Initial Research proposal-Existentialism against climate change

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Research proposal

Maria Valenstain



Research Proposal: Existentialism against climate change


Research question: Could an existentialist-based approach on policy making enable states to take radical action against climate change?


  • This topic relates to the theme of “Environmental Sustainability and Resilience” since it is an attempt to consider the application of an ideological framework and its potential effect on the decisions behind policy making regarding climate change.
  • Motivation: I am interested in the thought process behind the decision of political leaders to often value short-term profit instead of long-term benefits. I would like to see whether taking an interdisciplinary approach into this issue and applying certain ideas of existentialism in the decisions of policy makers regarding climate change, could cause a long-lasting shift in perspective from individualistic to collective.


Summary and objectives


In a world of rapid environmental degradation due to the human factor, a refusal to take radical action on the part of states is still observed. Specifically:

  • Governments have not stopped subsidizing fossil fuel companies, with the UK having had the biggest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU in 2019.
  • Initiatives to go towards renewable energy are not moving forwards.
  • Refusal of certain political leaders to identify climate change as a top priority and take responsibility.


My research project aims to focus on the consideration of a decision-making model that could shift the ideological perspective of policy makers by moving away from policies which are rooted in deterministic assumptions and purely teleological and superficial motivations. Three main notions of existentialism and their practical implications on policy making will be considered:


  • Sartrean concept of ‘bad faith’ and authenticity
  • Viewing human existence as part of the world and not superior to it; deconstructing binaries that place humans as opposite to nature.
  • “Existence precedes essence”; Emphasis on no decision being pre-determined but stemming only from free will; deconstructing discourses of ‘helplessness’


Proposed outcomes:


  • Suggesting an effective decision-making model in relation to climate change policy that is deontological (corresponds to specific rules), teleological (looks at the end-goal) and existential which adds the element of responsibility and authenticity in the decision itself.
  • Gaining a deeper insight into the world of policy making and the different implications that the implementation of climate change policies have on the global community



Summer 1


My research will begin by analysing and observing the way that states have responded to climate change through application of different policies until now. I will investigate the circumstances behind policy makers acting in bad faith and how this has a significant effect on policies themselves. In order to develop an alternative method of approaching policy making, I will consider some existing proposals of existentialist-based decision-making models, such as for example in business ethics, and will start considering the specific elements of existentialism that should be used in relation to climate change.


Summer 2


My goal would be to apply for a leadership expedition overseas, since it would be an opportunity for me to consider this issue but also the world itself from a much broader perspective that I am currently able to do.


Maria Valenstain

Student Researcher, University of York

I am an undergraduate Laidlaw Scholar studying Philosophy and Politics at the University of York. I am very interested in the climate education. My project investigate collective responsibility regarding climate change in the primary years of school.