The pandemic: An opportunity for transformation?

The response to the coronavirus pandemic has brought about changes that would once have seemed unthinkable. As part of its precautionary measures, the state has been permitted to limit freedoms in order to protect the health of its citizens. The flood of mass tourism has become a trickle and the number of people commuting to work has plummeted. As economies slow, so too do greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, Germany has reached its climate goals for 2020 after all. The pandemic has also seen a surge in solidarity, with citizens helping each other with the shopping, collecting donations for shuttered cinemas and much more. Parliaments have seen bipartisan support for bridging loans, debt moratoriums, and stimulus programmes to keep businesses afloat and support struggling families.


Safety First? Core Values in the Discourse of Sustainability

In the concluding part of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, set in an unspecified but not too distant future, an artificially designed virus brings humankind to the verge of extinction. Told over long stretches through the flashbacks of the few remaining survivors, the pandemic, short and devastating, is what holds the plot together. Yet it’s not the pandemic that I’m reminded of in the midst of the corona crisis, but rather the social conditions in which it plays out. In Atwood’s dystopia, high-tech production centres are surrounded by gated communities where the business and technology elites live in sheltered luxury. Beyond these compounds, in the so-called pleeblands, most people are at the mercy of criminality and the whims of private security services, as well as being subject to higher mortality due to sporadic, localised epidemics. When the ultimate virus strikes, it wreaks havoc in the absence of solidarity and a functioning state.

Let nature rule?! Exploring digital futures through the lens of art and science

Wouldn’t it be a big leap forward for climate and environmental protection if we could let a machine, a powerful artificial intelligence (AI) manage our consumption of natural resources? Remind – or even compel – us to buy local food instead of products from overseas? Tell us to take the bike instead of the car to work when air quality levels are low? Shut off streaming TV series when we have exhausted our weekly carbon budget? Or maybe even advise the government on the conversion of urban areas into much-needed cropland or the preservation of wilderness areas?

The log and the flame: what fire can teach us about the transformation towards sustainability

The “Green Me Global Festival for Sustainability” is an annual event hosted at different locations around the world. Recent iterations of the festival have explored the elements earth, water and air across film screenings, discussions, and other initiatives. Researchers from the IASS have contributed to a number of these events over the years. The eleventh GreenMe Festival will take place in Berlin later this year under the motto “Action, Passion, Fire”. This prompted me to explore the themes of fire and sustainability in a dinner speech at a recent function to which sponsors and supporters of the festival were invited in early May. The following essay draws upon my comments there.

Technology, Aura, Dialogue: The “EnergyTransitionArt” Exhibition

In the basement, in an alcove that’s almost a small room, stands a small wood stove. If it weren’t on a pedestal, it would barely be a metre high; but even so it’s small, almost cute. The wood from which it’s made appears to be untreated; its whiteness is rustic, quaint, innocent. It takes a minute to realise what’s wrong. A ‘wood stove’ should be a stove for burning wood – not one made of wood. It should make combustion possible without itself being combustible.