The societal and academic debate on sustainability is evolving. Whether man-made climate change is occurring is no longer a discussion worth having as there is a 97% consensus supporting this claim. An interesting development in the debate is that we now discuss how to adapt to, or mitigate the effects of, climate change in relation to other problems. There is not just one environmental movement; there is a broad spectrum of people and organisations that consider themselves as being ‘green’. In the year 2016 RUW foundation will focus on the differences and similarities between the different opinions on sustainability, instead of the “old” sustainability debate with opponents and proponents of sustainability.
As an organisation with a strong focus on sustainability we like to give students of Wageningen University the opportunity to actively seek for a more refined and nuanced view on sustainability. By organising lectures, excursions, workshops, debates and screen movies we will in 2016 elaborate on the different stances in environmentalism.
The realisation that the debate on sustainability needs to evolve is reflected in the year theme 2016: Shades Of Green – What is your colour? We seek to deepen the debate by differentiating between the many colours of environmentalism. Colour is a particularly suitable metaphor for these differences as this is already used in literature on sustainability: light-green is been referred to as technology oriented, in favour of gradual change and optimistic. The dark-green is described as socially oriented, in favour of radical change and pessimistic. Between these extremes a palette of different opinions exists. As always, Stichting RUW does not take a position in the debate. Students are however invited to form their opinion and take a position somewhere in the green spectrum, therefore we will ask the question: What is your colour?
We do not only want to inform what the different shades of green are, we also want to look critically at these different shades, what they mean and how they are interpreted. This will likely lead to controversy as being green is often seen as universally good. It seems that the more green you are the more you care about the world around you. Just like shades of grey, some of the shades of green have ominous, scary and painful aspects and a complicated history.
What does it mean to be green? Does it mean that you buy as much green products in the shop as desired by the light-greens or that you oppose capitalism as the deep-greens want you to? Can you still be green if your answer is neither? Or both?
The many colours of environmentalism
On the 17th of February RUW this theme was launched at our annual opening event. On an event titled “the many colours of environmentalism” we’ve invited three guest speakers from Wageningen to talk about the Shades of Green which resulted in three different and interesting presentations that made us reconsider many assumptions about being green.
The first presentation was given by Erik-Jan van Oosten on the history of environmentalism. We learned that the ideas and stories of John Muir, Thomas Malthus, Adam Smith and Rachel Carson still shape the debate about sustainability to a large extent. Linkages have been made between old and new ideas, the most relevant scientific breakthroughs and the political issues that divide the green movement. This peek into the history of environmentalism helped the audience to get a historical context on for understanding where the contemporary greens such as the “ecomodernism” and “Climate Justice” movements come from and what motivates them.
Kris van Koppen from the Environmental Policy group presented about the Shades of Green in Nature Protection. How we view and relate to nature is one of the most defining features of one’s green identity. During this presentation the case was made that it is not necessarily our views but our practices that determine how we value nature. There are 3 more or less separate pillars in which we relate to nature: “Dependency”, “kinship” and “enjoyment and awe”. Throughout the presentation historic paintings were used to show how culture and nature related, leading to an interesting discussion between western and non-western views. Despite being highly informative the thought-provoking presentation left us with more questions than answers: Is being green something you are or is it something you do? Is sustainability a practice or an ideology?
To contrast the academic perspective from the first two presentations we invited Pim van der Horst to give a presentation about his daily experience as a sustainability consultant at Fruitconsult. He invited the audience to think along with the everyday dilemma’s he faces when advising fruit growers. Is growing organically more sustainable? Is high efficiency or high biodiversity on the farm more important? It is not just that there are trade-offs and considerations that need to be made to get to the right answer: it is impossible to tell the “right answer” without knowing the context. He argued the context of farmers and is often not included in the equation when we talk about sustainable food. Practicalities such as whether the farmer has a successor, whether the focus is on quality or quantity, what the soil and water conditions are and what the neighbouring farms are doing are also important. What sustainability entails needs to be defined on a case-by-case basis for the concept to be meaningful. He concluded that we should no longer seek for one superior colour of green but embrace the diversity of meanings that the word sustainability has.
