Where is the vision?

by guest blogger Dr Mike Edwards, Independent Environmental Educator and Musician, IndigeNouse  and Didjitalis

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.


2 responses to “Where is the vision?

  1. Thank you Mike Edwards for this emphasis on creating a shared vision that really stirs people’s hearts. This positive vision is definitely necessary to guide the transition into a truly sustainable world instead of the small steps of reform or even backlashes that we can observe currently. We are looking forward to participating in the three visioning sessions.

    Along the same lines of thought the EU FP7 Coordination and Support Action “VISION RD4SD” is working on a “shared vision on how best to harness research and development for sustainable development (RD4SD).” This shared vision will be developed by the 33 partners and observers: science funding bodies and national science policy institutions from 21 countries (European member states and beyond). For more information see: http://www.visionrd4sd.eu.

    On 1st and 2nd of February in Brussels the first draft of this vision was developed based on the question: ”What kind of science do we want for which kind of world in 2025?” These two parts of the vision “what kind of science” and “what kind of world” need to be considered together to get viable answers. The result of this visioning exercise includes a lot of the key words mentioned in the blog: creativity, quality of life, holistic and systemic approach etc. We invite you to come to our session at the Planet under Pressure Conference on

    Developing a VISION for harnessing R&D to sustainable development Thursday 29 March 2012 13.00

    where we will present the preliminary results of this project and would like to get your feedback on them. This feedback will be fed into the ongoing dialogue in the VISION RD4SD project and help us to develop a vision and corresponding road maps to realize it that can really have an impact.

    The organizing team of the VISION RD4SD session: Jill Jäger, Peter Moll, J. David Tàbara, Ute Zander

  2. Hi Ute and the VISION RD4SD team,

    Thanks for your comment – we look forward to seeing you at our sessions, and to attending yours as well. It would be great to discuss developing links with your work on sustainability and potentially seeing how we can collaborate in the future.

    All the best,
    Sarah, Communications Officer UKCDS

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