Ready for your signature: an open letter

By Joern Fischer

In my last post, I threatened that I was in the process of drafting an open letter to societal leaders.

The letter is now up and running. If you believe that many current sustainability initiatives are falling short of what is needed, I suggest you sign this letter. Also, please spread it — this will only “do something” if the number of signatures is large.

Is this a waste of time? Maybe. Maybe not. I have had various bits of feedback on the letter, ranging from “great initiative”, to “too vague”, to grumpy rants that none of this ever does anything anyway.

One thing should be clear: I don’t believe that this particular letter is perfect. I don’t know what perfect would be. I do know though that doing nothing is even less perfect.

Regarding the somewhat vague appeal in the letter: this is not because I couldn’t think of something more specific. My view is this: change will only come if many people believe change is needed. That, in turn, will only happen if the issue of sustainability (and the fundamental problems standing in the way of sustainability) finds its way into discourses in the public domain. This could be in local politics or in church groups, or in the UN. Doesn’t really matter, but unless fundamental issues such as material growth, leading a “good life”, equity, justice, obligations to other species, and so on manage to get on the radar at least — well, then nothing will happen. So the letter is vague because the answer is not 42, but in fact requires discourse and deliberation at all levels of society.

Ultimately, I believe if we can have a conversation, more prominently, on what we (as humanity) truly value, the outcome would not be that we believe in greed and infinite material growth. I’d rather go with something the Dalai Lama once alluded to — that humans are inherently good, but their heart of gold may be covered by layers of dust. The goal of discussions about what we value, what is a good life, and so on — continuing this metaphor beyond its safe limits … — would be to scrape the dust off people’s hearts.

Finally: this is not “policy advocacy” beyond what scientists should do. I’m not telling any politician or any local leader what they should do. I’m simply saying we ought to reflect whether what we do (collectively, as humanity) actually achieves what we strive for.

Anyway, enough ranting and raving. Go sign the letter, if you agree with it, and do help to distribute it. Unless many people sign it, we know what it will do: nothing.

5 thoughts on “Ready for your signature: an open letter

  1. Hi Joern. I agree with the content of this letter, but I believe its impact will be restricted if it comes only from academics. It addresses issues fundamental to the whole of humanity, so everyone has a stake in it. I work in sustainability and conservation for an NGO, my highest qualification is an M.Sc., and the themes you regularly discuss on your blog are what I deal with every day. Yet according to your criteria I am not eligible to sign this letter. I suggest opening this out to allow anybody who agrees with the message, no matter what their profession or academic achievement, to sign it. Thanks.

    • Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for your comment. I understand, and have wondered back and forth who should or should not sign. Ultimately, I made the decision that it should be “experts”. As an NGO member working on this stuff, you no doubt are an “expert”. Just as much as PhD student would be. For that reason, I think you should happily sign the statement if you agree with it.

      My intention (perhaps not done as well as it could/should have been) was to make sure this has some “authority”, i.e. is not just a bunch of uninformed radicals — but scholar, who study this stuff and are formally trained in thinking about it.

      Look at it this way: if you point out health problems, you might listen to doctors. If you point out sustainability problems, you might listen to sustainability scholars. I’m all for democracy, but this is not about everyone shouting loudly (no matter who they are), it’s actually about there being “experts” on an issue who largely agree but whose voice is not getting through (yet!).

      Anyway, i’m rambling. Thanks for your comment!


      • Hi Joern,

        Thanks for your reply. I agree with the principle that this letter is written by a group of “experts” with an informed view, but unfortunately governemnts don’t often respond to advice from scientists (e.g. regarding climate change, fishing quotas, badger culls in the UK, etc.). Governemnts will only take note when a critical mass of the elecorate demands change. Moreover, there are many people in society who will understand and agree with the argument you put forward in your letter. I don’t think it does academia (or your message)any good to effectively say ‘only we are qualified to talk about this’.

        No matter, perhaps we’re getting bogged down. I will sign the letter and support the cause!

        Best wishes.

  2. Thanks again for your thoughts. I will certainly keep your sentiments in mind and will ponder them — you haven’t exactly “convinced” me, but I do understand that there are significant and justified reasons for disagreeing with my arguments. So — food for thought!

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