Headline: Futures

The future is ever present. We encounter the future in scientific calculations and the justifications that legitimise policies and interventions; it is the subject of insurance policies and financial products. Futures – and the myriad reflections of the future in the present – open and shape discursive spaces and thus impose order on our world.

This research project considers the specific characteristics of these futures and the methods by which they are created. What futures are imagined; how are they conceptualised; and what are their social ordering effects? The project also explores how futures can be constructed to support transformations towards sustainability: How must futures be configured to successfully foster greater awareness of long-term impacts in present-day policymaking and societal practices?

Reviewing the field of climate engineering, researchers at the IASS examine how futures are created and enacted. What are the dominant imaginaries; how are uncertainties understood and represented; and what are the consequences at the science-policy interface? The researchers also address broader issues of futurisation across the fields of politics, economics and education, and explores opportunities to enhance the representation of future generations. Other research activities consider the prospects for sustainable, long-term financial instruments and the development of educational projects to foster conscious reflection on the future.


Social Transformation and Policy Advice in Lusatia

How is life in Lusatia set to change with the end of its coal-mining industry? What opportunities for sustainable social and economic dynamics does this present? And what can be done to ensure that the transformation of the region is democratic and fair? This project investigates processes of change in Lusatia and offers support and guidance to political and civil society actors in this context.

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Climate Engineering in Science, Society and Politics

Even with ambitious climate action, the impacts of climate change are set to increase massively. In this context, interest in climate engineering measures is growing. However, alongside considerations of their technical feasibility, these interventions in the climate system raise fundamental political, cultural and ethical questions.

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Futurisation of Politics

Nuclear waste, climate change, the coal phaseout: Decisions made today on issues like these can have far-reaching consequences for individuals, societies, and ecosystems in the future. This project explores how contemporary decision-making in politics, society, and the economy can be better aligned with the uncertainties of our future - and asks what measures are needed to achieve this.

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Special Feature

One Planet, Many Futures

The future has always been an important frame of reference for sustainable development. Indeed, the concept of sustainability emerged from the realisation that we need to use our planet’s resources sparingly in the interests of future generations. Many different people are working on ideas and solutions for the future and taking steps towards their implementation. But who are they? What steps are they taking? And what kind of futures do they want to bring about? These are the questions addressed by a special feature of the journal Sustainability Science.

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Climate negotiations

Most Affected, Least Heard

It seems reasonable to expect that the people who suffer most from the impacts of climate change are represented in the international climate negotiations. Patrick Toussaint, a researcher at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), has analysed the status quo from the perspective of international law. He concludes that those who currently bear the brunt of climate change – or will do so in the foreseeable future – have little or no influence on the negotiations.

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Governance for Future Generations

In recent months young people across the world have been going on strike on Fridays to protest about their governments’ failure to adequately address the climate crisis. In their view, lack of political action to protect the climate is putting their future in jeopardy. But Wales is leading by example here with a law passed in 2015 that echoes the demands of the Fridays for Future protesters: the Well-being for Future Generations Act. It requires public authorities in Wales to consider the long-term effects of their decisions and make sustainable development a touchstone for policymaking.

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Blog Posts

Natural resource exploitation in Germany and South America: Activists share their experiences of resistance and transformation

Today, emerging visions of a better society are forged in practical experience and experimentation. They often emerge within the context of resistance against dominant practices such as the exploitation of natural resources or ideological concepts like of “development”. Practical experiments allow us to sketch out a more sustainable way of life and articulate demands for change within the existing system that would enable more people to embrace such lifestyle changes. The contexts, approaches, and methods employed by activists differ radically from one experiment to the next.

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The log and the flame: what fire can teach us about the transformation towards sustainability

The “Green Me Global Festival for Sustainability” is an annual event hosted at different locations around the world. Recent iterations of the festival have explored the elements earth, water and air across film screenings, discussions, and other initiatives. Researchers from the IASS have contributed to a number of these events over the years. The eleventh GreenMe Festival will take place in Berlin later this year under the motto “Action, Passion, Fire”. This prompted me to explore the themes of fire and sustainability in a dinner speech at a recent function to which sponsors and supporters of the festival were invited in early May. The following essay draws upon my comments there.

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