Transformative Change towards Sustainable Futures

ERN-Environmental Engagements : talks

Wassertropfen in gelbem und blauem Licht

Transformative change means doing things differently—not just a little more or less of something we’re already doing.
(Chan, 2019: IPBES online)

How can we contribute to transformative change towards sustainable futures for the entire planet? How can we face the challenges on this pathway together? These are some of the questions the new “Environmental Engagements: talks”-format by the Environmental Research Network (ERN) of the University of Vienna will address from a multitude of perspectives and thematic foci, starting in March.

This summer semester 2021 the Environmental Research Network (ERN) starts its new series of talks under the title “Transformative Change towards Sustainable Futures”. Bringing together environmental research experts from a variety of fields, it highlights the diversity of perspectives and know-how we need in order to make radical shifts towards more sustainable pathways. Contributions this semester include a psychological view on our plastic consumption, a political-science analysis of Fridays for Future, and an astrophysicist’s perspective on the impacts of light pollution. The talks address a broad audience of non-specialists, and will be accessible for students and the general public online. The ERN considers this format an important space for dialogue beyond disciplinary borders, about sustainability challenges that concern us all.  Join us on a pathway that celebrates the diversity of contributions towards the transformative change required for sustainable futures for everyone!

Where: Zoom [links under the specific events, see below]; no registration required


03.03.2021, 17:00-18:30, Sabine Pahl: The role of human perception and behaviour in plastic pollution (english)

24.03.2021, 17:00-18:30, Stefan Wallner: Light pollution - An interdisciplinary view on the impact of artificial light at night (english)

21.04.2021, 17:00-18:30, Alexandra Brausmann: The economics of the Climate Challenge (english)

12.05.2021, 17:00-18:30, Andreas Richter: The times they are a-changing: on feedbacks, thresholds, and tipping points in the climate system (english)

26.05.2021, 17:00-18:30, Antje Daniels: "Climate Justice Now!" Fridays for Future as a new wave of environmental activism (english)

16.06.2021, 17:00-18:30, Gerhard Herndl: Towards sustainable ecosystem services of the ocean (english)


Missed a talk? No worries! Under "Past events" you can find links to the recordings.

Upcoming events

12.05.2021 Andreas Richter: The times they are a-changin’: on feedbacks, thresholds and tipping points in the climate system

Andreas Richter

Global warming is breaking records year after year, fueled by ever-increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. How can we limit warming to 1.5 to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels? This strongly depends on feedbacks between the climate and natural ecosystems, many of which are not well understood in their dimension and mechanisms. Additionally, the cumulative impact of global warming may also cause parts of the global climate system to cross tipping points, where changes become irreversible and the Earth may enter a new state, often described as the Hothouse Earth. I will review several such potential tipping points and discuss what they mean for risk assessment and climate change mitigation strategies.

Language: english

About the speaker:
Andreas Richter is an ecologist at the University of Vienna. His research aims at understanding how microorganisms respond to and shape their abiotic and biotic environment, and what consequences that has for the functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems, in the current and in a future climate. One of his research interests is the permafrost-climate feedback, an area in which he has published extensively. He is the head of the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science, guest senior research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and executive secretary of the Austrian Polar Research Institute.


When: 12.05.2021, 17:00-18:30

Where: Zoom [
Meeting-ID: 978 6427 6778, Password: 892478]; no registration required

26.05.2021 Antje Daniels: "Climate Justice Now!" Fridays for Future as a new wave of environmental activism

Antje Daniel

The "Fridays for Future" climate movement started with the protest of Greta Thunberg in front of the Swedish parliament and grew to a global movement, which was able to mobilize more than 1.6 million people around the globe in March 2019. Under the banner "Fridays for Future" millions of schoolchildren and students worldwide are mobilizing for climate justice. Never before so many young people were on the streets by using school strike as a form of civil disobedience. Public and political attention has been substantial in European countries and Greta Thunberg became the movement’s icon. A new generation has became political, representing a historical turn in climate activism. This wave of climate protest mobilization is unique in its tactics, appeals to pupils and students, represents young women and includes adults likewise. The presentation reveals the activism, the demands and the socio-demographic composition of the Fridays for Future movement in Austria and analysis its particularity as a new wave of environmental activism.

Language: english

About the speaker:
Dr. Antje Daniel is a protest and movement researcher at the Department of Development Studies at the University of Vienna. She works on different social movements in Europe, Latin America and Africa, mainly in the field of social housing, education and environment. Since the founding of the Forschungswerkstatt Proteste, the focus has been on young environmental activisms in Austria.

