16 January, 2009
In the final workshop we will consider how the ethical challenge to future planning and risk management takes an apocalyptic turn. This is when global warming prediction describes scenarios in which human life is no longer supportable. Once again, the imagination of such scenarios (for instance, represented in Alan Weisman's 2007 study, from which the title of this workshop is taken) can produce a number of political responses, from galvanised action to resignation. The purpose of this workshop will be to uncover the ethical ramifications of these options. For instance, the first option, galvanised action, could encourage a survivalist perspective ('human life is only possible under greatly transformed conditions, including population curtailment'); or it could represent a utopian perspective ('there is still time. Under pressure, humans can achieve revolutionary change once thought impossible'). As for the second option, resignation, this might imply a misanthropic perspective ('the world is better off without us: the sooner we become extinct, the better'), or an anti-enlightenment realism ('human dreams of solving climate change through techno-fixes are acts of hubris: but we can limit the damage we are causing').
All of these options are grounded in subtle assumptions about how humans are related to nature. These assumptions range from being a symptom of Gaia's natural processes to being somehow privileged, in nature's 'driving seat' and able to direct its future. In other words these options all contribute to answering the question at the core of this workshop series: are humans only part of the problem or might they be able to be its solution? Deciding upon on all answers to this question might well constitute a philosophical tipping point in any individuals' willingness to take action on climate change.
We are thus asking participants to consider two problems. First, how (in relation to climate change) the long term future of the human is imagined, culturally and politically. Second, how this impacts upon people's ethical commitments. Does our imagination of the future place greater intrinsic value on non-human life? Or encourage preserving human biological life at all costs (and under any transformation of the 'human form')? A variety of political and religious narratives about the place of the human in the wider cosmos has historically provided a variety of answers. It is hoped that this workshop will find a number of them represented and creatively discussed. In so doing we can explore how imagination of a long term future is impacting upon the ethics of the present.
Suggested presentation themes:
- Politics of time / prediction and the future
- Responsibility to future generations
- Imagination of the future in popular culture
- Understandings of Nature / Human relationship
- Deep ecology
- Extinction of the human