The EH-CH Blog

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,...


***************************** 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...


… by pushing things even further, one might argue that the lable “Environmental Humanities” is itself problematic: in my understanding of the term, it makes the environment relate primarily (if not exclusively) to a human / humanistic sphere; it almost suggests that the environment is, as it were, a function of man, rather than man a function of the enviroment.