What to do when the world has become strange and our habits self-destructive? We propose to think climate activism as a practice of self-cultivation that finds opportunities for action within the uncanny horizon of ecological crises.
Our experience of global warming has become strange, because it contains deeply contradictory elements. This situation requires both fundamental structural changes and individual efforts. On the one hand, global warming is considered a manageable threat looming in the future, but on the other hand, it is a disaster which has already occurred and needs to be adapted to. Living with such strangeness of global warming requires individual and collective efforts of self-cultivation. By this term, we mean a reflective practice of defining, re-evaluating and creating anew the values and goals that guide our activities, as well as the practices that give them form. The challenge of self-cultivation is particularly clear in the case of climate activism, which seeks to influence structures that accelerate global warming.
Our project locates the challenge of self-cultivation to the dilemma between hope and despair. Relying on hope alone is no longer enough in the light of current knowledge about global warming. Moreover, trying to consolidate hope to the complexity of the situation can easily lead to hopelessness and apathy. We argue that aims and means of self-cultivation should strive beyond this dilemma. This means a change of perspective, involving incorporating the uncanny features of global warming into climate activism. In this way, the idea of hope does not limit other scenarios for the future, and hopelessness does not lead to disability.
In our project, we explore climate activism as a self-education that recognizes the need for action while also coming to terms with the enormous scale of global warming and the changed temporal horizon.
Going beyond hope and hopelessness opens novel vistas in the aspects of self-cultivation in climate activism. Through empirical case studies of activism, we are looking for capabilities that recognize the ultimate uncanniness of our experience of a changing environment, while maintaining agency. Our point of view sparks a new kind of debate on global warming by questioning the role of hope as the self-evident position of activism.