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The 2023-2024 John W. Altman Program in the Humanities

In an age of environmental peril, what use are the humanities? Environmental problems are often seen as technical challenges requiring scientific expertise. Yet the science establishing climate change and outlining countermeasures has been in place for decades and has received extraordinary public and governmental attention. The relentless warming of Earth in the face of this knowledge reminds us that environmental challenges are also matters of communication, imagination, representation, and justice. Large in scale, entwined with social and cultural institutions, and fundamentally political, they require not only scientific innovation but also expertise in language, law, rhetoric, philosophy, and culture. Indeed, addressing climate change may require nothing short of a new planetary social compact for the use of natural resources, negotiated across hundreds of societies, each with its own traditions, cultures, geographical limitations, and internal divisions.  This project can succeed only through extraordinary intellectual collaboration—the marriage of scientific advances with visionary conceptions of the future, deep knowledge of human history, and a capacity to forge a new ethics of human responsibility for all Earth’s inhabitants, present and future. While the scale of the challenge is unprecedented, much of the knowledge it demands has been the subject of  humanistic inquiry for millennia.

The 2023-2024 Altman Program invites the Miami University community to join an urgent, transdisciplinary conversation on environmental justice. What political, economic, conceptual, and cultural barriers stifle the realization of an environmentally just and sustainable society? What is the meaning of “justice” at the astonishing scale of the planet? What ethical frameworks and imaginative interventions are essential to facing the environmental challenges of our time?  What can we learn from the history of human responses to social and ecological peril? And how can scholars, students, and the public forge a more just and sustainable future for our planet?