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MILUTARENA-Formidlings- og koordineringstiltak knyttet for miljø- og utviklingsforskning

Ecological Challenges Conference 2017: An Exchange between Academics and Activists

Alternative title: Ecological Challenges konferansen 2017: En møteplass for akademikere og aktivister

Awarded: NOK 0.30 mill.

Ecological Challenges is a conference that gathers academics who do research on environmental issues, and activists from the ecology movement. The aim is to discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time. The conference was organized for the second time at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo, Norway, the Winter of 2017. The program lasted four days and gathered about 230 participants from 21 different countries. International participants came from India, Greece, Canada, England, Germany, Portugal, USA, Spain, Italy, Finland, Australia and Nigeria. The theme of the 2017-conference was systems change, and among the main questions discussed were: - What kind of systemic alternatives are desirable and feasible in the economic, political, social, and cultural spheres? - What systems have to change, and why is it so hard to change them? - What strategies could environmental movements adopt in order to achieve system change? A recurring topic at the conference was how ecology activists and academics can cooperate to give attention to and achieve systems changes. This topic ran through all the plenum sessions and in many of the workshops. Among the most central points of exchange were the opening speeches of Karen O?Brien (professor in Human Geography at UiO) and Nnimmo Bassey (climate justice activist from Nigeria), and the subsequent panel discussion between Silje Lundberg (president of Friends of the Earth Norway), Aslak Heaika Hætta Bjørn (activist from the Sami youth organization Noereh), Jana Sillmann (researcher at Cicero) and Jonathan Feldman (economic historian from Stockholm University). Crucial were also the panel discussions concerning the role of the trade union movement in the green transition, with Jeanette Iren Moen (Norwegian United Federation of Trade Unions), Jan Olav Andersen (The Norwegian Electrician and IT worker's union), Ingunn Gjerstad (Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions in Oslo) and Stefania Barca (University of Coimbra, Portugal), as well as the discussion on the sharing economy with Agnes V. Tvinnereim (Sustainable Lives), Ruby van der Wekken ( and Peter Staudenmaier (Marquette University, USA). Videos with lectures and panel discussions can be viewed on the conference website (, and will be uploaded to youtube. Several participants are working to get their papers published in peer-reviewed journals. In addition to this, New Compass Press will publish a book with selected papers from the conference during 2017 or beginning of 2018. The two conferences in 2014 and 2017 have contributed to forge ties between researchers and activists from several different countries, and we believe that the increasing number of participants demonstrates that more people are getting to know the conference and the unique discussions it raises.

The Ecological Challenges conference in 2014 was a success, and we want to improve it for 2017. The forthcoming conference will have a sharpened focus on system change. Despite attempts at international negotiations and technological innovations, carbon emissions levels are flying through the roof and loss of biodiversity remains high. Is it possible to reduce global environmental change and mitigate climate change within current institutions, or does a transformation require systemic changes? What kind of ecological systemic alternatives are feasible in the economic, political and social spheres? Why is a systemic transformation so hard to achieve? What role can the environmental movement and ecology minded academics play in the debate and implementation of systemic changes? The conference will gather both academics who work on these themes, as well as activists from the ecology movement. We organize the event on the premise that activists from the movements will benefit from a theoretical reflection on its positions and practice, and that academics will benefit from entering into a dialogue with the movements about their research questions, methods and analytical perspectives. As such, the conference attempts to open a venue for the co-production knowledge of environmental issues, and hopefully also for the co-design of transdisciplinary research and development projects. The program includes key-note speeches, panel discussions and paper sessions, and more interactive group session. To emphasize the link between theory and practice we want to cross-fertilize the different items on the program: a system challenge that is raised in a speech will also be discussed in panels, paper sessions and workshops. We will also use less traditional formats to ensure that non-academics also benefit from the exchange of ideas. Key events will be open for non-paying attendees, to ensure a broader participation.

Funding scheme:

MILUTARENA-Formidlings- og koordineringstiltak knyttet for miljø- og utviklingsforskning