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Early adopters boosting the diffusion of sustainable energy innovations

Posted 8 January 2016

As the UN climate change conference in Paris concluded with the historic agreement to mitigate climate change, the world needs concrete actions towards low carbon and sustainable future. The needed actions are not yet agreed on and waiting to be conducted, instead it has to be continuously explored and learned what the best ways to meet climate neutrality are. Here the innovators and early adopters play an important role in experimenting and leading the way to wider user groups.

In our recent study, we were particularly interested in forerunners of energy use and small-scale production of renewable energy. We wanted to know what hinders or helps these early adopters in their experiments. As they create new knowledge and spread it around, it is vital to encourage their actions and to know what barriers they are confronting. Therefore we searched over 250 and contacted over 50 forerunners of energy use and small-scale production and found out who they are and what pushes them forward.

We found four types of forerunners: Enthusiasts, Utilizers, Green developers and Green consumers. Enthusiasts were motivated by interest in technology, self-sufficiency and cost savings. They stated that decision-makers and funders are too keen on old conventions and should be more open for new experiments and pilot projects. Utilizers are interested in using excess material for energy and material efficiency. They claimed that the society is not yet taking the energy saving targets seriously enough. The Green developers and green consumers were motivated by environmental concerns, and in addition the green developers were interested in cost savings, functionality and technology while the Green consumers were willing to support product development and to gain a green image. The Green developers and Green consumers called for unbiased information, they stated that retail dealers, decision-makers and ordinary citizens have lack of knowledge and suspicions that should be overcome by abundant and timely information. Also other groups reported prejudices that impact on innovation and subsidy policies, which in turn hinder their actions.

According to our results, economic attractiveness seems to be the motivation that can create a larger demand for new energy solutions. This can be enhanced by policy measures, but they should be foreseeable and consistent to be effective. Sustainable energy solutions are likely to diffuse widely if they become easier to use, if they are considered economically attractive and/or they become generally accepted as a realistic choice for heating or producing electricity. These can be reached through networks of communication, proper maintenance and other services by retailers, unbiased information provision, education, encouraging policies, legislation and administration and an approving atmosphere.

Details:

Nygrén, N.A., Kontio, P., Lyytimäki, J., Varho, V., Tapio P. 2015. Early adopters boosting the diffusion of sustainable small-scale energy solutions. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews 46: 79-87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2015.02.031

 

Nina Nygrén

Nina is a project researcher at Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC) at the University of Turku

 

 

Mixing figures and feelings

Posted 3 March 2015

Understanding interdisciplinary environmental issues requires multiple perspectives and use of multiple methods. However, more than separated results from multiple disciplines are needed. Instead, the integration of various viewpoints, data sources and methods is something we should strive for.

One way to do this is mathematical modelling that integrates results from various disciplines. But often sheer numbers escape the deeper meanings, feelings and interpretations of environmental issues. Qualitative methods such as interviews may be needed to complete the picture. Unfortunately, the chasm between qualitative and quantitative methods - and their practitioners - seems sometimes deeper than that of different disciplines.

For some years, we have made research on how to combine and integrate qualitative and quantitative data when making scenarios of alternative futures. This 'unholy marriage' has been an exiting endeavour. Although mixing qualitative and quantitative methods and data is not easy, is not always unproblematic, and is generally not done, it definitely is very useful for getting the bigger picture and to effectively communicate the results.

As our integrated Q2 scenario method was presented to students in the Master's Degree Programme in Futures Studies in the University of Turku the students went a step further from research to art in their group assignment. Here, with their kind permission, we invite you to have a look at their Prezi presentation of an unconventional love story...

