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Environmental Futures, Now and Then: Crisis, Systems Modeling, and Speculative Fiction

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Lisa Garforth



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by University of Chicago Press, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


In many ways the idea of the global environment as an object of social and political concern does not exist without narratives concerning a crisis about its future. In this paper I explore the kinds of knowledges that have made up successive ideas of environmental crisis and environmental futures. I focus in particular on the relationship between techno-scientific projections and wider cultural repertoires of speculation: between environmental science and green science fiction; between predictions of ecological catastrophe and dreams of better futures with and for nature. Environmental crisis is closely linked to claims to scientific certainty, predictive statements and policy expertise. As Robin et. al. put it, “[t]he Age of Environment has been nurtured by the Era of Prediction.” But both have also been deeply entangled with speculative and fictional imaginaries that raise ethical, political and even metaphysical questions about human prospects in a changing natural world. Ideas of environmental crisis since the 1970s have been composed of varying admixtures of systematic and self-consciously objective attempts to model eco-social future trajectories on one hand, and heuristic and affective future imaginaries on the other. In this respect environmental concern typifies the sometimes synergistic and sometimes sterile tension between technocratic extrapolation and humanist utopianism that Andersson identifies at the core of the post-war project of futures studies. Understanding science and speculation together offers a rich picture of the history of contemporary environmental ideas and a nuanced understanding of what has changed in crisis narratives between the limits of the 1970s and climate change today, both in terms of the scientific epistemologies that make up crisis, and in terms of the work that crisis does on and in the popular and political imagination.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Garforth L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Osiris

Year: 2019

Volume: 34

Issue: 1

Pages: 238-257

Print publication date: 01/06/2019

Online publication date: 01/06/2019

Acceptance date: 30/01/2019

Date deposited: 07/11/2018

ISSN (print): 0369-7827

ISSN (electronic): 1933-8287

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.1086/703910


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