Tree Stories

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,...
Katharina Thelen-Laesser: CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION

Katharina Thelen-Laesser: CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION

***************************** 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...
Cosetta Veronese:  ARE ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANISTS ALL TOO HUMAN?

Cosetta Veronese: ARE ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANISTS ALL TOO HUMAN?

Cosetta Veronese, July 2017 As a researcher in English and Italian literature, who, for many years, has delved into the work and reception of Giacomo Leopardi, one of Italy’s greatest poets and thinkers, I am a newcomer to environmental issues. As a matter of fact, it was Leopardi’s relentless critique of anthropocentrism along with his relativistic and sceptical stance, which first elicited my interest in enviromental issues, and brought me closer to that area of the Environmental Humanities, which is known as “Animal Studies”. I believe it happened because, since my years as an undergraduate and an avid reader of poetry, I have always been haunted by one question: where does the power of language end? Because it does have an end. An end which swallows logic, grammar and linear semantics. There is a space, that of emotions and feelings, far greater than language. To me this is the paradox of poetry: poetry works by eventually abdicating its power, it accompanies you to the threshold of inexpressibility: as you take the final step, words become powerless, and communication begins to mean something other than words. The same happens with animals. A recent project has prompted me to research into the meaning and possibility of accessing non-human – i.e. animal – cognition and language. Some of the relevant questions I have asked myself include the following: can humans presume to know how non-human animals think and feel? How does communication between human- and non-human animals occur? Is it possible for humans to conceive forms of linguistic communication, which are non-linear and non-logic, in the same way as they have conceived...