The Reliance On Radical Hope: The Ecological Crisis is Very, Very Bad

Image: GETTY

For my response, I decided to focus on the article “A World They Don’t Deserve,” by Allen Thompson. I wanted to use my response as an opportunity to highlight the aspects of this article that I found particularly interesting or hadn’t necessarily thought about.

Firstly, I was very intrigued by the idea of radical hope. In “A World They Don’t Deserve,” Thompson uses Johnathan Lear’s account, Plenty Coups, to define radical hope. Radical hope is defined as “courage to act in the face of devastation, with a commitment to the reemergence of the good in a form that is beyond one’s present ability to cognize or comprehend.” Radical hope can be analogous to having faith (not necessarily connected to religion). It is the idea that you may not know what the future holds, but you have faith that good will come out of the future. I thought that the incorporation of radical hope, and the connection to the displacement of indigenous populations was very interesting. Especially when this example is given, many more examples in history become clear. The goal, I believe, in incorporating the idea of radical hope was to show that no matter what the climate and ecology of the Earth becomes, humans will adapt and try to thrive because there is no other option. 

That brings me to the second point that I found interesting: making up for the ecological disaster that future generations will inherit. I will admit that I had adopted the mindset, or felt strongly about the idea that fixing the climate was the only option. I never contemplated that we had alternative options, even if they aren’t very good. The idea that humans will (or possibly will) exist in a world that has been degraded, and that if we can’t fix the ecological crisis we have created, we should make up for it in other ways. I found this idea to be very compelling. Thompson brings up the example of cancer. If we can’t solve out ecological problems, we might as well cure cancer to take one burden off of the future generations. Thompsen also mentioned access to healthcare and education as another one of these “gifts.”

The last idea that I felt that I needed to mention was the idea of geoengineering. Thompson gave examples of geoengineering in the article, mentioning solar radiation management and stratospheric sulfur injections- all of these being implemented instead of fixing the true problem. The true problem being carbon dioxide levels, which can be lowered in part by reforestation. This really reminded me of the pharmaceutical industry. We create treatment and drugs for every sort of problem that we can, but often they don’t fix what is broken or amiss, instead they work to cover up the problem. For example, if you have a headache an instinct reaction is to take a pain reliever such as advil or ibuprofen. But all these medications do is mask the problem. Your headache may have been caused by dehydration, but instead of rehydrating and resting you disregard the cause of the headache for a quick fix. This is analogous to ignoring the high carbon dioxide levels (the root of the problem) and trying to mask it with other actions.

I, overall, felt that the attitudes and ideas presented in this article were very much something Greta Thunberg would reference and preach- we are morally responsible for the climate crisis and assisting future generations.

I Don’t Want Your Apology

Youth at climate strike in Edinburgh, Scotland
Photo from Chicago Tribune

The environmental crisis will lead to a collapse of the infrastructure of civilization. In fact, the impact of climate change is most likely more horrific than we can possibly imagine. These are both facts stated in Allan Thompson’s article, “A World They Don’t Deserve: Moral failure and deep adaptation.” Thompson bases his argument on two main assumptions: first, that the future conditions of the natural world are “deeply uncertain”; and two that the members of the current generation have a moral responsibility to protect the livelihoods of future generations through the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change. I agree with both of these assumptions, however I think that he is discounting a few very important other assumptions in his argument. 

Thompson’s article is based entirely on an anthropocentric worldview, meaning that he considers that the value of ecosystems and the natural world is instrumental rather than intrinsic. It is essential to recognize the intrinsic value of nature, not just for the sake of recognition, but also because it plays an enormous role in awareness and support for conservation policy. This article would lose a significant amount of validity if considered from an ecocentric point of view; it is impossible to apply deep adaptation principles to something that no longer exists. In this light, Thomspon’s discussion about novel ecosystems is a justification for ecosystem destruction, and a way for humans to continue exploiting already overburdened natural systems.

