Reflections from participants
MIT's Council on the Uncertain Human Future

Fast Forward, MIT's Climate Action Plan for the decade, provides for the expansion of the Council to deepen humanistic understanding of the climate crisis. The conversations are also a space for engaging with how the climate crisis is related to “the imperative of justice” and “the intertwined problems of equity and economic transition.”

Feature Story
MIT's Council on the Uncertain Human Future
Given what we know, how should we live now?

Reflections from participants


David Hsu
Associate professor of urban and environmental planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning

“The Council experience was, in a quite simple and profound way, an opportunity to connect with many other colleagues from around the Institute on climate change. For all of us, changes in the climate are of course very much on all of our minds, and motivate much of our work, but being able to meet and talk about it regularly was a refreshing change from the hectic pace of work and life at MIT.”

Anne McCants
Ann F. Friedlaender Professor of History, MIT History

“I’m an historian. I love thinking about the past, both about what was and what might have been. Professionally, I almost never think about the future; and even personally I do it much less I suspect than many people. So the only thing that truly resonated with me when I first heard about the Council on the Uncertain Human Future was the uncertainty bit. But to be honest, the past remains more uncertain than we think too, since History is itself a dialog between the evidence of the past and the concerns of the ever-shifting present. Uncertainty is neither new nor without remediation of some kind. The Council process gave me the gift of thinking about both disaster and resilience with colleagues for whom the future really is their object of concern. The ship is being minded as it goes forward. And we know from the past that minding matters.”

Kevin Gallagher
Attorney; Author; Director, Emergent Reslience;
National Convener, Council for the Uncertain Human Future

The cyclical nature of the Council, and its return to the question of "how do we live now," is so powerful because it helps make real the understanding that we will all live in a world beset by accelerating change and disruption for the duration of our lives. Returning to that question again and again, as individuals, communities, and a species, can help us continue engaging with changes that are beyond the capacity of any individual or any fixed ideas to cope with. The Council process offers the opportunity to support individuals in their unique experience of this time, to grow connections and relationships within the Institute, and, perhaps most importantly, to displace old ideas and outdated social norms that may be inhibiting an adequate response to a rapidly changing world.

Laur Hesse Fisher
Program Director, Environmental Solutions Initiative

“It’s my full-time job to direct projects that help the public and key constituents relate and incorporate climate science, impacts, and solutions. But through the Council process, I saw how infrequently I emotionally or existentially connect to the reality of climate change and what’s physically and psychologically changing in our world. And as I inquired into why this is so for me, I saw the safeguards I myself put in place in order to “keep calm and carry on.” Can we — human beings — really be present to these colossal changes that are occurring? And if so, what then? The CUHF gave me time to do something I normally wouldn’t – be still, reflect on this moment in time, and inquire into my beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors about the world that’s shifting around me, with me.”

Jim Paradis
Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing and Comparative Media Studies

“Council encouraged everyone to speak from personal perspectives and aspirations, so the sessions became a valuable bonding experience of trying to find a voice. No one was an expert. Discovering one’s voice in the cosmic context of living as part of the Earth rather than as somehow an exception to the Earth was not easy but it was very rewarding.”

Scott Odell
Postdoctoral associate, Environmental Solutions Initiative

“My knowledge of climate change and natural resource extraction has led me to change what I eat, where I shop, and how I spend my free time. It has changed the way I view my child’s future and led me to savor even more those occasional opportunities for quiet escape to natural settings. In CUHF, I found community in colleagues from across campus who are similarly finding ways to live within the context of the long-term challenges we work on each day.”

Alisa Zomer
Assistant Director, MIT Governance Lab

"At the outset, I was skeptical of the process. We would speak in turn, one by one, with no crosstalk. It felt like too much talk and not enough action...But the process, and the Council, grew on me. It emphasized patience, deep listening, and asking ourselves to reflect on questions that can’t be answered well with words. In this way, the Council can encourage an examination of morals and values, which, I hope, leads to action rooted in a sense of responsibility, community, and justice."

Wyn Kelley
Senior lecturer and Melville scholar, MIT Literature

“In Council, we faced dire realities. They were terrifying. In patiently investigating those realities, we found ourselves waking up to them in new ways — better understanding issues, seeing value in shared perspectives, and reckoning with our limitations. As a result, I began reading more, looking for ways to incorporate what we discussed into my classroom teaching…. The news is bad. But I learned that we are not as limited as we think. Humans can develop new ways of thinking about and tackling problems that seem too big for us.”

Kieran Setiya
Professor of Philosophy, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

“My time with the Council for an Uncertain Human Future was both moving and enlightening, introducing me to colleagues and perspectives I would not otherwise meet. To share one’s fears about the future and to learn what others are doing to cope — and to make a difference — is to find new sources of hope.”

Julie Newman
Director, MIT Office of Sustainability

“Uniquely at MIT, many of us are involved in solving for climate change and preparing for a changing climate. It is clear that not one of our positions or disciplines can solve for climate change alone. CUHF provides the space to explore and consider the possibilities if we more deliberately work as a collective.”



Suggested links

Feature Story: Given what we know, how should we live now?

Council on the Uncertain Human Future
Funded by the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, and the Kaiser Family Foundation

MIT Climate Portal

      MIT's Council on the Uncertain Human Future

      MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

      MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative

Solving Climate: Humanistic Perspectives from MIT

MIT Climate Grand Challenges

Fast Forward | MIT's Climate Action Plan for the Decade
"MIT will expand its Council on the Uncertain Human Future [which convenes] groups to reflect on the world’s climate crisis, weigh its implications for all living things, and think seriously about how people will need to live, now and in the future."