Petri Tapio & Vilja Varho

Petri is Professor in Futures Research at the University of Turku, Vilja is Senior Researcher at Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE)

Kiviluoto, K., Kyyrä, S., Mackiewicz, K., Qi, Y. & Isotalo, O. (2015) Q2: A methodological love story. https://prezi.com/cprc07iwwh0l/mr-quantity-meets-miss-quality/?utm_campaign=shareutm_medium=copy

Tapio, P., Paloniemi, R., Varho, V. & Vinnari, M. (2011) The unholy marriage? Integrating qualitative and quantitative information in Delphi processes. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 78(9): 1616-1628. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2011.03.016

Varho, V. & Tapio, P. (2013) Combining the qualitative and quantitative with the Q2 scenario technique - The case of transport and climate. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 80(4): 611-630. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2012.09.004

 

 

New book on transdisciplinary heuristics in sustainability studies

Posted 28 May 2014

Inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability research is often driven by complexity: The disciplinary organization of knowledge production is incapable of recognizing and dealing with the complexity of real world problems of contemporary society. This discussion is heightened by the recent emphasis on ‘wicked problems’, which implies that for many complex issues, there is neither complete definition nor single solution. Any attempt of resolution tends to generate further problems. This results from a high degree of uncertainty, combined with a profound disagreement on values.

In our newly published edited collection, Transdisciplinary Sustainability Studies: a Heuristic Approach (Routledge 2014, edited by K. Huutoniemi & P. Tapio), we argue that the notion of wicked problems suggests a new way to think about the methodology of inter- and transdisciplinary research. It shifts attention from the methodical aspects of integration to the heuristics of framing and dealing with complex situations. With ‘heuristics’ we mean cognitive tools and strategies through which researchers, professionals, and decision-makers can find a proper entry into a complex situation. This includes a formulation of a solvable problem and an idea of how the solution will improve the conditions.

The volume consists of a theoretical introduction and ten individual chapters, prefaced by Professor Julie Thompson Klein, a leading figure in the discourse of interdisciplinarity. Our international team of authors includes six FIDEA researchers and a number of colleagues across the interdisciplinary community of sustainability scholars. The chapters’ topics vary from transport policy to ecosystem services. The authors illustrate the role and variants of heuristics in transdisciplinary sustainability studies, and the difference that a heuristic approach can make when dealing with wicked environmental and sustainability problems.

Part I of the book covers transdisciplinary heuristics in framing sustainability problems, or in finding useful ways to define the situation that a ‘problem’ represents. The chapters show that figuring out what the puzzle might be and what the answer might look like are crucial aspects of transdisciplinary inquiry. If successfully accomplished, heuristics are powerful tools to overcome the institutional inertia of disciplinary thinking and enable a new course of action. An illustrative case is offered by David Banister, Professor of Transport Studies at Oxford University. He argues that transport researchers have taken too simplistic views of measurement and more importantly, of framing key issues. He takes travel time as an illustration of this view. The transport perspective presents time as an absolute concept, based on Newtonian physics, and realized as a fixed and linear clock time. Hence, much of transport policy has been directed at reducing travel time, rather than rethinking it to enable more sustainable transport policies. The understanding of time should be extended to fully appreciate its cultural and social contexts, and to accept that faster speeds and environmental concerns are not compatible.

Part II covers heuristics for sustainability problem solving in transdisciplinary, collaborative settings. Given the necessity of coordination between different actors, combined with the urgency of many sustainability threads, heuristics can provide shortcuts to concerted action. In many occasions, full agreement on meanings, values and beliefs is neither realistic nor a necessary condition for collaboration. Rather, what is needed is a sufficient common ground for the parties to pursue their still quite different goals in a relative harmony. A snapshot of problem solving heuristics is presented by Christian Pohl, Co-director of ‘td-net’ of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences. He presents a framework for transdisciplinary research that couples scientific knowledge production and societal problem solving, in a process of co-producing knowledge. He discusses five heuristics developed for improving this process, specifically relevant for solving sustainability problems.

