At IRI THESys, science communication aims not only to disseminate, but to connect and integrate stakeholders from society, academia, policy and beyond. Through various methods such as events, exhibitions, press work, IRI THESys works to increase awareness, engagement and participation with transformation research. IRI THESys also collaborates with the university-wide communication initiative Open Humboldt which connects Humboldt University researchers to a wider audience with projects such as the new sustainability portal Humboldts17. To check out some examples of past outreach events from IRI THESys, see THESys Public Lectures and  Member Lectures below.

Public Lectures

At THESys Public Lectures, internationally renowned guest speakers are invited to share their research both to the IRI THESys community and the general public. Experts discuss key components of transforming human-environment systems towards sustainability. Many of our public lectures are available on our YouTube Channel.

Member Lectures

THESys Member Lectures give THESys Members the opportunity to present their work in the context of IRI THESys. The lecture series acts as an internal stage where Members present their research interests and questions, methodological tools and data, conceptual framework and theories to their colleagues.

Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner (HU Berlin: Institute of European Ethnology/ IRI THESys)

‘Evidence-based democratic deliberation’.
Global environmental change research and the challenge of socioecological cohesion

The latest expertise by the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU 2019) develops the idea of ‘evidence-based democratic deliberation’ in order to square the reality of planetary boundaries with democratic due process in late liberal societies. This assumes a specific relationship between science and society, namely that scientific knowledge making precedes democratic deliberation in broader society. I want to argue in this talk that focusing exclusively on this approach runs the risk of proliferating an emerging polarisation of societies into those who recognise science as a necessary contribution to an enlightened debate about planetary environmental change and societies’ options, and those who regard science as part of an elite establishment that could not care less about ‘ordinary people’. To counteract this dangerous ‘us/them’ framing, I suggest that global environmental change (GEC) research needs to conceive of its own knowledge as ‘situated’, acknowledge epistemological pluralism and ontological multiplicity, and find ways of generating a broader sense of shared ownership of GEC knowledge. Scientific practice needs to contribute to socialecological cohesion if it wants to contribute to a great transformation.

Prof. Dr. Claas Nendel (ZALF)

Predicting the future of agriculture by understanding human-environment interaction

Agriculture is one of the oldest coupled human-environment systems and as the primary source of human nutrition, it is still of major concern in our rapidly changing world. Claas Nendel uses mechanistic simulation models to explore how agriculture in different regions of the world changes in response to changing environmental, social and economic drivers. G x E x M is the magic formula for strengthening agriculture in its manifold responsibilities for a sustainable living. In his talk, Claas highlighted a few examples that demonstrate the research concept, and outline the next milestones along this research agenda that embraces more than 1000 scientists around the world.

Prof. Dr. Tobia Lakes (HU Berlin)

Exploring spatio-temporal dynamics of agricultural land use intensity in Brandenburg

In her talk, Tobia discussed her research which focuses on spatial analyses and modeling techniques for studying human-environmental systems. The methods she applies are a combination of spatial statistics, GIS analyses, spatio-temporal modeling, machine learning and data integration, such as remote-sensing and qualitative data.

Gretchen Bakke (IRI THESys)

Pivoting toward Energy Transition 2.0

In places with highly developed electrical infrastructure (grids) the integration of renewable means of making electricity has been surprisingly fraught. Even supporters of renewable power struggle as variably made electricity and distributed generation confound the logics of contemporary grids. Infrastructure in this transition is materially incalcitrant, while its resistance to change is often read as political or ideological. In her talk, Gretchen Bakke detailed the infrastructural, cultural and business structures and cultures that make a renewables revolution difficult to accomplish. She pointed to likely scenarios for strong, resilient, and smart electrified futures and welcomed the elephant into the room, as energy transition 2.0 – the total elimination of fossil fuels from energy systems – overwhelms and complicates the many successes of transition 1.0 (all those renewables) that has already come so far. This presentation draws on Gretchen’s 2016 book The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between America and Our Energy Future – an entertaining yet careful study of the historical, infrastructural, business, and legislative contexts of the energy transition in the US. She moved beyond this, however, to also consider the implications of a phase-out of fossil fuels for contemporary electricity systems.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Lotze-Campen (PIK)

Modelling land use change in the context of climate change and sustainable development

Land use change is a core element of sustainable human development and provides multiple linkages between many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This talk showed how different trade-offs and synergies between various SDGs can be assessed with complex computer models. Furthermore, it provided the basis for an open discussion about coherent policy instruments for managing sustainable land use in the future.

Dr. Stefan Schäfer (IASS)

Knowledge and Governance in the Climate Regime

The project Stefan Schäfer presented examines how dominant attempts to represent and govern the complex phenomenon of a changing climate are rooted in, and themselves in turn shape, ideas about “singular” things: The single planet Earth, the single CO2 molecule, and the single global market. In his talk, he traced how these ideas produce specific sameness and difference judgments and how the primacy of these judgments is problematic and contested in global governance—from the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 via its extension in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the “failure” at Copenhagen in 2009, and the most recent adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Schäfer paid particular attention to the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in this history. The talk concluded with a reflection on the promises of the Paris Agreement, tendencies to decentralize authority in contemporary politics, and the advancing emergence of geoengineering onto mainstream scientific and political agendas.

Prof. Dr. Torsten Meireis (Berlin Institute for Public Theology)

Avatar. Ethics and the Culture of Sustainability

Using the popular movie ‘Avatar’ as an example, the talk elaborated on three theses: ‘Sustainability’ is a cultural entity, a notion consisting of concepts, symbols and images (1). Culture is never just an instrument or an element but also a pool or horizon of concepts and images as well as an agonal arena – this is also true in the context of sustainable development (2). Cultural and, among it, religious articulation can’t replace political and technical efforts to achieve sustainable development, but it has to go along with those (3).


Photo Credit: Elisabeth Eichler, Santtu Laine and Karolina Spolniewski, 2015