Presented by Aaron Thierry (Cardiff University)

Despite thousands of higher education institutions (HEIs) having issued Climate Emergency declarations, most academics continue to operate according to ‘business-as-usual’. However, such passivity increases the risk of climate impacts so severe as to threaten the persistence of organised society, and thus HEIs themselves. This seminar explores why a maladaptive cognitive-practice gap persists and asks what steps could be taken by members of HEIs to activate the academy.

Drawing on insights from climate psychology and sociology, we argue that a process of ‘socially organised denial’ currently exists within universities, leading academics to experience a state of ‘double reality’ that inhibits feelings of accountability and agency, and this is self-reenforcing through the production of ‘pluralistic ignorance’. We further argue that these processes serve to uphold the cultural hegemony of ‘business-as-usual’ and that this is worsened by the increasing neo-liberalisation of modern universities. Escaping these dynamics will require deliberate efforts to break taboos, through frank conversations about what responding to a climate emergency means for universities’ – and individual academics’ – core values and goals.

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