Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £29.99 £19.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Testimony of justice – Rupert Read

Rupert Read - a testimony
I’m Rupert Read. I teach Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. I’m also the chair of Greenhouse Thinktank.
So Greenhouse’s new project is about facing up to climate reality. So part of what we’re doing is trying to achieve climate justice, which is an incredibly difficult accomplishment to be seeking to achieve. We’re very concerned about the ways that poor countries, low-lying countries, small island countries are going to be handled, treated, devastated by dangerous man-made climate change, and that results in all sorts of injustices which were interested in curing or ameliorating. But I’d also say that we, in Greenhouse don’t think that it’s all about justice, we think that there are questions of scale which are also really important. We think that it’s absolutely crucial that we, as human beings, stay within the limits to growth. That’s not just about justice.
That’s about whether we produce and consume more or less, and whether we try to operate on a global level, or whether we accentuate more the local level. And further than that, also as a philosopher, I’m very concerned about the domination of political philosophy by justice frameworks, and I think there’s actually space for and need for much more of a care ethic. And that’s where a lot of my current work is focused towards - developing a care ethic which is going to help us understand better our relations towards each other but more importantly, in this context, towards future people, towards non-human animals, towards ecosystems. I’ve argued that these kinds of these kinds of considerations are not exhausted by considerations of justice.
What’s driving climate injustices and the other associated problems of our current system in terms of operating at too large a scale, not thinking enough about, not caring enough about the future and about non-human animals and so on is overwhelmingly neoliberal and corporate globalisation, and I would home in especially on the so-called free trade treaties which are all over the world at the present time and which are not really free trade treaties at all. What they’re about is freedom for capital which goes wherever it can seek best advantage. That’s the root of our current problems considered from a political economy point of view ,and yeah that’s what we have above all to seek to target and change.
Yeah, so as I say Greenhouse, which was until recently engaged in what we called our post growth project, looking at the limits to economic growth and how we can have a better world, a fairer world, a world that will be impacted on less heavily by ourselves if we stop trying to pursue the phantom of endless economic growth. We’re now switching to our project which we’re calling ‘facing up to climate reality’ and really what that’s all about is seeking to explore why human beings have been so catastrophically weak at facing up to climate reality. From our perspective climate denial is not a niche problem, it’s not just a matter of some so-called climate skeptics.
We think that nearly everybody is in effect, in climate denial. Nearly everybody is putting their heads in that heads in the sand at the importance of this issue, the urgency of it, and the enormity of it. So we’re interested in looking more deeply into that from a psychological and philosophical point of view. And then we’re interested in thinking long term about what the future may hold in terms of the probability of a climate damaged world, and what we can do about that, and and seeking to think how we may be able to ameliorate that, or conceivably stop it.
Although it’s almost inconceivably hard now, we think, tragically, to to stop the future from being damaged compared to severely damaged, compared to where we are even now in the present, where we’ve already suffered some real damage. And we think that the current febrile political situation around the world has opportunities within it as well as severe problems for this kind of agenda of a radical rethinking which would among other things reduce the level ,if we were to succeed in this aim, along with other organisations of course - this has got to be a worldwide struggle - would reduce the level of climate injustices that are currently occurring.
Difficulties include things like that we are saying things that are incredibly unpopular, in some cases, hard to understand, or people don’t want to understand them. That it’s difficult to get funding for this work. As a think-tank, we see ourselves working sort of at the intersection between politics and activism on the one hand and academia on the other hand.
And we’re doing stuff which is perhaps a little bit too full-on, or slightly political for academia, but ‘thought work’ and ‘thought leadership’, if you will ,that is necessary and crucial but not so easy to get funding for, we’re not a charity because of the nature of the work that we do and organisations such as BP or the Bank of Scotland are unlikely to look kindly upon our work. So there are some very practical limitations in the face of this work.
But yeah, I think that the biggest obstacle of all is that - is to do with what we’re actually looking at which is, we are looking at stuff that people, it seems, don’t want to look at because it’s so hard, it’s so scary, it’s so big that’s -that in itself is a pretty big obstacle but that in a way is helpful because it means that the very reason why our work is hard is part of what we’re looking at in our work. So that sort of wraps it up in a way and helps the project makes sense.
What needs to change for justice? We need somehow to start to segue towards a world which is more equal, a world which thinks a lot longer term, a world which doesn’t just think about us but of course, like anybody, what I would love, if it’s possible, is to achieve a juster world, a more equal world, a more caring world. And yeah that’s what our work is bent towards.
I think it is important that we try to imagine it, however remote the prospect is, so one thing that I take quite a lot of inspiration from, is some of the work of Ursula Le Guin, her remarkable dystopias and utopias. One of the splendid things about her book, The Dispossessed’ is that, in seeking to imagine utopia, she imagines that what we actually are probably always going to have at best is a kind of process of - an endless kind of process of trying to achieve a better world, a more caring world and so forth. And that she is realistic about the threats in the way of any society that tries to set itself up towards utopianism.
I am a great skeptic. I’m afraid of the idea of progress, I think that the idea of progress has actually got us into a lot of the trouble that we’re now in - horrendous trouble that we’re now in. And that we would be a lot better off if we gave up ideas like growth, progress, even development and substituted goals that are both more realistic in terms of for example, the goal of a more localised and resilient world but also goals that are truly desirable without being tied into fantasies of technology or endless growth. I mean endless technological improvement or endless economic growth fantasies which have got us into so much of the trouble that we’re in.
And in novels like, The Dispossessed and also her extraordinary work, The Word for World is Forest, I think Le Guin gives us glimpses of the better world that, in our hearts, we know is possible, even though I think we know, or at least need to know, that it’s gonna be really hard to achieve it, and right now we’re not on the right path.

Rupert Read is a Lecturer in Philosophy at University of East Anglia and Chair of the Green House think tank.

Green House is trying to achieve climate justice through facing up to the realities affecting some communities and nations as a result of climate change, and how we all need to understand that each of us has an impact on the planet.

Rupert believes we must urgently act to reduce consumption and growth if we are to stay within planetary boundaries – do you agree or disagree?

Having listened to his testimony share your thoughts in the comments.

This article is from the free online

Environmental Justice

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now