Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World

  • Allen Thompson


Environmental changes can bear upon the environmental virtues, having effects not only on the conditions of their application but also altering the concepts themselves. I argue that impending radical changes in global climate will likely precipitate significant changes in the dominate world culture of consumerism and then consider how these changes could alter the moral landscape, particularly culturally thick conceptions of the environmental virtues. According to Jonathan Lear, as the last principal chief of the Crow Nation, Plenty Coups exhibited the virtue of “radical hope,” a novel form of courage appropriate to a culture in crisis. I explore what radical hope may look like today, arguing how it should broadly affect our environmental character and that a framework for future environmental virtues will involve a diminished place for valuing naturalness as autonomy from human interference.


Climate change Consumerism Courage Hope Responsibility 



Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Human Flourishing and Restoration in the Age of Global Warming conference at Clemson University, the International Society for Environmental Ethics during the 2009 American Philosophical Association (Central Division), and the Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference on The Environment at the University of Idaho. I am grateful to those audiences and to Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, Philip Cafaro, Baylor Johnson, Jason Kawall, Andrew Light, Kathryn Norlock, Martha Nussbaum, Ronald Sandler, Sarah Wright, and three anonymous referees for this journal for helpful comments.


  1. Cohen, J. E. (2005). Human population grows up. Scientific American. Accessed February 12, 2009, from
  2. Crutzen, P. J. (2002). Geology of mankind. Nature, 415(23). Accessed March 9, 2009, from
  3. Dillard, Annie. (1998). The wreck of time: Taking our century’s measure. Harper’s Magazine, 296, 51–56.Google Scholar
  4. Foot, P. (2001). Natural goodness. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. French, P. (Ed.). (1998). Individual and collective responsibility. Rochester, VT: Schenkman.Google Scholar
  6. Gartner, John. (2008). “Glaicers: Earth’s early warning system”. Accessed August 10, 2008, from
  7. Goodwin, N. R., Nelson, J. A., Ackerman, F. & Weisskopf, T. (2007). Consumer society. Encyclopedia of Earth. Cutler J. Cleveland (Ed.). Washington, DC: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment. Accessed August 10, 2008, from
  8. Hansen, J., Sato, M., Kharecha, P., Beerling, D., Masson-Delmotte, V., Pagani, M., Raymo, M., Royer, D. L., & Zachos, J. C. (2008). Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? Accessed March 30, 2009, from
  9. Heyd, T. (Ed.). (2005). Recognizing the autonomy of nature. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Jamieson, D. (1992). Ethics, policy, and global warming. Science, Technology & Human Values, 17(2), 139–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jamieson, D. (2008). Ethics and the environment. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Katz, E. (1997). Nature as subject: Human obligation and natural community. Lenham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  13. Lear, J. (2006). Radical hope: Ethics in the face of cultural devastation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Light, A. (2000). Ecological restoration and the culture of nature: A pragmatic perspective. In P. H. Gobster & B. Hull (Eds.), Restoring nature. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  15. McKeon, R. (1957). The development and the significance of the concept of responsibility. Revue internationale de philosophie, 11(39), 3–32.Google Scholar
  16. McKibben, Bill. (1989). The end of nature. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  17. Monbiot, George. (2008). One shot left. Accessed March 15, 2009, from
  18. Nolt, John. (2006). The move from good to ought in environmental ethics. Environmental Ethics, 28(4), 355–374.Google Scholar
  19. Norlock, Kathryn. (2009) Forgiveness, pessimism, and environmental citizenship. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 23(1).Google Scholar
  20. O’Neill, J., Holland, A., & Light, A. (2008). Environmental values. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Regan, T. (1983). The case for animal rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  22. Revkin, A. (2008). All energy roads lead to the sun. New York Times, 27 March 2008. Accessed August 10, 2008, from
  23. Sandler, R. (2007). Character and environment. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Singer, P. (1975). Animal liberation: A new ethics for our treatment of animals. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  25. Taylor, P. (1986). Respect for nature: A theory of environmental ethics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Thompson, A. (2007). Reconciling themes in neo-aristotelian meta-ethics. Journal of Value Inquiry, 41(2), 245–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Thompson, A. (2009). Responsibility for the end of nature, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love global warming. Ethics & the Environment, 14(1), 79–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Willimas, G. (2008). Responsibility as a virtue. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 11(4), 455–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionClemson UniversityClemsonUSA

Personalised recommendations