Philosophy and the Environment

All IB students will, no doubt, take a special interest in the discussions to take place at the COP21 Paris Conference on the consequences of climate change and the urgent decisions to be implemented by all nations in order to prevent any future ecological catastrophe. Philosophy students are generally better acquainted with the concept of ‘nature’ than the term ‘environment’, widely used since the 1960’s and the very beginnings of ‘ecological awareness’ among its youngest generations. The word derives from the French ‘environs’, meaning the ‘outskirts’ or ‘surroundings’ of a town. It actually describes perfectly the place of humanity at the heart of an ecosystem which affects its very existence as well as its survival. Man may still consider himself as an omnipotent agent, capable of shaping his own habitat at the detriment of a fragile natural world. Yet, by choosing to ignore his natural ‘partner’, isn’t he putting his own species at risk?

Drawing from their study of classical and modern philosophers, students could organise a debate around the themes of sustainability, technical progress and happiness, the latter concept implying a philosophical reflection on how humanity could imagine alternative lifestyles based on completely different conceptions of education, work, community life etc … Arguments from sceptical thinkers like the Australian-born Clive Hamilton could, for instance, be presented against positions advocating innovative technological solutions such as climate engineering. Above all, students should defend their conclusions in the light of imaginative forms of happiness they think mankind is prepared to fight for and give life to.

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