Emerging Technologies and Social Transformations in the Anthropocene (ETST)

Since the Industrial Revolution, scientific progress and technical innovations have given people the power to influence and control their environment to an unprecedented extent. Human beings have themselves become a quasi-geological force, as highlighted by the increasingly frequent use of the term Anthropocene – the human age. Today, however, technical interventions are geared more and more to limiting the negative and sometimes irreversible effects of people’s actions on the environment. Such effects can be seen, for example, in the side effects of the greenhouse gases emitted in the combustion of fossil fuels in the energy and transport sectors. There are signs of a new dynamic where the previously largely unintentional effects of human activities are being countered by deliberate technical interventions, for example to cool the climate.
The research programme Technological Change and Social Transformations in the Anthropocene engages with the dynamics that characterise scientific and technological change. In so doing, it focuses on processes of change associated with climate change, which can give rise to many potentially comprehensive transformations and indeed new challenges. Even if some of these effects are still hypothetical or imaginary, their sheer quantity and the scope of their potential necessitates action at this early stage in order to detect and counteract non-sustainable developments in good time. The programme aims to further responsible research on the development and use of technologies for greater sustainability by analysing the interrelationship of scientific and technological change on the one hand and societal transformations on the other. 
To this end, we conduct interdisciplinary research in a transdisciplinary research process in partnership with relevant actors from science, politics, NGOs, industry, the media and the arts. 
The research activities of the programme are divided into the following groups:
  • Climate Engineering – an umbrella term for large-scale, intentional technical interventions in the Earth’s climate system. It is being increasingly discussed as an option for counteracting anthropogenic climate change. We cover the entire spectrum of relevant disciplines. This allows us to deliver informed and relevant knowledge in a constant dialogue with representatives of different societal groups as a basis for assessing climate engineering and its consequences.
  • The project CO2 as an Asset (Carbon Capture Usage, CCU) – Potentials & Challenges for Societyinvestigates the societal potential of capturing CO2 by technical means and using it to manufacture chemicals and materials. The aim is to evaluate the potential of CCU technologies from an economic perspective and develop parameters for communicating to society that CO2 can be an asset.
  • Industrial production processes are currently undergoing significant transformations, prompted by developments in information and communications technologies that are increasingly enabling digitally networked industrial manufacturing. What can be done to make these developments sustainable? This is what the project Sustainability Aspects of Industry 4.0 is looking into.
  • In recent years the discussion of the causes and effects of environmental problems (including climate change), the existential challenge of sustainability, and the relationship of human beings to nature has become more intensive and urgent. While there are frequent calls for global solutions, the factors that motivate societal changes and the transformation processes themselves have not been sufficiently addressed. A new joint effort is needed to analyse collective changes in behaviour towards a sustainable future from the broad range of intellectual perspectives encompassed by the social sciences, the arts and the humanities. That is the purpose of the project Collective Changes in Behaviour for a Sustainable Future.