Seeing the Environment through the Humanities

A New Window on Grand Societal Challenges

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Environmental Humanities Switzerland.

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Environmental Humanities

Environmental Humanities is a new interdisciplinary research field that explores environmental issues through the methods and insights of the humanities.
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Global Warming

The end of the world as we know it?

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Design and Climate Change – Presentations and Exhibition on Friday, 20th April at ZHdK

After three weeks of intense work and research around climate change in Switzerland, students will present their projects on Friday 20th (from 2 to 5 pm). Please join us in enjoying their presentations and exhibitions!           What:   Design and Climate Change in Switzerland                Project Presentations and Exhibition When:  Friday, April 20th Where: ZHdK Toni-Areal                 from 2 to 5 pm, Room 5.K12... read more

ZHdK Design Symposium 2018: Hot Hot Hot! Climate Change in Switzerland

Wo: Toni-Areal, grosser Konzertsaal Wann: Mo, 26.3.18 / 9:30–12:30 Uhr Der Alpenraum und somit auch die Schweiz sind vom Klimawandel besonders betroffen – so wird im Bericht «Brennpunkt Klima Schweiz» der Akademie der Naturwissenschaften 2017 festgehalten. Seit 1850 ist hierzulande die Jahresdurchschnittstemperatur bereits um 1.8 Grad angestiegen (im Vergleich zu 0.85 Grad im globalen Mittel). Die Jahreszeiten verändern sich, mit schwerwiegende Folgen für Wasserhaushalt und Landschaftsbild. Gletscherschwund, häufige Steinschlag, Felsstürze, und eine sich verändernde Vegetation sind in Bergregionen bereits zur Realität geworden. Doch auch das Mittelland ist betroffen. Starkniederschläge, Hitzeperioden und Wasserknappheit sind Themen, mit denen sich die Bevölkerung künftig auseinandersetzen muss. Die Veränderungen sind tiefschürfend und nehmen unausweichlich auch gravierenden Einfluss auf das Alltagsleben der Menschen. Sich dem Klimawandel in der Schweiz proaktiv zu stellen ist und wird eine der grossen Herausforderungen der Zukunft sein, mit denen unsere Gesellschaft konfrontiert ist. Konkrete Handlungsfelder gibt es zahlreiche, es stellt sich vielmehr die Frage, inwiefern die Menschen bereit sind, sich darauf einzulassen. In diesem Zusammenhang kommt der Designdisziplin als vermittelnde Disziplin zwischen Belangen der Naturwissenschaften und der Gesellschaft, aber auch als Disziplin von hoher Innovationskraft eine wichtige Rolle zu. So können sich Designerinnen und Designer mit ihren spezifischen Kompetenzen in Themenfeldern wie Mobilität, Alltagsleben, Energienutzung, Rohstoffverbrauch, aber auch im Bereich der Ernährung, Gesundheit oder des Politischen Aktivismus einbringen. Für weitere Informationen zum Programm besuchen Sie bitte den folgenden... read more

Storytelling and Storyboarding Science at Locarno Festival

From: August 2-5, 2018 Application Due: Before April 30, 2018 The desire of scientists to communicate elegantly with the general audience and the tireless search of filmmakers for good stories to tell demand tight collaboration between scientists and filmmakers. Having basic knowledge of film storytelling and storyboarding allows scientists to translate their research into elegant and convincing cinematographic stories and facilitates the filmmakers to transform these stories into films. Furthermore, scientists will learn to engage the audience and increase understanding by incorporating narrative attributes into their teaching and publications. Learn basic skills about conceptual and technical filmmaking. This includes storytelling technique, film genre, script-writing, storyboarding and theory of film editing. Attend Locarno Festival to watch films and analyze them in regard to conceptual and technical filmmaking. Discuss with professional filmmakers. The Locarno Festival represents an ideal networking platform for scientists and filmmakers, which could result in future common projects. Please view the PDF here to learn how to apply! Don’t miss this great... read more

Tree Stories

Juanita Schläpfer-Miller, Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center Christoph Kueffer, HSR Rapperswil & ETH Zurich Recent hurricanes in the United States were not only physical events but also storms of information. Some may have hoped that they would help to changing how people and politicians think about climate change; probably they didn’t. At least not immediately. This is typical of many environmental problems. There is a vast amount of scientific data, but it remains difficult to form a consensus and see how action can spring from all the information. This is because information is often incomplete, difficult to understand, abstract or even contradictory. In recent years scientists have started to collaborate more intensively with humanities scholars and artists to develop new ways of synthesizing and visualizing scientific information in ways that are more tangible to the public. One such strategy is to tell stories. Storytelling engages people with an environmental issue through dialogue, for example the recent Tree Stories storytelling journey through Zürich organized by the group Environmental Humanities Switzerland in May 2017.   The future of urban trees Trees in a city such as Zurich have become a contested topic. They disappear where urban densification competes for their space, yet people love them and fight for them. They are increasingly also seen as a magic bullet against the negative effects of a warming climate in the already hot and dry heat islands of cities. But even if we agree to have lots of trees in Zurich, things don’t get easier. Some want native trees to support native biodiversity, while others argue that only alien trees introduced from elsewhere can survive,... read more


***************************** Although several hundreds of studies have been undertaken so far, no definitive answers have yet been found that convincingly explain the huge gap between the knowledge and awareness of environmental issues on the one hand and the radius of action on the other. What are the reasons for this startling absence of answers? One reason might lie in the complexity of the subject. In order to get into the various aspects of the problem, one needs to exert oneself into various kinds of models: Political and economic models, psychological and ecophilosophical models, social marketing models to mention a few. This leads to the conclusion that the posed question – what builds the competence of a behavior that considers environmental issues? – is such a complex one that it cannot be visualized through one single scientific approach. So, for someone who enters the field of Environmental Humanities like myself for the first time, it can be hard to find an entrance to the maze and it can be even harder to find a way out without losing directions. One entry to the maze could be the following: In order to act in a way that respects the environment, one needs to develop the competence of ‘pro-environmental behavior’. According to Kohlmus et al this kind of behavior is defined as a mode of action that seeks to minimize the negative impact of one’s actions on the natural and built world on a conscious level.[1] Early rationalist and linear models that are based on the assumption that a linear progression of environmental knowledge automatically leads to environmental attitudes, which in turn... read more
Death Valley

‘Environmental Humanities’ (EH, Umwelt-Geisteswissenschaften / Sciences humaines de l’environnement / Scienze umane dell’ambiente) is a new interdisciplinary research field that explores environmental issues through the methods and insights of the humanities.  Historic, social, philosophical, and cultural insights offer fresh perspectives for addressing and understanding complex environmental problems.  This rapidly growing research field aims to identify effective, sustainable, and equitable ways of living within the earth’s natural limits.  Such areas as history, human geography, philosophy, ethics, literature and arts, ethnobotany, and law provide important venues for understanding environmental issues, but combining synergistic and novel insights of these fields in new ways is the promise of environmental humanities.  Natural sciences are also integral to environmental humanities, though not as ways to define environmental problems but as partners for enriching their humanistic understanding.

“The enormous scope and complexity of today’s environmental problems require knowledge derived from the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities”

Philippe Forêt

Co-Director SAGUF EH-CH, Researcher (associate), EBES, University of Zurich

Environmental Humanities

“The EH Working Group aims to join researchers from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences from several Swiss universities working on both sides of the Röstigraben”

Christoph Kueffer

Co-director SAGUF EH-CH, ETH Zurich