Hope after sustainability - tragedy and transformation

Matthew T Johnson (Editor), John Foster, Brian Heatley, Nadine Andrews, Mike Hannis, Lawrence Wilde, Ingolfur Blühdorn, Daniel Hausknost, Ulrike Ehgartner, Patrick Gould, Marc Hudson, Nina Isabella Moeller, J. Martin Pedersen, Rachel Bathurst, Rachel Muers, Panu Pihkala, Katie Carr, Steve Gough, William Scott, Rupert Reed

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationSpecial issue

3 Citations (Scopus)


Claims to sustainability are everywhere, from the sides of motorway juggernauts to the spin of a UK government arguing for airport expansion in London while notionally signed up to its carbon emissions targets. Scarcely a week passes without the launching of some initiative on sustainable cities, or sustainable agriculture or sustainable something else. In universities,modules and courses referencing sustainability abound. Research money flows generously(well, comparatively so) for projects purporting to increase our understanding of the concept or its applications. Meanwhile, academic and other voices raising awkward questions have been all but inaudible in the approbatory hubbub.Until just recently, that is–but latterly, there has been a sea-change. It is no longer completely out of court for thinkers and scholars concerned with environmental issues to argue that the‘sustainability’discourse and policy paradigm have failed, and that we are moving into a new and much bleaker era. Take sustainability (for the sake of a working definition) to be the condition of so governing human usage of the planet’s natural resources that succeeding human generations can go on into the indefinite future depending on these resources to provide them with levels of well-being at least equivalent to our own. The argument is beginning to gain traction, then, that turning the aspiration towards this condition into a set of policy options represents a strategy which has had a good run for its money since the 1980s, but should now be recognised as well past its use-by date. A recent policy review paper in the journal Society and Natural Resources (Benson and Craig 2014) is bluntly entitled‘The End of Sustainability’. Authors as diverse as Clive Hamilton(2010), Tim Mulgan (2011), Kevin Anderson (2011), Dale Jamieson (2014) and myself (Foster 2015) write with the working assumption that climate change on a scale lying unpredictably between the seriously disruptive and the catastrophic, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has characterised it (UNFCC2009, since when the outlook has not improved), is no longer something we must find ways of avoiding, but something we are going to have to live with. And if climate change of that order is indeed coming, then all bets about sustaining other aspects of our natural resource usage are off(hence the recent almost overwhelming focus on this single, dominating issue).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages192
Specialist publicationGlobal Discourse
PublisherBristol University Press
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Hope after sustainability - tragedy and transformation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this