The Future of Nature

Jul 6th, 2015

Janet Harron

The Future of Nature

For Dr. Sean McGrath, Pope Francis’s recent comments on climate change couldn’t have come at a better time.

The philosophy professor is convening The Future of Nature, a transdisciplinary event to be held at Memorial’s Grenfell Campus and Bonne Bay Marine Station in Norris Point, Sept. 10-13.

Delegates from science, industry and the arts, including Memorial graduate students and a contingent of local high school students, will discuss climate change, species extinction, the future of wilderness, resource development and the role of rural communities in sustainable living, with a focus on Newfoundland and Labrador but a view to the wider global ecological crisis. 

“Our goal is to bring together some of the best minds working in environmental research in the province with a select group of international researchers and representatives from government, industry and the creative arts to stage an ecological intervention on the west coast of Newfoundland,” Dr. McGrath said.

Confirmed guests include Memorial ecologist Dr. Bill Montevecci, writer Lisa Moore, artist Gerry Squires, U.K. philosopher Dr. Iain Hamilton Grant, German environmental scientist Dr. Jens Soentgen, actor Greg Malone and theology professor Dr. Heather Eaton of St. Paul University who will join the local community in exploring together the question of the future of nature.

The future of wilderness and rural communities and the way resources are to be developed on the island of Newfoundland will occupy centre stage during the four-day event. The presence of international researchers will help show how the problems peculiar to Newfoundland and Labrador are also representative of global issues. According to Dr. McGrath, the delegates will become witnesses to the state of the environment on the island, hearing the testimony of the rural and urban communities and experiencing first-hand the unique human and natural landscape of the west coast of Newfoundland, including Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO heritage site which is under threat from potential fracking in the vicinity. 

Dr. McGrath maintains that addressing the global environmental crisis at the local level is of critical importance.

“The typical presentation of the environmental crisis in the media creates apathy-inducing despair ― the size of the problem exceeds the capacity of any ordinary human response. The resulting conundrum is a disincentive to small-scale environmental action,” said Dr. McGrath. “If, as many specialists have argued, only a shift in values can save us, reflection and action at the local level has never been more needed.”

The event will be open to the public and will include several avenues for deliberative dialogue with a prominent role given to the performing and visual arts.

A group exhibition of Newfoundland and Labrador artists is planned with works by Will Gill, Peter Wilkins, Gerry Squires and others. Dance artists Sarah Joy Stoker and Candice Pike will delve into the collective experience of ecological loss on Sept. 11 in the Grenfell Theatre. This will be followed by Duo Concertante’s performance of Dr. Andrew Staniland’s dramatic-musical piece, The Ocean is Full of its Own Collapse, based on the recounting of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger in Lisa Moore’s novel February. Dr. McGrath believes that art plays a crucial role in expressing the anxiety and hope associated with the ecological crisis and has the potential to speak to everyone. 

“We are aiming at nothing less than radically changing the way environmental issues are conceived and discussed in Newfoundland and Labrador, in Canada and in the world.”

Information sessions will be held at the Grenfell Campus on July 21 at 4 pm (location TBA). All those interested should contact Dr. McGrath directly on

The Future of Nature is a pilot project of For a New Earth, which is an international research initiative funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. For a New Earth creates programs and interventions that inform, inspire and transform the way we think and act in our natural and built environments.

The organization brings together intellectual, cultural and artistic leaders to promote a dialogue that envisions new alternatives for living together on a changing planet. Dr. McGrath hopes to partner with other hubs around the world such as the UN initiative, Future Earth. For more information, see and