Climate Change, Radical Uncertainty and Hope: Theology and Economics in Conversation

Jan Jorrit Hasselaar

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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This research explores a hopeful response to radical uncertainty in the context of climate change. Views on climate change are often either pessimistic or optimistic. But it is not constructive to divide the world into pessimists and optimists. There is a third way, one of hope, to deal with radical uncertainty in the context of climate change. This study develops a response to climate change based on hope, derived from the work of the late Jonathan Sacks, leading British public intellectual and Chief Rabbi. The necessity for this study emerged out of the debate within economics on radical uncertainty in the context of climate change. Radial uncertainty, uncertainty inherent in the human condition (derived from Hannah Arendt), appears not to be adequately addressed by the critical assumptions underlying conventional economic modelling, in particular the social cost-benefit analysis (SCBA). Following Dan Rodrik’s approach to economics, an economic model is only useful when it captures the most relevant aspects of reality. Therefore, this study questions the critical assumptions underlying SCBA. The study argues that Sacks’ understanding of hope, derived from the ancient narrative of the Exodus, lends itself to several alternative critical assumptions to address radical uncertainty: emunah (particular type of trust), chessed (particular type of love), change of identity and two supporting institutions, namely covenant and public Sabbath. Hope appears to be a realistic journey of taking courageous and practical steps together and thereby gradually becoming aware that there is something new and liberating possible in the midst of radical uncertainty. The study develops a conversation or transversal reasoning between Jonathan Sacks and the economists Bart Nooteboom, Samuel Bowles, Dan Ariely and John Kay & Mervyn King, using van Huyssteen’s postfoundational approach. In this conversation the alternative critical assumptions are discussed and the relevance this conversation for a social response to radical uncertainty in the context of climate change is shown. The conversation shows also that hope is not contrary to contemporary economic insights, but remarkably compatible with them. At the same time, it is also shown that both disciplines can learn from one another.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Karam, A.M., Supervisor, External person
  • Borgman, E.P.N.M., Supervisor
Award date7 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2021


  • Climate Change, radical uncertainty, hope, Jonathan Sacks, transversal reasoning

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