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Institute of Advanced Study

Mr Jonathon Porritt's Public Lecture

Date: 8 February 2011

Time: 6.15pm

Venue: Room 140, Elvet Riverside

Title: Must Utopia be Sustainable?

Our current model of progress (seeking to improve peoples' lives through consumption-driven economic growth stretching indefinitely into the future) has indisputably hit the buffers. If we don't learn to live more sustainably on this stressed-out planet of ours, without further delay, then the future looks very grim indeed. 

But, as yet, very few people have shown much interest in alternative and sustainable models of progress. In part, that's because they find it very hard to envisage what such models mean in practice - how will we eat, travel, work, save, shop and have fun in a 'sustainable world'? 

Interestingly, there are very few 'utopian visions' of what this sustainable world might look like. Dystopias abound; post-apocalyptic fiction is particularly fashionable. But there's little to help people see the kind of better world that environmental campaigners eloquently assert is what awaits us once we've transformed our way of life - even though those environmental organisations have themselves been rubbish at providing that kind of support to the imagination. 

But what's the point of utopian thinking in the 21st Century if it isn't based on the principles and practice of sustainability? After all, our future lives will be no less bounded by the laws of Nature than our current lives. Which means that any Utopia on offer today that isn't genuinely sustainable is just another dystopia in disguise.

Jonathon Porritt CBE is co-Founder of Forum for the Future, an eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development. His involvement in the Green Movement started in the mid-1970s, when he joined the Green Party.   He became co-Chair of the Green Party in 1980, a position which he held until he took over as Director of Friends of the Earth in 1984. His latest books are Capitalism As If The World Matters (2007), Globalism & Regionalism (2008) and Living Within Our Means (Forum for the Future 2009). Jonathon is a Fellow of the IAS during its focus on the theme of 'Futures'.

This is the second lecture in the Institute of Advanced Study's public lecture series on Utopia.