By Dr Mia Perry, Sustainable Futures Global Network Co-Director

These were the words held high on banners and posters, stickers and signs, and shouted in call and response by thousands of people, young and old, at last week’s Fridays for Future Youth Climate March in Glasgow.

After four hours with my three children, watching them shout, pump fists, answer journalists’ questions, eagerly connecting with strangers with common goals; after four hours of being affected and deeply moved by the swells of human energy, the colours, the voices, languages, performances; four hours of interpreting and explaining to my youngest the meanings and motivations behind hundreds of slogans and statements by climate protesters: “What is Trident?” “What is ecocide?” “What is kettling peaceful protesters mum?” And the exhausted crumpled troubled pile of me that evening.

The next day arrives, and what next? What now? I’m an academic, my online profile will tell you that I co-lead a large international research network; that I co-lead a Masters degree in Education for Sustainable Futures; that I co-lead an international development theme within an Advanced Research Centre at the University of Glasgow. And all these things have been made possible in part because of a deeply problematic system of the academy, within systems of capitalism and neo-colonialism. The very systems that that enabled and advanced the injustices and damages that have brought us to the social and ecological crisis that we are in today.

Within this multi-faced set of systems, I have incredible colleagues, friendships, common understandings and treasured differences; I share trust and courage in our collective intentions and initiatives. Almost all of this revolves around the Sustainable Futures Global Network that has emerged from the collective energies of people who seek alternative pathways within the research sector.

What next? After the contentious, inconclusive, but provocative COP26 in Glasgow — I am determined that I don’t oil the cogs of the systems that are so destructive to so many. I am determined, with the Sustainable Futures Global Network, to build spaces, systems, and possibilities that resist the short-sighted comforts, the short-term rewards, and the individual benefits that are bestowed by the current systems to those who feed it. We can’t correct the injustices and damages of our world within the very systems (economic, political, educational, academic) that created them.

Even with our network, we don’t have all the answers that a new system needs, we don’t have it all figured out. I am convinced of the need for new research practices, responsive education, and ethical innovation in a quickly changing world. But is it possible to design a new way forward with international sustainability research, whilst being allied with and employed by a research system that has contributed so substantially to a global crisis? Is it possible to maintain the support systems that we have built for the Sustainable Futures partnerships, our research, and development work, without feeding back into the capitalist systems that supported them?

I don’t know. I know that the months ahead will see many new decisions, risks, and experiments as we try to forge new ways of working together, across countries and cultures, across values and knowledges. We’re sure to get some things wrong. But that is so much better than not trying.