New paper: Sustainability starts within (each of us)

By Joern Fischer

Led by Chris Ives and co-written by Rebecca Freeth and me, I’d like to draw your attention to our new paper on sustainability and our “inner worlds”. In this new paper, which recently appeared in Ambio, we argue that there is a very important but largely ignored “inner dimension” to sustainability; a dimension that is all about our emotions, thoughts, identities and beliefs.

To illustrate our idea, we borrowed an observation from Ken Wilber’s integral theory (though notably, we did not borrow integral theory itself). The idea we borrowed is that human knowledge and experience about the world can be classified in a 2×2 matrix – we can engage with interior individual phenomena (“I”), exterior individual phenomena (“It”), interior collective phenomena (“We”), or exterior collective phenomena (“They”; called”Its” by Wilber).

Let’s assume for a moment that these four quadrants actually capture human experience. In a next step, we might say that sustainability science is meant to help humanity reach a sustainable future. This very broad quest, we might argue, entails challenges in all four quadrants – but, as I briefly summarise here, sustainability science has largely ignored one of these quadrants!

Let’s go through the quadrants. The “It” quadrant is all about how a thing works – for example, it might be the kind of disciplinary science needed to answer how much of a certain greenhouse gas is stored in a particular soil type, or how many bird species occur in a particular forest patch. The “They” quadrant is the plural version of “It” – it’s all about multiple phenomena in the external world and how they interact. Systems thinking fits into this quadrant, and it’s a quadrant that has been extremely useful in sustainability science. Third, the “We” quadrant is all about how we, collectively, live. This might be about culture, or about regulations or social norms – the things that influence how “we” collectively behave. This, too, has received quite a bit of attention by sustainability scientists, and has been very useful.

What’s largely missing to date… is “I”. Of course philosophers and psychologists have had an interest in what happens within individual human beings, but sustainability scientists have largely stayed away from this level of human experience.

If, however, human experiences play out in all four major dimensions; and if these dimensions all are essential to human ways of living and being – then this is a glaring omission!

Interestingly, non-scientists have engaged quite strongly with the inner worlds of individuals, including (but not only) in spiritual circles (e.g. see Chris’ previous blog post here). Sustainability science as a whole has been rather slow on the uptake … although there are also important examples within sustainability science of people who have looked at what happens within individuals. Not least of all, Donella Meadows argued that the ability to change one’s paradigm was a key way to bring about change; an idea also captured in the increasingly popular “iceberg metaphor” copied from our paper and depicted in the figure below.

Arguably, what we value, how we think about things, what we believe in, and what we think it means to be human all matter in very fundamental ways – and, we argue, we need to engage with questions such as these if we are to successfully address the grand challenges of our times.

Our paper does not provide a simple set of answers for what we now need to do, given this realization. Rather, it aims to show, first of all, that the lack of focus on the self has been a gap in mainstream sustainability research to date; and we provide a few initial pointers for where we can each start to close this gap in the future.

Academia’s obsession with quantity revisited yet again…

By Joern Fischer

Some years ago, together with a couple of colleagues, I published a little note called “Academia’s obsession with quantity”. We followed up on this with another slightly longer note outlining a roadmap for “an academia beyond quantity”. Some years have passed, and I felt it’s time to re-visit these original ideas here. Have things improved?

I’d say most decidedly no. Perhaps not all countries are quite the same, but certainly Germany strikes me as essentially insane when it comes to the business of science. The implicit incentives are to raise a lot of funding (i.e. not even to publish, or have a high h-index, just simply to raise money seems to be desirable) – it’s not uncommon for successful professors in Germany to have 10-20 members in their lab groups (who may or may not talk to one another, let alone collaborate sensibly).

I have rarely heard anyone senior question whether more is in fact better; it’s largely taken for granted that more is, by default, better. I have, however, heard many PhD students complain about their supervisors being over-committed. I have seen nominally interdisciplinary projects fail because too many investigators each invested too little time; and I have had nominally transdisciplinary endeavours fail because nobody could be bothered to actually walk the talk about making time for stakeholders. Funding bodies encourage this behaviour through favouring multi-investigator mega-projects with weak leadership; and universities encourage it through rewarding their professors for their fund-raising “successes”. On top of this, we are assessed by how many hours we teach, and nobody takes any serious notice of the actual quality of our teaching – not in any way that actually makes a difference anyway.

As I see it, we’re in an academic world that is essentially insane – those suffering the consequences, such as junior researchers, will either drop out or adapt to the model of “more is better”. I am yet to see an institution make a genuine effort to systematically find ways for everyone to simply do less, as a way of encouraging that quality is being delivered. What I see instead is countless colleagues who are rushed and performing well below their intellectual capacity; who supervise well below their mentoring capacity; and who get a lot less enjoyment out of their work than they could if things were less insane.

What is needed, from my perspective, is a systematic change in the culture of what an academic environment ought to be like, starting with strong leadership to foster such an alternative culture. Do we really want to create places where “more is better”? Or do we want to generate places that are productive, but self-regulate their commitment such that they remain focused in their publication, teaching and mentoring duties?

I’m not advocating low productivity or laziness. But I have a hypothesis: if the most “successful” senior academics on average did half the teaching, half the fund raising, and half the number of publications a year – and instead double their mentoring and reflection before they take on random extra “stuff” – academia would do much better at advancing wisdom rather than just being yet another game where the only rule is that “more is better”.

Towards Sustainability in EU-Brazil Trade Negotiations

Originally posted by Jens Newig on his blog, re-blogged here…

SUSTAINABILITY GOVERNANCE

By Jens Newig, Benedetta Cotta, Johanna Coenen, Andrea Lenschow, Edward Challies and Almut Schilling-Vacaflor

While European countries and EU policies have made some progress in enhancing domestic sustainability, we are pretty much failing when it comes to taking responsibility for the far-away consequences of our way of living. Chemical pollution and loss of native forests are two striking examples of such distant effects of our local meat production that relies on Brazilian soy imports as protein-rich animal feed. We call such distant effects “global telecoupling”. Labels for sustainable production standards developed by private industry and non-governmental organizations (such as by the Round Table for Responsible Soy) have not proven overly effective. Governmental bodies in Europe should therefore stronger than they did previously take up their responsibility to pass effective policies. In our team, we are currently studying the  governance responses to unsustainable global telecoupling, in the DFG-funded project “GOVERNECT”

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Congratulations, Dr. Aisa Manlosa and Dr. Tolera Senbeto Jiren!

By Joern Fischer

Today was a big day for our research group: two of four PhD students on our project on food security and biodiversity conservation defended their PhDs! Congratulations, Aisa and Tolera – you made it!

The four PhD theses in this project cover aspects of biodiversity, ecosystem services, livelihoods and governance. Two theses are social-science oriented, and two are ecologically oriented. And this time … the social scientists were faster!

Aisa’s thesis covers local livelihood strategies, including their links to food security and access to capital assets; it covers coping strategies and household resilience; gender dynamics and institutional dynamics; and finally, the role of social norms in relation to equity.

Tolera’s thesis addresses governance issues in relation to food security and biodiversity conservation. It starts with an assessment of current discourses on food security (and biodiversity), which range from food sovereignty to produtivist framings; it assess the land sparing/sharing framework from a (local) governance perspective; includes a social network analysis of governance actors; investigates various types of process-related governance mismatches; and concludes with a chapter on scenarios of the future for the study area.

The two theses are written as papers, such that everything that is not publically accessible yet will become accessible in the foreseeable future. Some papers are published already, and you can find them in standard databases and on our project website … or email Aisa or Tolera for reprints, if you need a pdf of the papers!

A big thank you from me, at this point, to both Aisa and Tolera, for their hard work, great team spirit, and for doing a wonderful job in filling with life and substance what, once upon a time, was just a project idea! And thanks also to the examiners who contributed to getting these two theses marked: Julia Leventon, Kate Brown, Victor Galaz and Jens Newig.

Not far behind are two excellent theses on the ecology of southwestern Ethiopia … stay tuned!

The global conservation movement is diverse but not divided

This is a very nice new paper by Chris Sandbrook — and this blog post appeared on his blog site originally, I just re-blogged it. The paper shows that the story about “new conservation” and “old conservation” is not as simple as one might think.

Thinking like a human

In a break from tradition for this blog, the majority of this post comprises the Authors’ Accepted Manuscript of a published paper entitled “The global conservation movement is diverse but not divided. The full paper can be found (with very minor editorial tweaks from the text below) in Nature Sustainability . I have posted it here, with permission, in order to make a near-final version freely available from the date of publication.

Should biodiversity be conserved for its own sake or because it provides benefits to people? Should nature have to pay its own way in the marketplace? Should people be displaced to make space for protected areas? For several years I have been studying the different ways in which conservationists think about such fundamental questions, how these ideas are shaped, and how they affect conservation practice. Recent debates between ‘new conservation’ and more traditional approaches…

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New paper: woody plant conservation in SW Ethiopian forests

By Girma Shumi Dugo

Tropical forest ecosystems harbor high biodiversity, but they have suffered from human-induced disturbances. The main purpose of this post is to share with you the findings of a new paper we’ve published in Biological Conservation, where we’ve looked into the effects of these disturbances, that is, the conservation value of moist evergreen Afromontane forest sites across gradients of site-level disturbance, landscape context and forest history in southwestern Ethiopia.

Untitled

In order to examine the effect of forest degradation, we surveyed woody plants at 108 randomly selected sites and grouped them into forest specialist, pioneer, and generalist species. First, we investigated if coffee dominance, current distance from the forest edge, forest history, heat load and altitude structured the variation in species composition using constrained correspondence analysis. Second, we modelled species richness in response to the same explanatory variables. A total of 113 species of trees and shrubs, representing 40 families, were recorded from all sites. Our findings show that woody plant community composition was significantly structured by altitude, forest history, coffee dominance and current distance from forest edge. Specifically, (1) total species richness and forest specialist species richness were affected by coffee management intensity; (2) forest specialist species richness increased, while pioneer species decreased with increasing distance from the forest edge; and (3) forest specialist species richness was lower in secondary forest compared to in primary forest. These findings show that coffee management intensity, landscape context and forest history in combination influence local and landscape level biodiversity. We suggest conservation strategies that foster the maintenance of large undisturbed forest sites and that prioritize local species in managed and secondary forests. Creation of a biosphere reserve and shade coffee certification could be useful to benefit both effective conservation and people’s livelihoods.

Open postdoc position in new project on biocultural diversity

By Jan Hanspach

I am looking for a postdoc in a new interdisciplinary research project called “Biocultural diversity in farming landscapes of the Global South”. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within their Research for Sustainable Development program. The project will study the connection between biocultural diversity and sustainable development through (I) a literature review, (II) empirical fieldwork in Bolivia and (III) workshops in a range of different farming landscapes in the Global South. The postdoc would mainly be responsible for field work in Bolivia, which will be realized together with two PhD students.

Below is a a copy of the job advertisement. The original can be found on the Leuphana website here. Please note that the application deadline is March 13 – so only three weeks from now.

Bolivia is a country with a high biocultural diversity, i.e. a large diversity of ecological and cultural conditions that have co-evolved during a long history of interactions. This project will study the characteristics of this biocultural diversity and how it can contribute a sustainable development.

And here is the full advert:

Leuphana University of Lüneburg stands for innovation in education and scholarship based on the values of a humanistic, sustainable and entrepreneurial university. The collaborative search for knowledge and viable solutions in the areas of education, culture, sustainability as well as management and entrepreneurship defines the university model with its award-winning College, Graduate School and Professional School. Methodological diversity and interdisciplinary cooperation characterize our academic understanding.