The idea of Derek Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem is fascinating, but I think it is applied a bit out of context. The environmental crisis is not only a future problem, it is a current problem. The victims of climate change are not some unknown, arbitrary people; they are citizens of the global south, coastal cities and towns, indigenous communities, and your (future) children and grandchildren. While the Non-Identity Problem argues that it is not immoral to fail to act on behalf of future generations, current generations are being devastated and it is immoral to fail to act on behalf of them.

In response to the ecological crisis and the moral failure of our generation, Allan Thompson suggests an apology. After his discussion of institution-collapsing and horrific repercussions of inaction, this seems far from sufficient. Thompson elaborates on his idea of an apology, including the component of “real effort”. My contention with his apology deepens here; how successful will an effort to repair a damaged world be when it has already been accepted that the world is doomed? If we can’t find funding to take action now, where will the funding come from when there truly is no hope for improvement? Furthermore, Thompson argues that if we can improve social institutions it will help compensate for our lack of environmental actions. At the beginning of his paper Thompson makes the assumption that the future conditions of the natural world are “deeply uncertain”. Taking this assumption into account, how can we be sure that social institutions will function the same as they do today, or even remain intact? It seems as if the focus on social institutions is a distraction from environmental crises. 

This course of action is not enough. Responses to climate change and environmental injustices cannot wait until we realize that it is too late. The burdens of climate change will not fall on generations far into the future, they will fall on my generation. I don’t want to live in a world with novel ecosystems and a geoengineered atmosphere, and I don’t want your apology.

The climate crisis: adaptation or mitigation?

In the essay “Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World,” Allen Thompson discusses the impacts that the inevitable warming of our planet will have on our culture. He claims that consumerism is not likely to survive as our culture changes in response to our changing environment. Furthermore, he considers how future generations will have to develop “new environmental virtues suited to a new world environment” (Thompson 2). 

Much of the essay seems to be based on the assumption that there is little we can do now to mitigate the crisis of climate change, rather, we should shift our focus to the issue of adaptation. In the last chapter, “Technology and the Ghost Dance”, Thompson argues that it’s too late to reasonably place hope in developing a technological solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He discusses different forms of alternative energy and their feasibility in producing the amount of sustainable energy we need globally. He claims that although the sun continuously delivers far more energy than we could ever use, it’s unreasonable to think that we could come up with the technology to harness that energy within a short enough time frame to mitigate the climate crisis. 

However, I disagree with Thompson’s sentiment that finding a technological solution to the climate crisis, specifically in the form of alternative energy, is just a pipe dream, or as Thompson put it a “ghost dance”. If the sun continuously delivers eight hundred terawatts of energy to the earth, and it’s just a matter of harnessing thirty of those, then to me the obvious solution is to fund the development of technology that will harness the sun’s energy. Solar technology is already improving rapidly, even though we don’t provide energy research the funding it deserves. Before we effectively give up on facing the issue at hand by discussing adaptation to global warming, shouldn’t we first put our resources into attempting to develop a technological solution to the issue? It may not be feasible, but if there is even a chance that it is, then to me it seems logical to explore this possibility before it’s too late.

Are we willing to make a LIfestyle change?

In Thompson’s piece “A Radical Hope in a Warmer World”, he discusses how the lives we have grown accustomed to living in are vulnerable. The consumer culture we have so carefully cultivated is in desperate need of a change if we are to help diminish the catastrophic effects of climate change. As Thompson puts it, “today’s consumer culture would not be possible without the Industrial Revolution and so is intimately connected, at least historically, to the burning of fossil fuels for energy (Thompson 2).” As of right now most of our fuel is closely tied to the burning of fossil fuel and throughout history we have been “exploiting carbon-based forms of energy” (Thompson 3). I agree that our lifestyles need to change pretty dramatically, and we can’t just wait for technology to be our safety net. Especially since we have a limited amount of time before the effects of climate change become too great. But in what ways do we need to change our lifestyles? And how do we get people to do it? While I agree with Thompson that our lifestyles do need to change, how should we go about it? 