Part III points to new directions to think about the role and characteristics of knowledge in our pursuit of sustainability. It is not just that we need transdisciplinary knowledge to reach sustainability, but we also need to think of knowledge itself in terms of sustainability. Such questions of knowledge both precede and transcend disciplinary epistemologies. Robert Frodeman, Director of the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity at the University of North Texas, wraps up the volume by equating transdisciplinarity with academic sustainability, which includes a shift of interest away from disciplinary self-perpetuation towards solving real problems.

For a strict methodologist, Transdisciplinary Sustainability Studies may be off the mark. Our ‘heuristic approach’, however, is not an invitation to abandon methodology, but to prioritize ecological or situational aspects of knowledge over disciplinary standards. We use a kind of ‘situational awareness’, rather than methodological rigor, as a model for our approach. We believe this change of focus to be helpful for several reasons.

First, wicked problems, by definition, resist attempts to unambiguous solutions and do not support rule-driven or methodical behavior. While adaptive learning may occur through trial and error, this learning is rarely cumulative: in the unstable world of wicked problems, methods and theories developed in one context are often unsuited for another. Second, there are limits to methodological rigor in the presence of multiple paradigms. Methods rationalize behavior only in epistemic cultures where they are institutions, but outside of specific fields, nothing in the method itself guarantees its functionality. Third, while the kind of professionalism provided by rigorous, methodical practice facilitates mutual compatibility of observations within specific networks of scientific production and communication, it also sets boundaries between experts and amateurs, often making a professional practice inaccessible to the wider community.

Instead of being a fallback position or second-best option in the face of methodological crisis, the heuristic approach appears as a well-grounded alternative for making sense of wicked situations. But it should be understood as a heuristic itself: it is an approach that facilitates, but does not guarantee, new understanding of sustainability problems. Also, while many of us found ‘heuristics’ an intuitively promising concept in the course of writing the chapters, it sometimes turned out challenging to decide what exactly should be designated as heuristic and what work does it do. We hope this volume will stimulate others to try and err – and learn – a heuristic approach to transdisciplinary sustainability studies.

For more details about the book, see www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415855792/

Katri Huutoniemi

Katri is post doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, Department of Social Research

 

 

Shedding light on light pollution

Posted 29 November 2013

Light pollution is global environmental change that is easily observable but that has received relatively little public attention. The first Finnish book focusing on light pollution was published in October 2013 by the Helsinki University Press. I had the opportunity to author the book together with Mr Janne Rinne from the Finnish Environment Institute.

We aimed for a comprehensive contribution. The book discusses the most obvious effects of light pollution, including sky glow that often makes star watching impossible and energy waste caused by unnecessary or poorly installed lighting. In addition to these problems we highlight the ecological effects of the disappearing natural darkness. Surprisingly little number of researchers have focused on the effects of artificial lighting on nocturnal ecosystems. Likewise, discussion of the positive effects of natural darkness on human health and well-being has been outpaced by attention given to benefits of bright artificial lights.

Our book has a strong interdisciplinary flavour since it tries to cover ecological, medical, social, economic and astronomical effects of light pollution. The interdisciplinary approach was strengthened by several short contributions from experts of various disciplines. We also wished to expand our approach towards transdisciplinarity by inviting lay people to share their views with an online survey. The survey generated over 2,000 responses and gave important insights on the topic. In particular, the aesthetic effects of excessive illumination were emphasised by the respondents.

Light pollution is often considered as a marginal issue that concerns only professional or amateur astronomers. However, probably because of the interdisciplinary approach, the launch of our book received attention far beyond the astronomy community. The book was noted by the main national TV and radio channels as well as by the print and online media. We gave several interviews that often focused on the health effects of light pollution but also on various other effects and possible countermeasures. The interdisciplinary approach of the book clearly sparked some new thinking and hopefully challenged journalists and the public to see darkness in a different light.

For a shorter and more focused publication in English, see our article in Land Use Policy.

Jari Lyytimäki

Jari is a senior researcher at Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)

 


Offsetting CO2 emissions from flying - why?

