4 January 2023

In the inaugural Iain McCalman Lecture, Frances Flanagan calls for a realignment of priorities with the needs of future generations front and centre: “From the streets full of schoolchildren on strike for the climate to the Green New Deal movement to the language of ‘circular economies’ starting to be heard in business and government, new modes of thinking about what human progress means are emerging and beginning to erupt into mainstream politics all over the world. And just as it is premature to give up on the possibility of a new social order, so too is it hasty to abandon the idea that work can be a political site from which to fight for the reform. For there is a crucial link between ‘sustainability’ and work that is perhaps very obvious but rarely made explicit: the process of ‘sustaining’ requires human labour. It means more than simply saying ‘no’ to damaging acts of consumption; it also means saying ‘yes’ to the human activities that are positively necessary for the repair, renewal and regeneration of our soils, our oceans, our cities, our critical human systems and our human bodies. … [L]ike any parent, I hope their little lines of personal progress rise, and that they find occupations that are useful and interesting and that nourish and nurture the people and places around them. But as every parent knows, I can’t do that for them. What I can do, and what all of us can do, is fight for a system that doesn’t press impossible dilemmas on their slim shoulders. It is within our power to reshape our present order of work in a way that does not insist that the next generation must choose between work that renews the world and work that is materially secure. We can, instead, fashion a system that offers them a stake in a deep and expansive environmental politics. One that isn’t just about what they do or don’t buy, but that yokes together their private lines of progress with that other great line that determines and marks our collective fate.”