When: 26.05.2021, 17:00-18:30

Where: Zoom [ 
Meeting-ID: 956 1933 3312, PW: 427938];no registration required

16.06.2021 Gerhard Herndl: Towards sustainable ecosystem services of the ocean (english)

Gerhard Herndl

The ocean covers about 70% of the Earth surface and has taken up more than 95% of the heat generated by fossil fuel burning. Marine heat waves are only one consequence of that leading to mass mortality of corals.  Only about 30% of the tropical coral reefs are considered intact. Overfishing, deep-sea mining and plastic pollution are representing threats to the ocean potentially changing its functioning severely if no countermeasures are undertaken. In this talk the major environmental problems the ocean is facing are highlighted as well as ways to mitigate these problems, which could potentially lead to a sustainable use of the ocean.

Language: english

About the speaker:
Gerhard J. Herndl is Professor of Aquatic Biology at the Dept. Functional and Evolutionary Ecology of the University of Vienna. Over the past 25 years, his team focused its research on the microbial oceanography and biogeochemistry of coastal and open oceans, particularly on the biogeochemical processes in the deep ocean. Gerhard J. Herndl has published more than 270 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He has received a European Research Council Advanced Grant, the Wittgenstein Prize of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the GE Hutchinson Award of ASLO and is Full Member of the Austrian Academy of Science.


When: 16.06.2021, 17:00-18:30

Where: Zoom [ 
Meeting-ID: 933 9104 4180, Kenncode: 973221]; no registration required

Past events

03.03.2021 Sabine Pahl: The role of human perception and behaviour in plastic pollution

Sabine Pahl

Aquatic plastic pollution is entirely due to humans. Throughout the whole life cycle of plastic, from production via consumption to disposal, it is human decisions and behaviour that ultimately lead to plastic ending up in aquatic environments. Every sector, every individual plays a role in the fate of plastic waste. For example, designers and producers make decisions about materials, appearance and functionality; consumers make purchasing decisions and dispose of items after use; policy makers decide on regulation and legal frameworks. These processes can be documented and explained using theories and methods from the social and behavioural sciences. More importantly, these insights can guide social change processes systematically and help develop and evaluate effective communication and behaviour change interventions. This presentation will summarise recent work on the human dimension in aquatic plastic pollution. The focus will be on relevant literature from social and environmental psychology on risk perception and behaviour change. The talk will draw on interdisciplinary and international work to highlight challenges to such integrative research and misunderstandings between disciplines. It will include research on macro- and microplastics and a range of stakeholders, e.g., fishermen and young people. This will be complemented by a brief discussion of the research-policy interface in the context of plastic pollution, drawing on recent work with the EU Chief Scientific Advisors and UNEP.

Language: english

About the speaker:
Sabine Pahl is a Social Psychologist engaged in basic and applied research and her applied work focuses on the human dimension in environmental issues. Since October 2020 she holds the new professorship of Urban and Environmental Psychology at the University of Vienna, while still holding an Honorary Professorship of Applied Social Psychology, University of Plymouth, UK. She investigates perceptions and behaviour change, particularly in the area of protecting marine environments, marine litter and microplastics and energy efficiency.

When: 03.03.2021, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [password: r49wge.f]

24.03.2021 Stefan Wallner: Light pollution - An interdisciplinary view on the impact of artificial light at night

Stefan Wallner

The term ’light pollution’ characterises the influence of artificial light on the natural dark sky. It is a worldwide issue and can be dated back at least to the beginning of the 20th century, caused by light coming from the ground and comprises phenomena like light trespass, light scattering in the atmosphere and huge 'domes' of light around cities. The ever-worsening phenomenon impairs not only the visibility of objects on the night sky, but also inhibits the dormancy of plants, disrupts nocturnal activities of animals and provides negative effects on human health. In the last decade, light pollution research became of major importance and grew to be highly multi-disciplinary. The talk will elucidate the topic from several perspectives, including from an astronomical, ecological and environmental point of view, its global status, legal situation, results of current research activities and potential actions against further increases.

Language: english

About the speaker:
Stefan Wallner is an astrophysicist, currently working at the Department of Astrophysics, University of Vienna (Austria) and the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava (Slovak Republic). His research field is the topic of measuring, modelling and quantifying light pollution, skyglow and atmospherical effects. Since 2019 he is the project manager for light pollution research at the University of Vienna.


When: 24.03.2021, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [password: dY?3yyH+]

21.04.2021 Alexandra Brausmann: The economics of the Climate Challenge

Alexandra Brausmann

Is it possible to sustain a positive rate of economic growth, while at the same reduce GHG emissions? How expensive and feasible is climate policy really? How can we use scientific knowledge to support adaptation to changing and variable climate? The talk will shed light on these questions and other challenges that climate change poses for economic systems.

Language: english

About the speaker:
Alexandra Brausmann is an Assistant Professor in Environmental Economics at the University of Vienna. She holds MIS in International Economics from The Graduate Institute (Geneva) and PhD in Economics from ETH Zürich. Her research interests include macro and micro impacts of climate change, environmental migration, exhaustible resource management and climate policy, agricultural economics, growth and sustainability.


When: 21.04.2021, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [password: f$.Q1#hJ]