Keynote speakers

Mike Hulme: Climate Change: One, or Many?

In this talk I suggest that the story of climate change has become too univocal. There is an orthodoxy which does not do justice to the complexities of what is happening to climates around the world, nor how such changes are understood and acted upon. I argue that a cultural analysis of climate and its changes is needed as much as, if not more than, a scientific one. Such analysis reveals the many different things that climate change means to different people in different places holding different concerns and priorities. Understanding this diversity, set against the universality of climate models and reports such as the IPCC, provides a sounder basis for thinking through the different ways in which policies and other interventions to deal with climatic dangers might be designed and enacted.

Mike Hulme is Professor of Climate and Culture in the Departement of Geography at King’s College London. His work explores the idea of climate change using historical, cultural and scientific analyses, seeking to illuminate the numerous ways in which climate change is deployed in public and political discourse. Hulme’s research interests are concerned with representations of climate change in history, culture and the media; with the relationship between climate and society, including adaptation; with how knowledge of climate change is constructed (especially through the IPCC); and with the interactions between climate change knowledge and policy.


Marina Fischer-Kowalski: The Anthropocene: humans lock-in with fossil fuels, and their lock-out

The term Anthropocene denotes the period when humans acquire the ability to dominate major features of the Earth system – and maybe also acquire the reflexive capacity to make choices for their future. As a starting point, I will use Ehrlich‘s classical IPAT formula, and give it a specific interpretation: human impact on Earth equals population size times affluence times technology – differentiated by mode of subsistence. I will qualitatively describe the functional characteristics of hunter gatherers, agrarian and industrial modes in their population dynamics, energy regime and the technologies by which they interact with their environment. A model translates these considerations into global numbers for the past millennia. We see a major historical dividing line around AD 1500: up to then, human population growth and metabolic rates carry about equal weight in increasing human pressure on the environment approximately fivefold from the year AD 1 onwards. Then fossil fuel use gradually raises the socially disposable energy to unprecedented levels and introduces a take off in population and technology. From then on, the overall pressure of humanity upon Earth increases by one order of magnitude; energy intensity contributes to this rise by roughly tripling the impact of population growth. Technology, because it is based upon a shift from biomass to fossil fuels, does not moderate this impact, but enhances it by a factor of 1.5. Is human wellbeing forever a function of the amount of energy we can dispose of, or is there a way out towards a lesser human burden on Earth and more happyness?

Marina Fischer-Kowalski is founder and long-term director of the Institute of Social Ecology and Professor of Social Ecology at Alpen Adria University, and Senior Lecturer at the University of Vienna. Fischer-Kowalski is fascinated by interdisciplinary cooperation “across the great divide”, and by exposing herself to approaches from different scientific perspectives and attempting a radical re-framing of the structure of a problem. Fischer-Kowalski is through interdisciplinary approaches interested in fundamental questions such as: What is the nexus between social and natural systems? How do they co-evolve? How do they relate in the minds of people, in current biophysical reality, and how did they relate in history?


Katrina M Brown: Taking animal-human (co)agency seriously in nature-society conflicts

One of the key challenges to building a transdisciplinary platform for better understanding and reworking nature-society relations is taking more-than-human agency seriously in social research. This includes understanding not only how a multiplicity of natures and associated problems and solutions are framed, but also how they are enacted through bodily encounters across species boundaries, in ways that can have life and death consequences. Conceptual and methodological tools are thus required that allow us to bring together various knowledges and more-than-verbal ways of knowing in order to better pinpoint what it takes in practice to have cross-species flourishing. I explore this challenge in relation to multifunctional protected areas management, which illustrates vividly how the increasing pressure to deliver socio-economic as well as ecological objectives can pit the wellbeing of humans against that of a multitude of other species. Specifically I examine efforts to balance endangered species conservation and recreation in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland primarily using material from mobile and video ethnographies with managers, recreationists and local community residents. This case study illustrates how the embodied practices of human, canine and avian subjects entangle with various ideas, objects, laws and governance mechanisms to produce the precise human-animal choreographies upon which human wellbeing and the fate of important species depend, and are sometimes traded off. It also identifies how this role has been surprisingly neglected in related policy.   Thus I explore how Haraway’s concept of ‘contact zones’ might be expanded in ways that makes the co-agency of humans and nonhumans clearer in explaining why particular management interventions worked well or less well at balancing multiple land uses. Attention is also given to the scope of video-based approaches for making visible a range of ways of enacting nature.

Katrina M Brown is an experienced human geographer researching practices of rural and environmental governance in the interdisciplinary context of the James Hutton Institute (formerly Macaulay Land Use Research Institute). Recently Brown has held a Research Associate position at the Centre for Rural Research in Trondheim, Norway.  Her core area of expertise concerns the interrelations between formal institutional practices and everyday cultural norms and spatial practices, in understanding competing claims to land. Brown’s also study the social and cultural dimensions of  ecosystem services, with a particular interest in justice, inclusion, equity, responsibility and ethics, informed by detailed empirical work.


Paul Robbins: Producing Wildlife: Labor and Nature in the Indian Anthropocene

In a world remade by humanity, industry, agriculture and capitalist relations, it is hard to imagine spaces where non-human nature thrives, beyond zoos and nature parks. And yet the landscapes of much of the world harbor enormous ranges of habitats and species, albeit ones sensitive to, and enmeshed within, a complex local, regional, and global economy. Reviewing current ongoing research on the variability of biodiversity (avian and amphibian species) amidst plantation agriculture in southern India, this paper demonstrates that export-oriented, productivist, anthropogenic environments can “produce wildlife” in significant quantities. Owing to the sensitivity of such ecologies to upheavals in the availability and variability of laborers, however, means that conserving these critical habitats is increasingly a matter of understanding and managing the condition and aspirations of rural workers.

Paul Robbins is the director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he guides the institute in serving as a world leader in addressing rapid global environmental change. Robbins has years of experience as a researcher and educator, specializing in human interactions with nature and the politics of natural resource management. He has taught topics ranging from environmental studies and natural resource policy to social theory. His research addresses questions spanning conservation conflicts, urban ecology, and environment and health interactions.



Centre for Rural Research
Norwegian University of Technology and Science (NTNU) - Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, Department of Geography,
Department of Sociology and Political Science