Posted 21 March 2013

One of the last things we did in the end of the CAST project was to estimate the emissions from our trips aboard, using the calculator found at www.atmosfair.de. We wanted to offset the emissions from flying to the Netherlands, England, and Austria during the project. We ended up paying some 75 euros for 2.8 t CO2 equiv., using a Finnish company Nordic Offset. The emission reductions were provided by a wind power farm in China. Some of us have used Atmosfair also to offset our private holiday flight emissions. It is simple, easy, and gives you a better conscience.

During the process, we started to wonder why only the flight emissions are often offset. Why not emissions from cars or buses? Taking the bus to work every day for three years must produce quite a lot of emissions, perhaps comparable to flying once abroad? It may be more difficult to calculate, because flights are relatively rare events whereas trips to the office are not, and finding data about the emissions from a particular bus company is much more challenging. But what about the emissions and other environmental impacts that result, for example, from printing drafts of our articles? Why do we not buy some old forests for conservation to protect biodiversity?

Although it is possible to do just that, somehow flight and CO2 have become the easiest and most ordinary form of offsetting negative environmental impacts resulting from work. It has become such a mainstream activity that e.g. the Finnish travel company Area (used by the University of Turku where some of us work) provides offsetting services, and offsets the emissions from their own work-related flights.

This is may be very good news for the environment. In addition, some offset services promise that new projects do not only provide renewable energy and thereby emission reductions but also tangible social and economic benefits to the people in developing countries.

Yet there is a nagging suspicion that these activities are just sops to our conscience that enable us to still fly abroad. Many environmental researchers are also worried that our concern about the climate change is taking our attention too much away from other environmental threats. Who would find an easy way to repair the damage we do to biodiversity, air quality, or soundscapes in urban, natural and underwater environments? A key factor is that a CO2 molecule has the same impact, regardless of its place of origin. A river polluted in Finland cannot easily be compensated by cleaning a river in China, nor can a species once lost be brought back. Perhaps we must simply enjoy the fact that we at least can do something positive in regard to the CO2 emissions, and try to reduce other negative environmental impacts as best we can.

Vilja Varho

Vilja is a senior researcher at Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC)

 


New perspectives to environmental communication studies

Posted 21 Nov 2012

Only rarely can one get so many excellent ideas for further research than I got on 16th November 2012 when I defended my doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki. The opponent, Associate Professor Victoria Wibeck from Linköping University, Sweden, provided not only critical reflection, but also plenty of seeds for future work.

In my thesis, I focused on the contents of the most widely read Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. I collected empirical data describing the evolution, over the last two decades, of media treatment of climate change and the eutrophication of water.

The comparison of these two environmental problems highlighted that different factors explain the evolution of environmental media coverage. Much of the recent research has concentrated on climate issues and there clearly is a need for further comparative studies focusing on other environmental issues. For example, it would be interesting to compare the development of the coverage of biodiversity and ecosystem services with climate coverage.

Studies focusing on the framings given to environmental issues in different countries and by different media clearly deserve scholarly attention. Cross-national studies of environmental coverage are surprisingly scarce, especially between non-English language areas.

My work concentrated on the newspaper coverage, partly because of the availability of easy-to-use long-term archives. A challenge of increasing importance is to analyze production, contents and potential impacts of the social media representations.

Overall, the results of my thesis suggest that environmental communication studies should focus not only on media reports highlighting certain environmental issues, but also on news items that mention environmental issues or concerns only briefly or in passing. This approach may be especially relevant from the point of view of mainstreaming environmental policies. Besides understanding communication in general, in-depth analysis requires substantial knowledge of environmental issues - another call for interdisciplinarity.

For further information, see the thesis and press release.

