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CEPPA Talk (in person) – Quân Nguyen (Edinburgh)

March 28 @ 3:45 pm - 5:00 pm

This talk is part of our series on Climate Ethics

Title: Is despair about climate breakdown rational?

Abstract: Both within the wider climate and environmentalist movement as well as in academic circles, it has become a common assumption that, in order to maintain and sustain actions against the climate crisis, we need to avoid despair. Despair about the climate crisis, so philosophers and environmentalists alike, is the opposite of hope, and should be avoided on grounds of both rational aptness and pragmatic considerations. Despair about climate breakdown is only rationally apt if it is impossible for our actions to make a difference – as our actions do make a difference, despair is not a fitting response to climate change (McKinnon 2014). Further, we have pragmatic or strategic reasons to avoid despair as it leads to apathy and inaction about climate change by hindering our agency and our capacity for moral imagination (Malm 2021, Huber 2023, Thaler 2022). In this paper, I argue that this consensus has moved too fast, and that despair even in its fundamental form is a rationally apt response to the climate crisis. Despair is a fitting response to the structural features of the climate crisis in terms of fragmentation of agency and moral corruption (Gardiner 2006), making despair an accurate representation of a situation lacking agency. Despair is thereby an important source of moral knowledge about the structure of the climate crisis, which in itself is not automatically outweighed by pragmatic reasons of counterproductivity (Hutton 2022, Srinivasan 2017), and a demand to avoid despair can lead to affective injustice for young people, climate activists, climate scientists and anyone concerned with the climate crisis. The paper closes with considerations whether despair hinders moral imagination, arguing that in several paradigmatic cases, despair can spurn radical militant action just as much as hope can

Location: Edgecliffe G03



March 28
3:45 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Category: