Harnassing time travel narratives for environmental sustainability eduction


To apply a time-travel device towards righting the environmental wrongs of the past would be the epitome of Western modernity whose advocates endorse a reliance on technological solutions to environmental crises, if they address these crises at all. Such an application would follow logically from an ‘ecological modernisation’ approach to environmental sustainability, an approach that trusts in the ‘green’ potential of technological rationality. Science fiction seems like the quintessential literary genre for advocating ecological modernisation, what with its frequent promotion of technological rationality and the sense of wonder we feel when encountering great artifacts of human achievement. But science fiction has done more than support technological rationality. It can be harnessed to question the mechanistic worldview and encourage sociocultural transformation of the kind that environmental sustainability requires if it is going to be practices meaningfully today. This chapter highlights the value of three time-travel narratives – Gregory Benford’s Timescape, Leonard Nemoy’s Star Trek IV, and Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch – for sustainability education. These narratives encourage discussions of environmental crises as (1) not simply amenable to technological solutions and (2) the consequences of human behaviors that can be historically documented as well as socially and culturally challenged and changed.

Chapter published in Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change. Edited by Arjen E.J. Wals and Peter Blaze Corcoran.

Written by Eric C. Otto and Andrew Wilkinson.

Otto and Wilkinson. 2012. Harnassing time travel narratives for environmental sustainability eduction.