Jari Lyytimäki

Jari is a senior researcher at Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)

 

 

Crossing boundaries between natural and social sciences

Posted 24 May 2012

Good news - FIDEA is part of an interdisciplinary consortium that just got funding from the Academy of Finland. The AQUADIGM consortium is lead by Professor of Limnology, Jukka Horppila, at the University of Helsinki. The limnologists examine whether two long-lasting paradigms of lake restoration policy are justified: That oxygen depletion greatly increases internal phosphorous loading of lakes and that aereation is an efficient way to get rid of the problem. Environmental historians lead by Prof. Ilmo Massa will examine the birth and spread of these paradigms. The FIDEA group will examine the current and expected future strength of the paradigms with an international expert survey and run futures workshops for stakeholders to innovate and evaluate alternative lake restoration efforts.

Writing the research plan during last winter, a clear enthusiasm of bringing about something new and something useful could be felt. Also, mutual respect to different research traditions and a real interest to other groups’ results are essential for a fruitful project.

Is it then possible to cross the iron curtain between natural and social sciences in environmental research and contribute results that are more than the sum of the consortium’s parts? In the AQUADIGM project, we aim at this by a very clearly defined research problem that is approached from various directions, without a predetermined common theoretical framework. There are other strategies to cross this border, as well: One might focus on a clearly defined research object (for example, a single lake and its drainage area); a single but rich research material (for example, interviewing fishermen); a single method (for example mathematical modelling); or a theoretical framework (for example the EPP model).

When adopting any of these strategies let us keep in mind the basics – creativity and the ability of combining separated pieces of information into solid work.

Petri Tapio

Petri is Senior Researcher at the Finland Futures Research Centre

 


Struggles between multi- and interdisciplinarity in transport research

Posted March 29, 2012

I attended a transport policy workshop “Emerging Urban Transport Policies towards Sustainability” in Vienna this month. There were some 50 participants, from all over the world, though predominantly from Europe. The range of topics in the 20-odd presentations was impressive: freight, cycling, use of indicators, low emission zones, framing of policy…

The range of methods was also interesting: there were traditional approaches using modelling (but from interesting perspectives, such as trying to model ethical implications of electrical vehicle policies) as well as qualitative approaches. There were real-life experiences of policy outcomes and theoretical discussions in the lines of “what is a city”?

Transport research is by its very nature rather interdisciplinary. However, technical perspectives tend to dominate. In this meeting, however, not only were such topics as ethics and policy analysis discussed, there were also explicit calls for more co-operation and integration between disciplines. Psychologists, for example, were mentioned as scientists who should be involved more in transport issues, as many transport scientists consider behavioural change a fundamental element in reaching sustainable mobility. The problem is that it remains very much a black box in most transport studies. How can we actually bring about a lasting change in transport behaviour and choices?

There were also calls to educate transport professionals in order to better understand and relate to other policy areas. At the same time, the participants were very conscious of their own field and its worth. One presenter who called for more attention to policy issues in transport research at the same time asked to bear in mind that they are transport scientists – not policy scientists. Another noted that different professionals should be more open to each other’s’ viewpoints but emphasised that no field should try to impose its own frame, policy tools and logics to other sectors.

These viewpoints indicate more willingness for broad multidisciplinarity than deep interdisciplinarity. On the other hand, the participants also considered it important to co-operate and try to genuinely understand the different worlds of politicians, administration, business, and research. This is clearly a transdisciplinary objective. All in all, the workshop was another indication of rising enthusiasm for building bridges and understanding between scientific fields and societal sectors, in order to alleviate environmental problems.

Vilja Varho

Vilja is a senior researcher at Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC)

 


Unintended effects of indicators

Posted October 14, 2011

Indicators are considered a key tool in assessing whether societies are progressing towards sustainability. In indicator development, the main emphasis has been on the production of new indicators. However, it is at least equally important to focus on how, when and by whom indicators are actually used. A new research lead by FIDEA group turns the focus into noved direction: What kinds of desirable and undesirable effects are related to the use or non-use of indicators. Specifically, attention is paid to the negative, unintended effects of sustainability indicators in communication processes.

