneels on a dock to examine a sample of marine invertebrates.

Dr. Gail Ashton inspects marine invertebrates as part of a Smithsonian Environmental Research Center project.

Smithsonian Institution

2. Working together to bring about positive change

From making lasting changes in their daily lives to adding their voice to big movements, many people have spent 2022 finding their place in the fight for our future.

Action is one of the best antidotes to eco-anxiety, and taking that first nerve-wracking step is easier with encouragement from people who care about the same things you do. Young changemakers from the Earth Optimism Youth Action and Leadership program and the Global Co Lab Network are leading the way by creating educational videos and other materials showcasing the sustainability and equity projects they have brought to their local communities .

Grassroots efforts are essential fuel for sparking international conversations on climate and biodiversity. Smithsonian scientists, youth advocates, national policymakers, education experts and more took to the world stage at UN COP 27 and COP 15 events, forging connections and commitments that will enable every country on Earth to achieve its environmental, social and economic goals for the coming decades.

A teenager speaks to a visitor at a table covered with information about the activities of the Global Co Lab Wildlife Hub.

Teenage changemakers from the Global Co Lab Network shared how they are taking action for our planet at the Earth Optimism x Folklife Festival.

3. Explore different ways of understanding nature

Science is an important strategy for observing and interpreting the world around us, but sometimes a change of perspective can be refreshing! Historians, artists and other cultural experts can help us build bridges between people and nature in unique and creative ways.

The FUTURES exhibit at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building may be a thing of the past, but the ideas sparked by these forward-thinking collections have materialized in the pledges made by thousands of visitors to make the world a better place for the next generation.

You can still see Unstill Waters, an exhibition of contemporary photography exploring the relationship between rivers and urban life in India, at the National Museum of Asian Art until 2023. Then you can walk through the National Mall to see Our Places, an interactive exhibition where you can reflect on your own connection to nature at the National Museum of Natural History. If your special place isn’t in Washington, DC, never fear, you can always learn more and share your experiences online.

Three masked children examine a "natural washing machine" made of wetland plants, which filter toxins and clean water much like a washing machine cleans clothes.

One of the visions of the FUTURES exhibition was a “coined wetland” designed by Australian artist Tega Brain. The closed sewage system supported a garden of wetland plants, creatively encouraging collaboration between humans and nature.

Mariah Miranda

4. Celebrate Earth Optimism on the National Mall

This summer, hundreds of scientists, storytellers, artists and other innovators joined us on the National Mall for the Earth Optimism x Folklife Festival to showcase the culture of conservation. We have been so inspired by the different approaches they are all taking to live, learn and work for a more sustainable future!

Although the Festival is over, there’s still plenty to explore online, from blog posts showcasing cool crafts and green recipes to recorded talks tackling some of the biggest issues of our time.


Artist Munguntsetseg Lkhagvasuren introduced Mongolian felting techniques to visitors to the Earth Optimism x Folklife Festival.

5. Imagine the future of life on our planet

While 2022 has seen many positive advancements, our planet still faces seemingly overwhelming challenges. There’s a lot we don’t know about the ecosystems we depend on and how they might change in the future.

This is where the Smithsonian comes in. We’re not just a museum complex – we’re also home to over 1,000 scientists and researchers, working on critical environmental and cultural issues in 140 countries. This year, we decided it was time to bring together the institution’s incredible knowledge of history, art, culture and science to think about lasting solutions to our most pressing problems.

The Our Shared Future: Life on a Sustainable Planet initiative is just getting started, but we can’t wait to show you what the Smithsonian can do for people and nature. For now, keep an eye on our Earth Optimism platforms at TwitterInstagram and Facebook to join our journey throughout 2023!


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