COP21 outcomes: discussing the role for Wageningen
On the 28th of January RUW Foundation and Greenoffice Wageningen organized a meeting about the Paris Climate Summit that took place in December. We invited 3 panelists that were involved with the COP21 in different ways to share their experiences.
Nila Kamil is a PhD at the Environmental Policy Group and attended the conference as part of the Indonesian delegation. Combined with her research on transparency issues this provided a great insider-view on how these negotiations work. Read her article on the COP21 here.
Femke Lootens is a WageningenUR student from Belgium and initiated the “WU’R going to Paris” group. Due to the terror attacks two weeks prior to the conference which led to the cancellation of the protest march she and her group had to radically change their mission.
Saskia Visser coordinated the Paris delegation of the Climate-Smart Agriculture group from the Wageningen UR. She explained what Climate-Smart Agriculture is, told us how Wageningen was represented at the COP21 and laid out the opportunities and follow-ups that have been created by our presence at the conference.
Greenoffice introduced the event with an interactive presentation about their hitchhike adventure to Paris. This event was part of a nation-wide project by “Studenten voor Morgen” in which six different Green Offices throughout the Netherlands host activities concerning the results of COP21, to retain the attention generated by the summit and ensure concrete ideas and action will arise from it. Participating Green Offices were Utrecht, VU Amsterdam, Groningen, Leiden/Delft, Wageningen and Maastricht.
Perception, Technology and Application of GMOs: The Role of Intuition in GMO Opposition
DWARS & RUW Foundation together organised a lecture about the perception, technology and application of GMOs. The technology of GMO’s was first explained by Stefaan Blancke (Philosopher, Ghent University) in a non-technical way to make sure the audience is on the same level of understanding on the various types of genetic modification. The second guest speaker, Wim Grunewald (Bio-engineer, Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie), covered the social, ethical and psychological aspects of GMO’s and focussed on the framing used by the opposition of this technology. Geert De Jaeger (Biotechnologist, Ghent University & Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie) facilitated a discussion and talked us through the historic development of the GMO technology sector. This event clearly showed the divide between the light-green and dark-green positions in the sustainability movement: Innovation and technology will lead us to a prosperous green world according to the light greens, while the dark-greens see the innovations and technologies as one of the key reasons we now have these environmental problems. During this event a more nuanced view emerged: there is a difference between criticizing GMO technology and criticizing the current way in which this technology is applied.
Degrowth Conference Relocalised
The Degrowth school of thought is a darker shade of green that is rapidly gaining popularity and developing into a system-oriented critique on the development. The premise of Degrowth is that trough more sharing, more free time, less stuff and new forms of collaborating we can all live an enjoyable and meaningful life within planetary boundaries. RUW Foundation has relocalised the 5-day Budapest Degrowth conference in Wageningen with a live-stream.
The sessions were of high quality and many interesting guest speakers shared their views and research with the audience. Remarkable was the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds of the panellists in most of the sessions. Policy makers, feminists, academics, activists, economists and politicians all were given a voice at the many panel sessions. Interesting was the global focus of the conference: periphery and semi-periphery countries, Bhutan, India and Latin America were represented and talked about in great detail at the event. The following three sessions were highlights for us:
Firstly, in the introduction lecture the aim was stated to re-politicise sustainability. As everyone today is in favour of sustainability, it is increasingly becoming a meaningless, all-encompassing concept. At RUW Foundation we seek the debate on issues related to sustainability and welcome this approach to diversify and intensify the sustainability debate.
