John Robinson

photo credit Martin Dee

A\J: What gives you hope in your environmental and social justice work?

John Robinson: I believe a much more sustainable world is really possible. Given strong path dependence and currently unsustainable trajectories, such a future certainly won’t happen by itself, but I believe it can be achieved through changes in the way we think, act and relate to each other and to the world. Second, I think very many people around the world strongly believe that current trends are not sustainable, and change is required, change that goes beyond simple policy changes to encompass something more profound about the human condition. There is a very large latent demand for a better world.

What does “faith” mean to you in an environmental context?

JR: I have quite a lot of faith that most people are interested in a more sustainable future. If people are confronted with choices among actions that demonstrably lead to more of the same, and those that offer the possibility of contributing to a more sustainable future, they will opt for the latter, all other things being equal. 

The problem, of course, is that all other things are never equal, and the path dependence of our socio-technical-natural systems is such that there are always many powerful reasons to keep doing what we are doing, at many different levels. For many people, layered as they are in to complex and often very demanding lives and obligations, it is hard to find the capability to even consider alternatives, let alone act on them. Nevertheless, it still happens everywhere you look that all kinds of people work towards changing their world. So the challenge becomes how to make it more possible for people to act on their desire for a better world.

 What is the role of “love” and “caring” in your own environmental outreach?

JR: Love and care inform most of what we do in the service of something beyond our own direct material interests. Given the critical importance of changing the way we act towards each other and the world around us, they are essential ingredients in achieving a sustainable world.

Could you please name a song, a book, and a film that has been meaningful, transformative, or inspiring for you in your social and ecological activism?

JR: Bob Dylan, “When I paint my masterpiece” (version by The Band), Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad (1961)

Stephen Bede Scharper, a columnist for the Toronto Star, is an associate professor with the Centre for Environment at the University of Toronto. He is author of Redeeming the Time: A Political Theology of the Environment and co-editor of The Natural City: Re-Envisioning the Built Environment.

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