Sustainable Development

Arctic Ice: its worse than we thought….

Our ‘Lock in’ and Climate Change

We have the facts coming out of our ears...and its terrifying, but the power elite seem unwilling to call a global climate emergency while some are in active denial. Some local councils are (Cornwall), but I feel powerless. The little I do seems pointless, except that together we can keep pressure up so that all good decisions are the easy decisions.

We are all locked into a ‘high carbon economy/society’ (John Urrry 2011) at present, so there is little you can do as an individual to radically reduce your carbon footprint. Even ‘off grid communities’ are not carbon neutral (Cook, R., & Cutting, R. L., (2008) Talking isn’t doing…words are not deeds: an evaluation of the low impact Communities of the South West of England. “All Our Futures” Conference, Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth).

The definition of climate change…

….has to include the social processes that drive our high carbon lifestyles if we are to continue to meet the sustainable development goals, which of course include reducing poverty and addressing health needs.

What can we do about it?

We quickly need a purchasing structure in which the default is the low carbon/sustainable option, we quickly need a paradigm change to make this happen.

Plastic is a totem issue. Stop buying plastic water bottles:

The 4 key actions we as individuals can take are, in order of magnitude to their contribution to carbon emissions:

The 4 Bs

1. Have one less, or no children at all. (fewer Babies).
2. Reduce/cut out meat. (eat more Beans) – consider vegetarian options.
3. Reduce/cut out car use. (take Buses) – buy a bicycle, take the train.
4. Reduce/cut out flying. (avoid Boeings) – don’t fly, fly less.


Two Philosophical Approaches

“In this century it has become clear that the fundamental social problem is now the relationship between humankind as a whole and our global environment” (David Loy1988 p 302).


As I have previously suggested, health care professionals and others are becoming more alert to the issue of climate change and how this might affect the health of populations in the future. Climate change is only one aspect of sustainability, others of course relate to issues such as food production, distribution and security. The solutions put forward to address the myriad issues appear to be based in two different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive, approaches:

Technology v Philosophy for Climate Change

1) the technico-rational

2) philosophical.

If we are to put forward plans of action then we need to consider some of our  philosophical and ideological assumptions that underpin those solutions.  I would suggest that a little more philosophical enquiry into the nature of society and our relationship to ‘nature’ just might prompt a rethink of our over reliance on technical solutions.


The first, technico- rational, approach implicitly accepts dominant modes of thinking, which could be called ‘modernist’.  It is often based upon various philosophical traditions without explicitly critiquing them. These traditions, such as rationalism, empiricism and dualism, can be traced back to the Enlightenment and the dawn of western science. These ideas of course underpin much of modern forms capitalism, which is another taken for granted economic model underpinned by philosophical and ontological assumptions about how the social and natural worlds are.

David Loy’s comment leads us to the second approach, the philosophical, in that we might want to examine some of the assumptions that underpin the technico-rational, and especially ‘dualism’ – the separation between man and nature, mind and body. Loy contrasts Eastern non dualist philosophical traditions, with mainly Western dualism in that:

….there is no distinction between “internal” (mental) and “external” (physical), which means that trees and rocks and clouds, if they are not juxtaposed in memory with the “I” concept, will be experienced to be as much “my” mind as thought and feelings” (p140).

This then is a non dualist viewpoint in which ‘us’ includes the biosphere; we are indivisible as human beings from all life forms and all matter.

In Cartesian dualism, the Platonic tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, the self is separate from nature and is understood to be the source of awareness, meaning and value. This results in a devaluing of the physical world in which the human self is separate and superior.  The human ‘subject’ is separate from the natural ‘object’, and so what we do to ‘it’ is not part of ‘us’. Dumping plastics into the oceans is acceptable because the ocean is not part of us – it is a waste sink, we are doing something to a separate ‘it’. The human subject then becomes capable of confronting an objective world, a world which is there for our use.  The idea of human exceptualism (Catton and Dunlap 1978) – that man is special and apart from nature – takes root in this discourse.

This sentiment harks back to Francis Bacon, who argued in 1620 “The world is made for man, not man for the world”. In ‘The New Atlantis’ , Bacon thought that by and through the application of scientific and technological dominion over nature, men would usher in a new age of abundance and comfort.  This has echoes in Sigmund Freud’s (1927) assertion: ‘The principal task of civilization, its actual raison d’etre, is to defend us against nature’.

The call to have dominion over, to conquer, to harness, control or subjugate nature is predicated upon this idea of separateness from it. This control is thus predicated upon the self in opposition to nature which Yagelski (2011) calls  ‘the problem of the self ‘:  

“My argument here is that the prevailing Western sense of the self as an autonomous, thinking being that exists separately from the natural or physical world is really at the heart of the life-threatening environmental problems we face”.

Politically this view underpins much of orthodox thinking around political economy, with the influence of writers such as Ayn Rand being particularly toxic, especially in the United States.

However, we know that human health is inextricably bound with the physical and natural environment and what Charles Eisenstein calls ‘separation’, i.e. dualist thinking, results in practices that are injurious to us.  Is it a philosophical step too far to consider that the clearing of Amazon rainforest is therefore as injurious to my health as contracting a virus?  Changing low energy light bulbs is a technical solution, perhaps I also need to change the way I think.

#sustainability #climate catastrophe #climatechange #Arctic

Resource: Sustainable Development Goals

Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash