By Joern Fischer
When a new person contributes to this blog, we’ll ask them to write a little bit about themselves. I’m a professor interested in sustainable land use at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany). I started working there not very long ago – in November 2010. Before that I lived in Australia for nearly 14 years. I studied in Australia, did my PhD in Australia, and essentially got ‘stuck’ there. It’s mainly because my parents were still in Germany (where I had grown up) that I decided to go back.
The thought of going back was with me for much of the last few years, but I was never quite sure how to make it happen. Being an ecologist, I always wondered: what would I study in Western Europe? What would actually keep me interested? I could easily sympathise with people working in the Amazon, or even rural Australia, because rapid landscape change is underway in these places – and new research is really important to inform management decisions in such regions. But Western Europe? Sure, there are ecological problems there, too, but by global standards, ecosystems are relatively stable; things might change, but at a relatively slow pace.
Things changed a bit when in 2009 I visited my friend Tibor Hartel for the first time, in Romania. Tibi showed me around the landscape that’s home to him: southern Transylvania. I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape, and shocked by what might happen to it. Up until now, land use change has been slow, and the practices used today are still quite similar to how people used the land hundreds of years ago. But now – in the era where Romania is in the European Union – how might this change? What will happen to the species-rich grasslands with their rare orchids, what will happen to farmland birds like the corncrake which are still common but rare in Western Europe? And what about people? With the social and demographic fabric shifting, how do people’s values change, and what does this mean for land use practices? How can economic circumstances be improved without natural and cultural heritage being destroyed?
Tibi posed these questions to me as he showed me around his world. Of course, like everybody else, I have no real answers. But I was inspired enough to try to find out more about this fascinating, and complex set of issues.
I was lucky to receive a Sofja Kovalevskaja Award in 2010. This is a wonderful opportunity, offered by the Humboldt Foundation in Germany, which gives me the chance to focus on one major research project for several years in a row. That’s a great luxury at a time when academic life becomes ever more rapid. Being able to focus on one thing, at depth, for a substantial period of time, is a rare thing, and I am delighted that I have been given this opportunity.
So – to sum up my interests: I’m interested in sustainability, and I think it’s essential we cover both social and ecological issues. When it comes to social issues, we must go deep, including attempts to understand fundamental things that shape human behavior, like underlying values and beliefs. But we also need to be pragmatic to make things happen in the real world: for that reason, I also welcome approaches that focus on ecosystem services and other similar concepts that are directly relevant to policy makers.
We need to find ways to work on the long-term, underlying issues, while also getting on with pragmatic action in the short term. I hope my work can contribute to this challenge.