The hypotheses that in order to achieve sustainability involves doing less, not more and that infinite growth on a finite planet are impossible formed the starting point for many explorations and keynote lectures. There appears to be a growing consensus on the problems we face such as climate change, ecocide, overpopulation and extreme inequality between race, sex, nationalities and generations. On the solutions to these problems there is less consensus and many guest speakers spoke about solutions that are considered undesirable. This included geo-engineering, technofixes, rigged emission trading schemes, replacing cars with electric cars, sustainable growth, ecological modernisation, offsetting emissions, fracking, GMO’s, quantitative easing, large hydro dams and clean coal. The overall message was that we need localised solutions so it doesn’t make much sense to talk about generally applicable solutions and that we need system change in order to make existing practices such as permaculture, local food, alternative currencies and the sharing economy more viable.
A good overview of the current state of Degrowth and the immense potential of this narrative was presented by Clive Spash in his keynote lecture. He does not only talk about the benefits and necessity of a shrinking global economy but doesn’t shy away to challenge the notion of grassroot change. A degrowth system could be very tyrannical and top-down if we let it. Like every ideology it can become dangerous once it becomes dogmatic and fundamentalist.
In India the economic situation is different from what we in the west have grown accustomed to. The increase in economic activity does still need to an increase in health, happiness and well-being. In his keynote Ashish Kothari distinguishes different types of economic activity and talks about the neo-colonial aspects of the current development path India aspires. The immensity of this modernist operation is countered by the spiritual and religious aspects that are a key aspect of Indian life. The greatest accomplishment of this talk is making this tension understandable for outsiders with little knowledge on indian culture and widening the scope of Degrowth to include one of the world’s largest nations.
On the 9th, 10th and 11th of September Wageningen’s first Re-Greening weekend took place. This is a collaborative introduction to the many green initiatives, places and people of Wageningen. Key organisers were Wageningen Environmental Platform, Fossil Free Wageningen and DWARS. RUW Foundation took on the role of promotion by creating and distributing the greenactive flyer and hosted the two capacity-building and community mapping sessions.
On Saturday the 10th RUW Foundation introduced the green active network to the new students of the Wageningen University and provided an overview of the current state of activities in Wageningen. After giving 8 different organisations 3 minutes to pitch what their initiative does, needs and wants a speed-date session between the new students was hosted. Several organisations have found interested people for their student boards and gained volunteers during this afternoon.
On Sunday the 11th of September green and ambitious plans for the next academic year were made at a workshop at Thuis Wageningen. The participants of the Re-greening weekend and representatives of the green organisations all hosted an “open space” in which they were to discuss their ideas for the next academic year. In 4 rounds of open spaces many alliances were formed between people, places and organisations, several ideas for upcoming activities were created and solutions for unsustainable situations were discussed.
These sessions formed the reflective part of the weekend and the outcomes from both sessions are collected in a harvest document. The re-greening weekend was well received by both the participants and the organisers and it is intended to make this an annual recurring event that is up to par with the introduction weekends organised by the student associations.
RUW Foundation Sustainability Book Club: Laudato Si
In 2016 we took a look at one of the most surprising eco-visions: Laudato Si. The catholic pope has written an encyclical on sustainability and the human-nature relationship. Through reading and discussing we discovered that pope Francis has a great scientific understanding of the reality of climate change, as well as a deep ecology approach to development. This small publication is full of ideas, analyses and arguments that fit surprisingly well in both the internal logic of the Catholic faith as well as the goals of environmental movement. The book is freely accessible on the Vatican website.
Further reading: Green Manifesto’s
We define a shade of green as a coherent set of ideas on sustainability. Many shades of green have well-written manifesto’s that explain the ideas behind them and draw the connection between these ideas. We’ve listed the following thought-provoking, and when compared amongst each other: highly conflicting, documents:
- Beyond Sustainability: A Manifesto for Planet 3.0
- The Degrowth Manifesto
- The eco-modernist manifesto
- The Solarpunk manifesto
- The Leap Manifesto: A Call for Caring for the Earth and One Another
- The Dark Mountain Project: In search of a new narrative
More about green shades: