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“A sustainable future needs other perspectives than just those of scientific experts”


What is environmental justice, and what does a sustainable future look like? A new thesis in English literature looks at a spectrum of imaginaries of who is capable of creating a sustainable and just world – and why the idea that we should just ‘listen to the science’ can be limiting in this work.

In her thesis, Rut Elliot Blomqvist explores non-fiction, fiction, and other types of texts, and presents two perspectives that shed new light on the debate surrounding what is a just and sustainable world.

Two different approaches

Rut Elliot Blomqvist
Rut Elliot Blomqvist.
Photo: Janna Roosch

According to Blomqvist, there are two different ways of looking at environmental justice and sustainability. On the one hand, there are authors who see a future where business leaders and industrialists from the Western world are the main actors in the work for a sustainable future. Others instead regard industrialism, capitalism, and Western colonialism as obstacles to environmental justice.

“They focus on entirely different protagonists such as indigenous peoples, migrant workers, and other human groups exploited in a colonial, capitalist system – and on how these people interact with other species in the ecosystem, so that those who are capable of building a sustainable and just world are portrayed as a social and ecological collective,” says Blomqvist.

To summarise these differences, the thesis introduces the terms ‘sustainable capitalist development’ and ‘ecological decolonisation’.

Aims to encourage reflection

The thesis also provides new insights into the environmental debate. By comparing different types of texts, ranging from a textbook on sustainable development by the neo-classical economist Jeffrey Sachs to a pop music album by the Indigenous Sámi activist Sofia Jannok, the thesis gives a deeper understanding of how we think about environmental politics.

“My hope is that this will encourage and open up for more critical reflection among those who work with environmental policy issues, especially in environmental movements.”

Excluding other forms of expertise

One of the most striking conclusions is how accepted understandings about how we should ‘listen to the science’ can limit the way we look at environmental issues by excluding other forms of expertise and rationality.

In the light of the thesis, commonly held views about environmentalist knowledge production appear simplistic and based on stereotypical Western notions of credibility and expertise.

“The thesis shows that statements about how we should ‘listen to the science’ when it comes to environmental issues tend to lump together environmental and climate research with technoscience and the dominant form of economic theory. One effect of this is that political decisions about the types of societies we should be building are depoliticised and rendered into issues that only a narrow group of Western experts can say something about,” says Blomqvist.

Other perspectives

Blomqvist sees her thesis as an encouragement for environmentalist debates to be broadened.

“We need to make way for more voices than just the dominant Western ones when we discuss environmental justice. There are other perspectives and other experts, including people who are living in more sustainable ways and defending their levelihoods against exploitation.”

The thesis Worldmakers and Worldwreckers in Decolonial and Developmentalist Imaginaries of Environmental Justice from Western Europe and North America in the 2010s was publicly defended on 15 September.


Rut Elliot Blomqvist
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