bio

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” –Wendell Berry

Everyone claims to have grown up in God’s country, but my home province, British Columbia, genuinely warrants the description. My childhood was split about equally between Whistler (whose once fabulous ski resort was bought, then promptly ruined, by Vail Resorts in 2016) and Coquitlam (a very sleepy suburb back then, now swallowed whole by Vancouver). 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 (also in the process of being ruined, in this case by the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline expansion). 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 work on the ethics of climate change, the ethics and politics of sustainability, technologies of the Anthropocene, new earth politics, Canadian environmental policy and the remarkably fecund concept of planetary health. I’m trained as a philosopher, but I believe it is imperative to approach these themes in an interdisciplinary spirit. So I draw liberally on sociology, fiction, political theory, geography, economics, history and natural science. My work builds bridges across academic disciplines and between the academy and the wider world. By temperament I’m a ‘big-picture’ thinker. Because the issues I work on have to do with the whole career of our species on this planet, past and future, I present my ideas in historically sweeping ways. This is what the very concept of planetary health demands, after all: it concerns the sustainability of our whole civilization. 

My latest contribution to the required civilizational conversation is a book coming out in October, 2020, with Routledge. Philosophy and the Climate Crisis: How the Past Can Save the Present, looks at the climate crisis through the lens of previous collective traumas, from the Peloponnesian War to the French Revolution. In each case, I show how a political collective’s social imaginary collapsed and how a famous philosopher–Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Spinoza and Hegel–stepped in to repair the damage. From each of these wholesale social, political and existential re-imaginings I extract a key intellectual innovation –about the importance of expertise, love, technology, human and non-human diversity, and rights. I do this not simply for the sake of collecting neat ideas but because these insights in particular are crucial to our attempts to remake a social imaginary currently collapsing under the weight of severe climate disruption.I’m now expanding this framework more explicitly in the direction of planetary health. If they are going to aid us in the way intended the intellectual innovations I have isolated must be channelled into a politics and ethics that recognize and enhance the interdependencies between human well-being and the health of the planet. Wendell Berry is right: we need to learn to listen to what the planet is telling us about the unsustainability of our current practices.

With this in mind, I have two brand new book projects, both of which have the concept of planetary health at their core. The first is a SSHRCC-funded project about planetary health and the task of nation-building in Canada. The book’s title is, Governing the Climate Crisis in Canada: Nation-Building for Planetary Health. The second connects planetary health to questions about the design of the built environment. Its title is, Planetary Health and the Technosphere: A New Model of Sustainable Governance for the Built Environment. These projects will occupy me for the better part of the next 2-3 years.

 

 

 

 

Email: bwilliston@wlu.ca

Twitter: @ClimatePhilo

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