We face a stark choice: we can either carry on destroying the planet to the point of catastrophe, or we can change our habits to ensure a sustainable future, where humans can flourish in a clean and healthy environment.
This sounds like an easy decision, but even those affluent enough to have the time and space to think about the future appear to have difficulty envisioning what true sustainability will look like. Meanwhile, those living in the ‘here and now’ of poverty – where the next meal is of greater concern than the future of the planet – are already struggling to cope with the effects of environmental despoliation and possibly the impact of human-induced climate change.
Most solutions proffered by the affluent Western world don’t want to address the deep systemic problems with the ways of thinking and seeing the world that have led us to the situation we have today. True sustainability is not just ‘green capitalism’; it has to learn from diverse world views, including those of indigenous people in the global south.
What has become known as ‘sustainable development’ is a series of technocratic fixes that will never be enough to combat the serious threats to our environment. Even worse, they shift attention away from fundamental actions we need to take to reconnect with nature and shift towards a value system that doesn’t place material wealth first.
So how do we change?
How do we create the shared vision, the ‘new story’ that will allow us to make the radical changes that need to be made?
First and foremost, the vision needs to be appealing for it to become taken up by the collective consciousness. Fear of the future is not enough: we need to understand what stirs people’s hearts, what makes them tick, what makes them strive for a better world. This is not the realm of science; this is the realm of the arts.
I’ll leave the last word here to Leo Tolstoy, who wrote that, art is: ‘…a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity’.
Is art the essential missing element in moving towards a sustainable world? Is the lack of emotion in science why we lack a coherent vision? How do we nurture a new and holistic narrative about the future?
Tell us what you think in the comments, and come along to our three sessions where we will be bringing together voices from science, the arts, business and the global south to challenge the dominant approach to how we relate to the environment.
Visioning a truly sustainable world I – 27 March, 12.30
Visioning a truly sustainable world II – 28 March, 12.30
Visioning a truly sustainable world III – 28 March, 17.20
The UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the British Council, Comic Relief, CAFOD and Sainsbury’s are convening three sessions at Planet under Pressure. This blog is based on a presentation that Dr Mike Edwards will give in their final session: Making the Vision Reality – Creative, Connected Science.