Leuphana University of Lüneburg (foundation under public law), Faculty of Sustainability, has a vacancy for a full-time (100 %)
Research Associate (m/f/d)
salary group EG 13 TV-L

starting 1 June 2019 for a fixed term of 5 years.

The position is part of a new interdisciplinary research project funded by German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) entitled “Biocultural diversity in farming landscapes of the Global South”. The project will systematically assess how biocultural diversity is linked with indicators of sustainability and how fostering biocultural diversity can contribute to a sustainable development. A key component of the project will be empirical research in a case study area in Bolivia. This will be realized through ecological and social science field work on values, knowledge and practices as well as the corresponding formal and informal institutional settings.

Your tasks:
• Coordinate and conduct field work in the case study area;
• Conduct a governance and actor analysis around biocultural diversity in the Bolivia case study
• Identify development priorities in the Bolivia case study;
• Conduct a study on informal institutions and the role of gender in the maintenance of biocultural diversity in the Bolivia case study;
• Support PhD students and supervise master and bachelor students;
• Engage with local communities and experts in the case study area;
• Organize and conduct interviews and workshops in close collaboration with local NGOs and universities in Bolivia.

Your profile:
• Completed academic university degree (Master or equivalent) in environmental science, the social sciences or another relevant field;
• PhD or equivalent doctoral degree in a topic relevant to the project (e.g. biocultural diversity, governance, actor analysis);
• Strong qualitative analysis skills;
• Ability and enthusiasm to work in an intercultural and interdisciplinary group;
• Experience with field work in Latin America;
• Willingness to spend extended periods of time for field work in Bolivia;
• Excellent communication skills in Spanish (native speakers preferred);
• Strong communication and writing skills in English; and
• Strong research track record.

We offer:
• Flexible and family-friendly working hours
• Internal and external CPD courses
• University sports and health promotion measures for employees
• Employer-funded pension

Leuphana University of Lüneburg is an equal opportunity employer committed to fostering heterogeneity among its staff. Disabled applicants with equal qualifications will be given priority consideration. We are looking forward to receiving your application.

Your application:
Please address all selection criteria under clearly labeled headings in up to one short paragraph each. Please also send a CV (including publications), copies of relevant certificates and transcripts, and the names of up to three academic referees. For questions, please contact Dr. Jan Hanspach (hanspach@leuphana.de).

Please send your application by March 13, 2019 preferably electronically (as a single merged pdf file) or by mail to:

Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Personalservice, Corinna Schmidt
Subject: Postdoc-BioKultDiv
Universitätsallee 1
21335 Lüneburg
Germany
bewerbung@leuphana.de

Ioan Fazey: “It’s the end of the world as we know it”

Conference Report on Leverage Points 2019, 6-8 February 2019, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany

By Maraja Riechers and Joern Fischer

What can we do to actually turn around global patterns of un-sustainability? How can we bring about transformative change? What role do different types of leverage points play in such a transformation? – These were some of the questions addressed at the inaugural Leverage Points 2019 Conference at Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany, which was attended by well over 400 participants.

A guiding theme throughout the conference was the idea of “leverage points”, as formulated by Donella Meadows in her seminal essay on “Places to intervene in a system”. Her idea has, since then, inspired a new suite of work on leverage points, as exemplified and detailed in recent papers from Leuphana University and elsewhere (e.g. here, here, and here). Key themes addressed at the conference related to re-structuring institutions, re-connecting humans to nature, re-thinking knowledge generation, using systems thinking to understand complexity, and engaging with non-academic stakeholders to bring about real-world change.

The conference was designed to create a stimulating, challenging and caring atmosphere for exchange. In addition to keynotes and presentations (note: videos of the keynote presentations will eventually go online on the conference website!) the vast majority of sessions included other more innovative elements, such as world café discussions, panels, or were held in a workshop format. It also included numerous fun elements such as timeline of sustainability transformation and a heap of good music (for example, Brass Riot and also other excellent artists) and art. Moreover, findings from all sessions were documented via “graphic harvesting” by a highly skilled team of young artists with a background in sustainability science.