There is always a risk that information provided by indicators fosters undesired reactions in the subjects whose performance is being measured, or among other actors. Selective use of indicators can also provide opportunities for re-interpretations that deviate drastically from the scientific consensus. Starting from an earlier typology focusing on health communication, various types of negative unintended effects of sustainable development indicators are identified and discussed. These include, for instance, obfuscation, desensitization, misdirection of attention and epidemic of apprehension.

The research, forthcoming in Sustainable Development, concludes that negative unintended effects are often a result of a double problematic caused by communication failures related to indicators’ inability to provide an adequate picture of the reality. However, despite their shortcomings sustainability indicators can form an important part of the answer to sustainability challenges, without providing a flawless or full answer.

Jari Lyytimäki

Jari is a senior researcher at Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)

 

Sustainability and its indicators

Posted June 16, 2011

The need for interdisciplinary collaboration was evident in the international conference "Trends and Future of Sustainable Development" arranged in Tampere, Finland during 9-10 June, 2011. A diverse selection of current research on sustainability issues was presented and discussed at the venue.

Comparisons of the actual use of information produced by life cycle analysis (LCA) and sustainable development indicators was one example of the interdisciplinary research needs that emerged from the discussions. Although information is abundantly produced, knowledge of the use and potential influence of this information remains scarce.

A panel discussion revealed problems in the search for suitable indicators. For example, for many politicians the need is for simple sustainability indicators that could replace such unsatisfactory indicators as GDP as the central measurements of success. Researchers worry that the use of few popular indicators such as energy efficiency and ecological footprint hide other aspects of the global social and environmental system and can lead to counter-productive policy measures.

Members of the FIDEA-group presented several papers at the conference, focusing on sustainability indicators, climate policy debate, future of transport, and methodologies of futures research. More information can be obtained from the conference site.

Jari Lyytimäki, Vilja Varho & Nina Nygrén

 

No more climate news?

Posted April 14, 2011

Although it might feel like a distant past, the air was filled with climate news only a couple of years ago. Coverage on climate issues such as international climate negotiations, melting glaciers and weather anomalies seemed to be everywhere. This flood of news was welcomed by many environmental activists, but some people become annoyed about ever-increasing demands for climate-friendly actions.

Nowadays climate issues appear to have faded away from the public discussion. Mainstream news media in Finland and other industrial countries seem to focus on other issues. In Finland, two consecutive cold winters have reduced the feel for urgency. No other environmental issue has been able to fill the space left from the climate concern. It seems that the media is taking a breath after the climate hype.

However, this is not the whole picture. First, climate debate is still present, although it hits the headlines less frequently. A content analysis of the leading Finnish broadsheet, Helsingin Sanomat, shows that the climate issues are still mentioned more frequently than in 1990s or early 2000s.

Second, it is questionable whether climate issues dominated the news agenda even during the climate hype. Preliminary figures calculated from the news contents of the Helsingin Sanomat suggest that the share of news items mentioning climate issues from all news reached only two percent during the peaks of coverage. Currently (January-March 2011), the share is about 0.5%.

Third, only about a third of the news mentioning climate change actually concentrate on climate issues while two thirds focus on other issues. This wide-based treatment of climate issues under various topics is especially interesting from the point of view of mainstreaming climate policies. It could be called the piercing effect where climate concern cuts through almost every compartment of the media as well as every societal sector.

These results are based on studies conducted in the CAST-project. Further information can be found in the articles published in International Journal of Environmental Studies and Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change.

Jari Lyytimäki

Jari is a senior researcher at Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)


Top ten futures - A concept suitable for an interdisciplinary seminar

Posted March 9, 2011

Petri Tapio and I recently presented our views about the challenges of environmental policy concerning transport up to the year 2030, in a Top Ten Futures seminar organised by the Finnish Society for Futures Studies. The seminar, arranged in March 2011, was 9th in the series, and has a rather interesting structure.

Every Top Ten Futures seminar has a different theme, this time it was the future of mobility and managing distances. Each speaker presents his or her views from a particular perspective and finishes the presentation with ten theses regarding the future. The theses vary in nature, so that they can represent challenges or promises, be realistic or provocative, and they can be based on research or be more like expert hunches.

