life beyond the end of pretending?

Seminar introducing John Foster’s new book ‘After Sustainability’

with discussion by Prof Jonathan Wolff, Philosophy, UCL, and Prof Albert Weale, Political Theory and Public Policy, UCL


Dangerous climate change is coming. It has been clear since Copenhagen that the political will to make adequate cuts in global CO2 emissions isn’t going to be generated in any foreseeable future. The international attempt to shift the world by agreement onto a “sustainable” trajectory, always half-hearted, has failed.

But denial is not confined to those who refuse to see the serious environmental damage we are doing; it extends equally to those who refuse to see that we have missed our chance to stop it. The roots of such embedded denial lie in progressivism. Exorbitant resource consumption is the form in which this mindset has caused environmental damage in the first place; latterly, it has manifested itself as wilfully self-blinded technological optimism.

But what if we stopped pretending?

Environmentalism is about what is wrong with us here and now, not only what that might mean for the future. Our environmental situation is tragic in the full sense. Tragedy entails losses which can’t be mitigated or compensated, but it can also reveal us to ourselves in ways from which we may be able to learn.

We can’t really predict what will happen on the ground as global economic and ecological systems unravel. We must build existential as well as economic and social resilience, arming ourselves with recognition, insight and flexibility rather than with plans or blueprints. If we approach what is coming with a realism thus grounded in genuinely non-optimistic life-hope, we may here and there come through it.

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