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, but unlike some environmental ethicists I do not believe it is quite time to write a ‘requiem for the species.’ In learning how to tackle climate change together, we must be careful to succumb neither to wishful thinking nor to despair about our options. The psychological space between these two attitudes is occupied by the virtue of rational hope. I have spent a good deal of time explaining the importance of hope–as well as other key virtues, like truthfulness, justice, and respect for nature–as they relate to the climate crisis. This is because I believe that if we want to craft a genuinely sustainable politics we must become better people.

Recently, I have begun thinking and writing about proper environmental habitation from two new perspectives. First, I have constructed a theory of generational membership for the Anthropocene. I believe we can make great strides on problems like climate change and biodiversity loss, but only if we first displace the idea that generational membership is a matter of ‘market segmentation.’ In contrast to this consumerist version of generational membership, some previous generations have consciously defined themselves by reference to an ethically and politically significant struggle in which they were engaged. The anti-fascism of the 1920s and 1930s is one powerful example. This is the model of generational membership we need now, with a focus on becoming responsible planetary citizens.

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 settlers and First Nations 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