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Climate Conversations across Disciplines

Published: 20 May 2024
Someone is holding up a sign with the text "Climate Action Now" in a crowd of people

Researchers’ roles, activism, and transformative science are some of the topics discussed in the Climate Conversations at SLU - a webinar series for SLU staff to increase the scientific dialogue about climate change across disciplines.

The Climate Conversations at SLU was initiated by SLU Global and the Future Platforms (SLU Future Food, SLU Future Forests, SLU Future One Health, and SLU Urban Futures) in 2021-2022.

“The idea for the Climate Conversations series comes from a conversation when one of the earlier IPCC reports was launched, when we pooled together a few researchers for a discussion on the report. We agreed it would be great to raise the transdisciplinary scientific conversation about climate change at SLU,” says Sara Gräslund, head of unit at SLU Global.

“We all felt it was spot on and timely and immediately went with it. Personally, I feel strongly about the issue but I also think it is highly relevant for SLU Future One Health,” says Susanna Sternberg Lewerin, programme director at SLU Future One Health.

Increasing cross-disciplinary dialogue about climate change

The objective of the series has been to increase the scientific dialogue about climate change across disciplines. From the start, the series consisted of both internal dialogues between SLU staff as well as external events open to all.

Since then, the series has continued to explore a wide range of topics with speakers from both academia and policy. The target group for the webinar series is researchers as well as research support staff within any field at SLU, with an interest in research relating to climate change.

Encourages associated events

Today the series has evolved into three types of events, external webinars connecting to international events and reports such as the IPCC reports, and internal events where researchers and staff can join in a more informal and open environment to share thoughts and opinions on topics that are relevant for climate change.

“We also encourage to share associated events with us where researchers and staff across SLU work with climate change topics to increase the dialogue and cross-disciplinary inspiration,” says Nina Vogel, programme director for SLU Urban Futures.

What impact has the Climate Conversations had on the transdisciplinary dialogue within SLU?

“The impact is difficult to assess, but I think it has helped establish SLU as an actor in climate research and it has allowed good internal dialogues that might not have taken place otherwise”, says Susanna Sternberg Lewerin.

Highlighted transformative science and climate action

The researcher’s roles, transformative science, climate activism, and action were at the centre of one of the events during spring of 2024. Whether writing a debate article or petition, advocating for an organisation or participating in a public demonstration to even actively engaging in civil disobedience, The views on what consists of an activist action vary among researchers - as does the views on the responsibilities of researchers to engage and how different types of engagement will affect their credibility.

“It is important to reflect upon our responsibilities as researchers to impact the change process,” says Susanna Sternberg Lewerin. “Can research and activism be connected for a higher impact? And what would that mean for credibility and value systems? Science is about objectivity, transparency, and research ethics. But can we really be objective? And can we preserve our objectivity while we still take a stand?”, she asks.

Transformative science is a term that shifts the current scientific paradigms.
“Transformative science goes beyond just observing and analysing societal transformations, but also takes an active role in initiating and catalysing change processes,” Nina Vogel, programme director of SLU Urban Futures, explains.

“The aim is to achieve a deeper understanding of ongoing transformations and increase the societal capacity. You will also engage with other actors in society to co-produce knowledge. Transition studies, action research, transdisciplinary work, and real-world labs, are some tools that are used in a research context. While educational aspects relate very much to thinking of the student as a societal actor, helping the student to reflect on themselves within a wider context”, Nina Vogel exemplifies.

Researchers as transformative agents

Erik Hysing, professor of political science at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, was one of the keynote speakers. At the Climate Conversations, he talked about transformative science and activism. It all boils down to different values among researchers, argues Erik Hysing, professor of Political Science at SLU.

Based on the book The Honest Broker by Roger A Pielke Jr, he exemplified how scientists can act as transformative agents, dividing researchers into four ideal categories:

1) the pure scientist, who wants to know what we didn't know before, 2) the issue advocate, who based on scientific findings attaches themselves to a certain issue, 3) the science arbiter – that helps the politicians make the right decision and finally the 4) honest broker, meaning that science can bring a smorgasbord where researcher’s role is to present the options but leave the decision to the policymakers.

“All roles are important in transformative change and different disciplines may have different roles,” Erik Hysing said.

The challenges of acting for transformative change were also discussed, such as scientific credibility, policy relevance, and legitimacy.

“It is problematic when we talk about transformative science that aims to change discourses. It is much easier to be heard when we frame something that is within the dominant discourses, he said. “Another way is co-production, but that comes with the risk of being associated with the political elite and jeopardise scientific autonomy. We are also facing a lot of resistance to our knowledge from people with other views of the world and need to find strategies to deal with this.”

Global mega-study on climate action

Climate action was in focus for another keynote speaker Madalina Vlasceanu, Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University, Collective Cognition. She focussed her discussion on a new paper Addressing Climate Change with Behavioral Science: A Global Intervention Tournament in 63 Countries based on a global mega-study to explore what strategies motivate people to change their climate mitigation beliefs and behaviours.

The study showed that one of the top psychological tools for increased climate action was to show the consequences of climate change for a person’s region or country, to include information on how one’s actions today impact future generations, or to show how one’s climate action can contribute to solutions. There was a major disconnect between the public interest and current policy, with a global consensus on the degree of threat and emergency of action and support for climate policy, whereas current policies are not on track to meet the climate targets.

The article is based on presentations and discussions from the Climate Conversations at SLU’s internal dialogue Towards a Transformative Science? – responsibilities, credibility and value systems arranged on 12 February 2024.

Text: Teresia Borgman


Save the date! Participate in the upcoming internal dialogue Climate Conversations webinar on 11 September on How can we produce food throughout the country in the shadow of climate change? Coffee at 9:15-9:45, dialogue at 10-12 on Zoom with room for a few participants on-site in Umeå.

Read more about previous and upcoming events at Climate Conversations at SLU

Read more on this topic:

Gustafsson & Hysing: IPBES as a transformative agent: opportunities and risks, Environmental Conservation, Cambridge University Press (2022)

Vlasceanu et al. Addressing climate change with behavioral science: A global intervention tournament in 63 countries, Science Advances (2024)