Facing up to Climate Reality
This is our most recent project, launched in 2017. We plan to address the widening chasm between climate science and climate policy, the reasons for it, and how to bridge it. Its starting point is that the time for false hope is past, and only courageous realism will enable us to respond adequately to now inevitable and impending serious climate damage. This message – as we have found already when expressing it in public – can be cathartic, leading to a realistic assessment of future needs and prospects and avoiding the despair and paralysis that result from the collapse of a fragile or shallow optimism. The premise and shape of the project are set out in an introductory essay available here.
As the second publication under the umbrella of this project, we are very pleased to publish an essay by Robert Hutchison entitled ‘This Moment: the emergency, the opportunity’. Hutchison argues powerfully that the climate situation must be declared and treated as a global emergency if we are to have any chance of responding appropriately. Unlike Brian Heatley and Rupert Read in their Introduction to the project (link above), he still sees the very urgency of the situation as primarily an opportunity, in that the recognition of the emergency may be precisely what is required to trigger action to avert it, whereas Heatley and Read believe that the time for averting the worst of the catastrophe has almost certainly passed, and that ‘appropriate action’ now means mitigation not so much of human-caused climate change itself, but of the worst impacts that now unavoidable change will visit on global human civilization. The debate between these two slightly different perspectives on the climate reality that now faces us is a vital one: it might even be termed the vital debate of our time.
We were very sad indeed to hear the news of Robert's sudden death at the end of September. Robert Hutchison was a distinguished campaigner, author and activist for the arts and the environment, and this essay is a testament to and legacy of his commitment, courage and clear thinking.
TOWARDS DEEP HOPE – JOHN FOSTER
John is perhaps best-known as the author of ‘After Sustainability’ (Earthscan/Routledge, 2015). This report is an important contribution to the climate change debate, at perhaps the most fundamental level: an essay on what climate change tells us about the place of human beings in the world and what being realistic about our climate future entails.
Facing up to climate reality, John Foster writes, clearly demands that we confront the future realistically. This essay is a conceptual exploration, conducted through reference to relevant policy issues, of what realism here could mean.
On one interpretation, it could mean recognising the compelling evidence that we have left it too late to save ourselves from climate disaster. But on another interpretation, it might be realistic to insist that we can never, even in extremis, rule out the transformative possibilities of human action. We could call hope inspired by such possibilities counter-empirical, since it refuses to be daunted by likelihoods, albeit dismaying, derived from past experience.
Counter-empirical hope, however, is protected by definition against merely contingent failure – if what is thus hoped for just happens not yet to have happened, we can always go on hoping. (Hence the constant tendency of such hope to slide into utopianism.) But – again, by definition – we can’t be hoping for anything unless we recognise some risk that it won’t happen. So what is risked in counter-empirical hope must be that we find ourselves up against necessary rather than contingent failure: and the domain of significant necessary failure in human affairs is that of tragedy, where destructive weaknesses are the inescapable concomitants of key life-strengths.
Active recognition that our climate plight is already tragic is the only way to keep honest the kind of hope on which we must now rely. That means not only escaping from the recently-popular and still solutions-oriented ‘wicked-problem’ framing of the issues, but also building tragic awareness into all practical policy thinking henceforth. If we can manage this, hope can still reach out for transformative possibility while remaining deeply and realistically grounded.
You can download the report here, or order it in printed form from our Publications pages.