Without doubt, different participants had different experiences, and we can only share some of our personal (and biased) impressions of the event. Statements by other attendees suggested many of the people who came had a great time, and many of us at some point felt challenged in our own ways of thinking – something the organizing team had specifically tried to do! And thus, while the conference covered relatively conventional themes such as urban institutions for sustainability (e.g. in the keynote by Niki Frantzeskaki), it also gave a voice to indigenous worldviews (in the keynote by Gogo Dineo Ndlanzi), and considered the implications of quantum physics for understanding social phenomena and global change (in the keynote by Karen O’Brien).

There were of course many memorable moments, and these are summarized in a wide range of blog posts elsewhere – including on bioregional centres, where and when to intervene, or how to master learning processes but also the implications of this for systemic research, taking deep leverage points personally, or for hopeful narratives for transformation. The title of this current post – “it’s the end of the world as we know it” – is taken from Ioan Fazey’s keynote presentation. He argued that transformative change was very definitely in the air – either because humanity chooses to change things in major ways; or because global systems will force transformations onto humanity. We hope that the leverage points perspective will help us find interventions that can cause ripple effects throughout the system and foster sustainability – mindfully, and not as a panicked and forceful adaptation to increasingly painful minor and major system collapses.

Leverage Points 2019 was fun and inspirational. It brought together people from different communities, including the resilience community, the sustainability transformation community and the systems thinking and governance communities. Thanks to all participants for making this a wonderful event!

Leverage Points 2019 was organized by David J. Abson, Anne Jo Berkau, Julia Leventon, Daniel Lang, and other colleagues from the Leuphana Leverage Points project team.

This blog was written by Joern Fischer and Maraja Riechers. Joern Fischer has been professor of sustainable landscapes at the Faculty of Sustainability at Leuphana University Lueneburg since November 2010. His interdisciplinary activities focus on social-ecological systems, covering several areas of landscape ecology and the social sciences. Maraja Riechers is a postdoctoral researcher in a project on leverage points for sustainability at Leuphana University Lueneburg. Her research focuses on human-nature connectedness, relational values, human-wildlife conflicts and landscape change. 

Where and when to intervene?

A nice summary of key insights emerging form Leverage Points 2019

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

By Josie Chambers

The uphill struggle for a more sustainable future can seem endless. The leverage points framework seeks to inform where and when to intervene to help gather momentum to truly transform old systems into new systems – rooted in different interwoven intents, designs, processes and outcomes. During my journey home from #leverage2019, I had the chance to reflect on some key insights from a fascinating session on where and when to intervene:

1. System structures and designs facilitate material flows and feedbacks that lead to particular outcomes over others. These processes both emerge from and actively reinforce certain deeply held paradigms.

2. For example, Per Olsson showed how rapid transformations occur both in the name of sustainability (e.g. expansion of linked protectionist conservation paradigm and natural park system) and in the name of development (e.g. expansion of neoliberal economic paradigm of growth and deregulation/privatization efforts).

3. Given these…

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Dancing with the system

Another post on #leverage2019 by Maraja Riechers

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

By Maraja Riechers

I am exceptionally bad at navigating. When I come out of a restaurant after dinner I occasionally do not remember where I came from and I even can get lost in my home town (which at one point had more cows than people). What is more, complexity often overwhelms me. Not, that complexity is something negative, and complexity does not need to be complicated. But sometimes it is just a bit, well, a bit too much for me.

Being exposed to all the information, warnings, pitfalls, details, conceptual and theoretical nuances, disciplinary expert knowledge and jargon, I feel immensely incapable of coping with its totality. Rather, I am acutely aware of my own knowledge gaps, shortcomings and limitations. In this chaos I am looking for perspectives that show me patterns, structures, something that helps me acknowledge the messiness, yet giving me tools to handle it (be it…

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