It is hard for me to imagine a world where people actively change their lifestyles to limit the effects of climate change when we are currently living in a time where there are people who still don’t believe climate change is a big deal. Or they just don’t believe it is a real thing. I think a lot of people, especially here in the US have grown accustomed to the lavish lifestyles we lead and I’m not positive people are ready to change that. Especially since those who are currently feeling the effects of climate change right now, and those who will soon feel the effects of climate change are really not the ones causing most of the damage to the climate right now. Climate change is going to affect the powerful and rich last and I don’t see them giving up their lifestyles anytime soon. 

Picture found on Pixabay by Cocoparisienne

All We Can do is Hope By: Kristen Adamec

Photo: Paolo Monti, 1969

Allen Thompson in his article “A World They Don’t Deserve: Moral Failure and Deep Adaption,” argues succinctly that we, as a human race, have a moral obligation to combat climate change. He firmly believes that we need to step up our efforts to combat the negative effects we are having on the planet in order to provide the best possible world for future generations to thrive in. Of course, as Thompson points out, all of this hinges on the continuation of the human race. Thompson provides strong evidence for the flexibility and perseverance of the human race, but believes that the best way for the current population to apologize to–and ensure the flourishing of–the next generation is by putting in marked effort to combating climate change. 

Reading this article, I found myself agreeing with Thompson’s arguments: apologizing and providing restitution to future generations is something we should focus more on, geoengineering is a very bad idea, and we have a moral obligation to provide the best possible world for those who come next. The morality of climate change is not something I had ever considered. Though I had previously considered that we need to address climate change to save the planet and future life, I had not considered it through the lens of morality.  All humans have the obligation to look out and provide for other humans. We, as a current population, have failed to provide for those coming after us, by focusing too much on the current needs of the population. Instead of being secure in the knowledge that the human race will continue on, we must, as Thompson argues, turn to stoicism and radical hope to believe that the human race will adapt to a warmth-ravaged planet. As Thompson puts it: “Hope is dead. Long live hope” (15). The hope that we can reverse or significantly slow climate change is gone, and a new hope must be kindled: the hope that whatever the consequences of climate change are, human can survive them. 

the angel of history

In Thompson’s “Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World”, Thompson lays out two conceptions of a new kind of environmental ethics. One he calls “virtues of transition”, and the other “virtues of the future”. Virtues of transition prepares one for living well through a period of radical transitions brought about by the ecological crisis. These virtues aim at opposing “despair and hopelessness” and urged everyone to fight on against ecological destruction and the injustices and sufferings that it brings (9). On the other hand, virtues of the future, are our newly developed virtues after the ecological crisis has been stopped that will allow us to deal with the wreckage that the crisis has left. For Thompson this involves an abandonment of the concept of nature and a requirement that human civilization itself takes responsibility for the continued survival of nature (12). Although I think the idea of responsibility for nature as a virtue is an interesting one, I oppose Thompson’s distinctions of the two virtues. This distinction put means and ends at odds. The means (virtues of transition) being backwards looking involves returning to nature it’s autonomy and undoing the consumptive habits of society while the ends (virtues of the future) involves taking the responsibility for caring for nature which is forward looking (9, 12). Thompson provides an apocalyptic vision of change where the future has to be rebuilt after the end of the world. However, this vision misunderstands the significance of the environmental justice movement. The struggle for environmental justice, if it is to be effective, must be a struggle for freedom. It must be a call for humanity to take responsibility for its own fate and its own decisions in the world. In other words, it must rely on “virtues of the future” and not simply “virtues of transition”. Thompson sees the inevitable suffering brought about by ecological degradation as tragic, but this is not true. As the philosopher Theodor Adorno once wrote: “thought which does decapacitate itself leads to transcendence and to the idea of a world constitution in which not only is present suffering abolished’, but even the suffering that lies in the past and is beyond recall might be revoked” (qtd. in Zuidervaart). In other words, it is the achievements of future which sets the context for the suffering of the past. The sufferings of the present and near future can only be tragic if we have failed our historic tasks. Since we have only begun to realized our historic mission, I suggest we wait a little longer before passing judgement.

1. Zuidervaart, Lambert, “Theodor W. Adorno”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =<>.