Sustainability, Climate Change and ‘Disruption’

Prof Christopher Dent

Disruption. It can take many forms. It can come suddenly and unexpectedly, like an un-forecasted storm or major crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic. We may see it is coming, such as the planned transport workers strike in Glasgow during the COP26 Climate Summit. Or it may be a gradual process, like the ‘disruptive’ changes that social media technologies have made to how we communicate and relate to one another.

We generally do not like disruption. It causes problems, uncertainty, risk and a loss of control. But disruption can also challenge us in positive ways. It can make us sit up and think, awaken us to take things more seriously that deserve our attention, or present common opportunities to make the world a better place.

The University’s Sustainability Festival is taking place from Monday 1st to Friday 5th November, and it aims to disrupt!

Like the COP26 Climate Summit also starting at the same time, we want to bring about significant change, disrupt in the way we think, act, and behave; to have a real and positive impact on our lives, and those around us.

There is a big debate in sustainability studies about how we can realistically achieve real change in our society and economy, to make them both more sustainable.

There are those who advocate a gradual, pragmatic approach. This entails adapting current practices and systems in steady, incremental ways; taking existing approaches and ways of doing things and simply making them more sustainable, for example, replacing economic growth with the pursuit of ‘green growth’. Instead of mass-producing fossil fuel powered cars we mass-produce electric vehicles and so on. The UK government’s ‘Ten Point Plan’ to achieve its net zero emissions goal by 2050 is largely based on this gradual approach, sometimes referred to as ‘ecological modernisation’. But will this be enough to avoid a climate catastrophe?

Other sustainability theorists are more radical and revolutionary in approach, arguing for more profound disruptive change. Yes, electric vehicles are needed but a more radical approach would be to have far fewer vehicles in our society through the use of technology and a cultural shift of attitudes on car ownership. This approach makes the case for paradigm changes in humanity’s relationship with the planet and its resources. It contends that the greening of ‘business as usual’ is not sufficient, and that we need to ‘disrupt’ what we currently are doing if humans are to survive into the 22nd century, and beyond. Otherwise, we may find various kinds of environmental collapse will come to increasingly disrupt us, and our unsustainable lives.

Come to the Sustainability Festival and entertain the possibility of it ‘disrupting’ you… for good!

DAY THEMES – click on the images below to find out what is happening on each day of the Festival:

Professor Christopher Dent is the Chair of the Sustainability Festival organising committee and the Director of SustainNET.

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