Transitions towards Sutainability: Possibilities and Pitfalls

ERN-Environmental Engagements: talks

Transitions towards more sustainable pathways are urgently needed in all areas of life, spanning different geographic scales and corresponding governance levels. What might be a solution for some, cannot be used as a blue print anywhere, and in the worst case it can even create additional problems for others. How can we make the necessary interventions in a context sensitive, just and safe way for the entire planet? What is there to be learned from technological solutions that have been deployed in the past, but have then caused new challenges?

Engaging in these dialogues is what the “Environmental Engagements: talks”-series hosted by the Environmental Research Network aims at: Giving a platform to researchers from diverse backgrounds conducting cutting-edge environmental research at the University of Vienna, who are ready to meet a broad audience beyond disciplinary boundaries through highly timely and solution-focused exchanges.


Where: Zoom [Zoom links will be posted below the events] - no registration required


02.03.2022 Franz Essl: There is no future on a dead planet (Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research, University of Vienna)

23.03.2022 Ulrich Brand: Towards a greening of capitalism? Problems of ecological modernisation, green growth perspectives and "green extractivism" (Department of Political Science, University of Vienna)

06.04.2022 Michael Zumstein: Biodegradable Chemicals for the Environment: Opportunities and Research Needs (Department of Environmental Geosciences, University of Vienna)

04.05.2022 Kerstin Krellenberg: Urban Sustainability Transformations – Of climate change and other contemporary challenges (Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna)

25.05.2022 Karin Hain: What can we learnfrom the environmental abundance of radionuclides about their emission sources and environmental transport (Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna)

15.06.2022 Janina Kehr: Troubled Relations: On Biomedicine, Health, and the Environment (Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology)


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

Upcoming events

15.06.2022 Janina Kehr: "Troubled Relations: On Biomedicine, Health, and the Environment"

About the talk:
How are biomedicine, health and the environment related? What does ever advancing technoscientific healthcare do to „the world“ – to people, to therapeutic relations, and to the planet? In my talk, I will think about the unintended side-effects of so-called biomedicalization. In coining the term “medicene”, I wish to describe our world as one in which biomedicine has become so ubiquitous, that it has vast effects not only on subjectivities, socialities and therapeutic relations, which are classical medical anthropological research fields, but also on the “natural” environment and other-than-human life forms. My hypothesis is that biomedical and environmental questions are deeply entangled in complex ethical, political, economic and metabolic ways, that call for truly interdisciplinary investigations.

About the speaker:
Janina Kehr is a Professor of Medical Anthropology and Global Health at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. She studied anthropology and political sciences at the University of Göttingen and the University of California Santa Cruz. In 2012 she received her PhD with a co-tutelle de thèse at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales Paris and the Humboldt University Berlin. Between 2011 and 2017, she was assistant and senior lecturer on interdisciplinary terrain in Medical Humanities at the Department of History of Medicine at the University of Zurich. Before coming to Vienna, she researched and taught as a SNSF- Ambizione Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern between 2017 and 2020. She works and publishes on temporal politics, moral economies, and environmental impacts of biomedicine and public health.

Language: English

When: 15.06.2022, 17:00-18:30

Where: Zoom ( ; Meeting-ID: 661 1168 0588, Kenncode: 563271)

Past events

02.03.2022 Franz Essl: "There is no future on a dead planet"

About the talk:
There is a growing recognition that we are living in a the midst of a global biodiversity crises caused by the pervasive impacts of human on the global environment. This grave developments put the survival of a large number of species at risk, and it has severe ramifications for the future of human societies.
In my talk, I will summarize the status quo of species and ecosystems, and I will exaimne the trends and the causes of biodiversity loss. I will then zoom in on the Austrian context. Finally, I will outline options for bending the curve of global and national biodiversity loss.

About the speaker:
Assoc.-Prof. Dr. Franz Essl is group leader of the BioInvasions-team at the Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research at the University Vienna. His research focuses on biodiversity change in the Anthropocene with a special interest in biological invasions. He is also strongly interested into translating scientific findings into policy relevant documents such as IPBES and the CBD. He has written several books, and c. 250 scientific publications. His work is highly recognized by peers and he has been included into the list of Highly Cited Scientists.

Language: English

When: 02.03.2022, 17:00-18:30

Where: Zoom

23.03.2022 Ulrich Brand: Towards a greening of capitalism? Problems of ecological modernisation, green growth perspectives and 'green extractivism'"

About the talk:
Societies around the global and their political and economic elites start to understand how severe the climate crisis is - and how dramatically it will further develop in the future. But the deepening of the crisis will occur unevenly, i.e. it will affect more the socially vulnerable groups and the countries of the global South which have less resources for climate adaptation measures. And the dealing with the crisis will probably take place within a corridor what can be called "ecological modernisation". But such a modernisation will not deal with the root causes of the crisis, i.e. the expansionary logics of capitalism, a political and economic world order that reduces many countries of the global South to deliver commodities to Northern countries - also for the greening of their economies. Recent research calls this "green extractivism". Is there any alternative to those dynamics?

About the speaker:
Ulrich Brand works as Professor of International Politics at the University of Vienna. His main research interests are the crisis of liberal globalisation, (global) social-ecological topics like resource politics and Green Economy, critical state and governance studies and Latin America. He is head of the Latin America Research Network at the University of Vienna. Together with Markus Wissen, he introduced the concept of the "imperial mode of living” a book on the concept was published in 2021 with Verso, London.


When: 23.03.2022, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [password: Ky+9c58A]

06.04.2022 Michael Zumstein: "Biodegradable Chemicals for the Environment: Opportunities and Research Needs"

About the talk:
While synthetic chemicals play an important role in numerous aspects of human life, their release into the environment has become a major concern. The replacement of persistent chemicals with alternatives that biodegrade in receiving environments is often discussed as a promising approach for the mitigation of environmental pollution. In this talk, I will provide an environmental biochemist´s perspective on this environmental benign-by-design approach and highlight chances and risks thereof. The focus will be on two examples from our own research in this area: the biodegradation of plastics in agricultural soils and the biotransformation of antibiotics in wastewater. Throughout the talk, the emphasis will be on key lessons learned and on knowledge gaps that need to be addressed to inform the development of more sustainable chemicals.

About the speaker:
Michael Zumstein is a junior group leader at the Department of Environmental Geosciences (Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science) at the University of Vienna. He received a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. in biochemistry from ETH Zurich and a Ph.D. in environmental chemistry from the same university. Before joining the University of Vienna, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University and at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. The research of his group focuses on the biotransformation and biodegradation of anthropogenic chemicals in natural and engineered environments.

Language: English

When: 06.04.2022, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [password: qc2i.h*f]

04.05.2022 Kerstin Krellenberg: "Urban Sustainability Transformations – Of climate change and other contemporary challenges"

About the talk:
In the face of climate change, the digital transformation or the current pandemic, cities are confronted with a wide range of challenges and opportunities at the same time. In order to contribute to global sustainability while being liveable for their citizens, cities are confronted with the need of more radical transformations and the development of integrated solutions that consider the complexity of cities and interwoven processes. Tackling the root causes and exploring the underlying contexts of contemporary challenges is needed.

About the speaker:
Kerstin Krellenberg works as Professor of Urban Studies at the Department of Geography and Regional Research at the University of Vienna. Her main research interests are the impacts of global environmental change on cities and, in particular, the challenges and opportunities for sustainable urban development. She pursues inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches for an integrative analysis of human-environmental-technological interactions and urban sustainability transformations.

Language: English

When: 04.05.2022, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [password: 860jnP**]



25.05.2022 Karin Hain: "What can we learn from the environmental abundance of radionuclides about their emission sources and environmental transport"

About the talk:
Since the beginnings of the „nuclear age“, man-made radionuclides have been released into the environment either by atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, nuclear accidents or from the nuclear fuel cycle. Long-lived radionuclides like uranium, plutonium or technetium, are mostly not an immediate hazard due to their low specific activity, but they will be part of our environment over thousands of years and require long-term monitoring. A comprehensive understanding of their environmental migration behaviour is essential to protect the population from future exposure and also for the application of these radionuclides as tracers to study environmental transport processes, e.g. ocean currents. The environmental concentrations of such radionuclides are still extremely low so that their analysis requires an ultra-sensitive method like Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS). The source terms for radionuclides in the environment and our present understanding of their migration behaviour will be introduced in the talk. The second part will be dedicated to present developments at the AMS facility VERA with particular focus on the new isotope signature 233U/236U which allows the identification of emission sources for anthropogenic uranium.

About the speaker:
Karin Hain is a senior scientist in the Isotope Physics group of the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna. She joined the group as post-doc in 2016 after having received her PhD from the Technical University of Munich. During her PhD work she had studied potential plutonium releases into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima accident. For her work on the uranium ratio 233U/236U as a new fingerprint of uranium releases into the environment, she received the Fritz-Kohlrausch-Award 2020 from the Austrian Physical Society. Hain is presently leading two FWF funded projects to develop new ultra-sensitive detection methods to analyse long-lived radionuclide tracers to study ocean currents.

Language: English

When: 25.05.2022, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording (password: Mhdh$+66)