Future Ethics: Climate Change, Political Action and the Future of the Human, Manchester 2008-2009

-guest blog post by Stefan Skrimshire, who is not a member of the MCFly group (so can’t be held responsible for our views!)-


This January saw the last of three workshops, organised and sponsored by the Lincoln Theological Institute who are based at The University of Manchester. The aim of Future Ethics was to bring together thinkers and practitioners engaged in the broad topic of “political responses to climate change”. The motivation might be (crudely) summarised as the suspicion that whilst academics are typically too disengaged from real life to get their hands dirty, activists and practitioners typically give too little time to testing, critiquing, communicating and exchanging the ideas, theories, and beliefs that underlie their actions.

And so, in a fairly unique experiment, it was possible for a professor of philosophy to engage with a eco-village designer; a DEFRA employee with a member of Plane Stupid activist; or an Anglican vicar with a permaculture expert. Confining ourselves to a manageable number for open exchange (2- to 30 people) dialogue was facilitated with a mixture of interactive debate and discussion of pre-written ‘starter papers’ on a variety of themes:

Workshop 1: ‘What is to be Done? Apocalyptic Rhetoric and Political Action’ focussed on the topics of direct action; sustainable land use; science discourse in environmentalism; prophetic voice in climate discourse; theological metaphors of climate crisis; and the role of state authority in climate change mitigation. It attracted a diversity of perspectives, from civil disobedience, to social networking and campaigning, to the discussion of governmental and corporate responses.

Workshop 2: ‘What Price Security? New Issues in the Ethics of Risk’ attracted a number of experts in the field of international security (such as Professor Paul Rogers and Frank Barnaby from the Oxford Research Group), Risk Theory and social policy. Disciplines represented were once again diverse: from urban planning, to feminism, to philosophy of religion. Starter papers were presented on theoretical orientation in the morning – risk theory; the value of empathy; virtue ethics – and practical applications in the afternoon: nuclear energy; ecological art; spatial design.

Workshop 3: ‘A World Without Us? Imagining the End of the Human’ engaged with this heaviest of topics from its various perspectives in culture: from exploring philosophical and religious beliefs about ‘the end’, to post-apocalyptic films, to the rhetoric emerging from climate science itself at humanity’s diminishing chances of survival. The group addressed the complex ethical question of a responsibility to the future as well as its practical application in society and politics: what action can we recommend to other people when the diagnosis given to us is of a terminal condition? What ethical imperatives lie beyond ‘the tipping point’?

Reporting, recording, and communicating the findings of the workshops has been central to the aims of the project. All of these can be seen on our website: www.manchester.ac.uk/futureethics : film footage of select interviews; photo archives; notes from discussions; and ‘brainstorming’ flipchart notes reproduced. These reports have already attracted a huge interest. The website provides not only information and reports from the workshops, but also contains regularly updates bibliographical pages, links to organisations, upcoming events both domestic and international, published reports, and a page dedicated to further resources connected to each workshops, from documentaries to chapters from books.

The success of the project led to its directors increasing funding for an additional year, and plans are afoot for producing a longer, more finished collection of film archives from the events, as well as another Future Ethics gathering aimed specifically at practical applications at both grassroots and policy levels. In addition, we have just secured a contract with an international publisher to produce the book, Future Ethics: Climate Change and Political Action, which should be hitting the shelves at the end of 2009.

Stefan Skrimshire is Postdoctoral Research Associate in Religion and Politics at The University of Manchester, where he teaches and researches apocalyptic belief and crisis rhetoric in political cultures. Future Ethics is part of a research project on Religion and Climate Change and continues until September 2010. Stefan.skrimshire@manchester.ac.uk

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