Skip to content

When you choose to publish with PLOS, your research makes an impact. Make your work accessible to all, without restrictions, and accelerate scientific discovery with options like preprints and published peer review that make your work more Open.


Facing Climate And Ecological Breakdown Requires A New Vision For Education And Politics

Blog post author Aashis Joshi

Aashis Joshi is a PhD candidate at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) whose research focuses on justice and collective action in climate change adaptation. He is a citizen of Nepal. He can be found on X as @aashisjo (

Until the recent arrival of pre-monsoon showers, the sky above Kathmandu was a near-permanent haze of pollution. An unusually hot and dry spring had set the conditions for wildfires to rage across the hills of Nepal, adding smoke to the already polluted dust- and vehicle exhaust-laden air in the valley. Meanwhile, much of the rest of South Asia is sweltering under record high temperatures for this time of the year. Dozens of poll workers died in the unforgiving heat as India held its elections. Newborns in Gujarat have had to be treated for dehydration, and they face the risk of heat-induced organ damage for life.

Elsewhere, in Mexico, monkeys have been dropping dead from trees having succumbed to heatstroke as the region experiences a brutal, unprecedented heatwave. Mexico City, with 22 million people, is set to run out of water within weeks. Coral reefs have suffered the worst bleaching this year as ocean temperatures reach uncharted highs. Southern Brazil has been hit by relentless flooding for over a month.

These are just some recent signs that the stable climate and other earth systems under which our societies developed are faltering. Some are on the verge of collapse, under relentless assault from modern humanity, with regional and global consequences for habitability, food security and social stability.

The speed at which the impacts of climate and ecological breakdown are playing out far exceeds what scientists had anticipated. As a result we can expect increasingly hostile conditions for living beings, including us humans.

The public, however, is still woefully unaware of how quickly and irreversibly the biophysical basis of our lives and societies is unraveling. Societies around the world, but especially in tropical and subtropical regions, are soon to face catastrophic crop failures, unlivable conditions, and mass migrations. There are many exclusive, elite-level conferences where academics and technocrats talk about climate justice but hardly any public discussion on how to cope with such upheavals.

The technocratic narrative that shapes the public’s perception is of climate change as a technological challenge to solve using innovation and economic growth. Yet climate change is just the tip of the iceberg of our environmental problems, which stem from overshooting the ecological limits of our planet as we pursue the cultural-political paradigms of consumerism and growth.

How much of the public understands that the root cause of ecological overshoot is the modern industrial capitalist organization of our societies which regards economic growth as prosperity? That this system is built upon historical and ongoing colonialist and ecocidal exploitation of Global South resources and labor by rich Western and Global North nations and corporations? Not many. Even fewer realize that the techno-solutions being planned to address our climate impact require great materials and energy use and entail further colonial injustices (potentially even genocides) and ecological devastation.

The industrial-capitalist enterprise has kept the public uncritically accepting of it by feeding us its ideologies surrounding the distribution of power and the notion of progress from early on in our lives. The education system in particular plays a major role in legitimizing techno-industrial growth-based modernity and conditioning us to find our life’s path within it.

It imparts a materials-, energy-, and ecology-blind worldview that disconnects us from the landscapes and ecosystems that sustain us, indoctrinating us to value consumption and economic growth over social equity and ecological integrity. It sets us up to serve the industrial-capitalist system that rides roughshod over the climate, biodiversity, and human rights to secure resources and labor for cheap to maximize profit.

Take, for example, highly qualified yet ecologically-clueless technocrats and decision-makers in India and Nepal building large hydroelectric projects in fragile Himalayan landscapes to spur economic growth, with disastrous results.

If the vast majority of the public is poorly educated about the severity of climate and ecological breakdown and the ideologies that are driving it, what are the chances that we will be psychologically and socially prepared for its consequences? Will we make informed and just political decisions amid mounting scarcity and turmoil? Will we help and care for each other in times of crisis instead of embracing a rising far-right politics that scapegoats and persecutes migrants, refugees, and people of different ethno-religious backgrounds? Stability as well as the very moral fabric of society are at stake.

Admittedly, it is difficult to challenge, let alone escape the industrial-capitalist system, as most of us depend on jobs and wage labor within it for our livelihood. This allows the ruling class to force our participation and complicity in the abusive and ecocidal neoliberal economy from which they derive their wealth and power. They are also keen to deploy propaganda and violence to smother the public’s capacity to envision alternative ways of organizing our societies and take collective action towards implementing them.

As dominant and resistant to transformation as industrial capitalism is, however, it is neither inevitable nor set in stone. Unlike the laws of nature which are immutable and inescapable, our economic and political systems are social constructs whose existence is contingent upon acceptance and exercise of power. And given how the industrial-capitalist system drives climate and ecological collapse as well as global injustices, it should neither form the political backdrop for climate and ecological action nor be an acceptable model to organize our societies.

I believe that we the public are the best and most legitimate arbiters and agents of change, rather than technocrats of the industrial-capitalist system. We have the collective potential to drive radical social reorganization to live within environmental limits while upholding human rights globally. Awakening this potential requires honest discussion of our civilization’s environmental destruction and how to prepare for the social-ecological polycrisis that has resulted.

Surely the best preparation is to strive for a world where we value sufficiency and human rights over profit and growth. But this isn’t possible without a global movement for public education rooted in ecology, justice, and decolonization, and unbeholden to power structures. The urgent need of the hour is for the public to educate ourselves and one another to enrich our capacity to imagine and chart a less damaging path in the future.

As the author Amitav Ghosh reflects in his book The Great Derangement, “If there is any one thing that global warming has made perfectly clear it is that to think about the world only as it is amounts to a formula for collective suicide”.

Related Posts
Back to top