About

I grew up in British Columbia, my childhood split about equally between Whistler and Coquitlam. When not in school, I could likely have been found either carving turns in Harmony Bowl or wandering with friends through the trails of Burnaby Mountain. I left B.C. in my twenties to go to university in Ontario, eventually receiving a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Toronto.

I’m a philosopher of environmental sustainability. Broadly speaking, this means that I seek to understand the many ways in which we inhabit built and natural spaces. But I’m primarily an environmental ethicist, so I focus on how we should inhabit these spaces in ways that allow human and non-human life to flourish in them. Getting better at this requires, among other things, taking the insights of ecology and climate science much more seriously than we currently do in public policy deliberations at every political level. Because this is an imperative that concerns all of us, my efforts to explain and defend it are aimed at a broad audience. I believe genuinely engaged environmental research can and should strike an ideal balance between the discipline-focused and the interdisciplinary. I strive for this balance in my administrative work, teaching, writing and public speaking. From all these platforms, I connect philosophy to climate science, history, human geography, sociology, economics and fiction. I also look beyond the academy, seeking to facilitate dialogue among academics and politicians, First Nations groups, journalists, seniors groups, engineers, NGOs and ordinary citizens.

More specifically, much of my work in the past ten years focuses on the grave threat anthropogenic climate change poses to nature, the global poor and people of the future. This is an existential crisis. In learning how to tackle it together, we must be careful to succumb neither to wishful thinking nor to despair about our options. The path between these two attitudes is rational hope. This is my guiding value as an educator in these troubled times. Recently, I have begun thinking and writing about the climate crisis, and the larger problem of environmental habitation in which it is embedded, from two new perspectives. First, I have constructed a responsibility-based theory of generational membership. I believe we can make great strides on problems like climate change and biodiversity loss if we understand our historical placement first and foremost from the standpoint of the enormous and unique ethical and political challenges facing us. But first we need to displace the dominant idea that generational membership is simply a matter of ‘market segmentation.’ All of this is aimed at the global citizen. My second project is about what it means to be Canadian now. There are two monumental challenges facing Canadians: reconciliation between settler peoples and First Nations’ peoples on the one hand and mitigating and adapting to climate change on the other. I am seeking a way to frame the task of ‘nation-building’ in a way that both brings these challenges together and shows us a just and sustainable way forward.

I can be reached at bwilliston@wlu.ca