This time the presentations covered, for example, global freight, leisure travel behaviour, and slow life movement. Presentations focusing on the diffusion of genes and languages, and the ways distances are managed in science fiction gave novel perspectives to the concept of mobility. (The seminar program and most presentations are available on the website of the society, unfortunately in Finnish only. http://www.futurasociety.fi/)

All presenters made references to environmental issues, but for an environmental scientist the most important new information can come from issues that do not directly touch the environment. For example, will the slow life movement really reduce the environmental impacts of freight of foodstuffs as it favours locally produced foods? Or will transport costs rise as it becomes increasingly difficult to find competent truck drivers in Finland, and could this eventually reduce transport volumes and therefore transport emissions?

More generally speaking, this kind of interdisciplinary seminar brings nicely together experts from various fields. The concept of Top Ten Theses makes the approach interesting and inspires discussion among the participants.

Vilja Varho

Vilja is a senior researcher at Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC)

 

Humorous approach to interdisciplinary environmental research

Posted 9 November 2010

What humour has to do with interdisciplinary environmental research? A lot. And I don't mean that an interdisciplinary approach to environmental research would be just a joke!

Environmental protection is typically considered a matter of utmost seriousness – it is a fundamental question of human survival. Some people would say that this is certainly no laughing matter, but for me it is a fertile ground for different kinds of humour and comedy. Humour is an important way to question the obvious, challenge the authority and cope with the reality that is sometimes absurd.

Humour poses a challenge for environmental research. We cannot assume that the environmental protection could somehow be humour-free, since all other domains of human activity are full of comedy, irony, satire, parody, sarcasm and other forms of humour.

Humour can ease and grease the frictions between different views and approaches. It can open up new insights by playing with prevailing assumptions and prejudices. However, humour can also be used to ridicule the opponent and to forestall new initiatives. Use of humour can lead to counterproductive disputes even when all the intentions are good. Black humour may help people to psychologically cope with stress caused by the looming environmental crisis, and irony can function as a tool to avoid personal responsibility.

Humour research has been one of my hobbies for a couple of years. Recently, I studied how comical argumentation is used in a Finnish web debate related to climate science. The results were not delightful. Web debaters use a wide variety of comical or humorous argumentation, but humour serves first and foremost as a tool to ridicule other debaters. Arguments do not count if the actor presenting the arguments is already labelled as ridiculous.

As a result, the use of comical and humorous argumentation undermines the ability of the web discussion platforms to function as forums for constructive knowledge sharing and social learning.

Despite these results, humour surely can play a constructive role in science communication. The key lesson is that just presenting the hard cold facts is not enough, since any fact can be laughed at. However, creating a context that allows and encourages the emergence of positive and constructive role of humour is not an easy task. Here the interdisciplinary approach combining humour research with environmental studies is clearly needed.

Jari Lyytimäki

Jari is a senior researcher at Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)

 

Interdisciplinarity – not just a buzzword of environmental research?

In the end of September, I participated in a seminar organised by the Research Programme of Climate Policy funded by the Advisory Board for Sectoral Research in Finland. Contrary to its name, the Advisory Board is intersectoral and is especially keen on funding intersectoral and interdisciplinary projects. The Climate policy programme has just been launched and a cavalcade of project managers introduced their projects in the seminar.

So what? Another boring seminar with people interested only in finding funding for themselves? People using the buzz-word of interdisciplinarity just to sell their projects? Often so, but this time these doubts were wrong. These researchers seemed to be genuinely interested in interdisciplinary and intersectoral efforts.

There was an uplifting spirit to tackle climate change and to learn from others as well as having synergistic efforts. Most attendants were familiar with the problem that studies of climate change mitigation – as well as adaptation – have been conducted separately and they have produced overlapping, and sometimes conflicting results leading into conflicting or confusing policy recommendations. They saw this interdisciplinary programme as a way to deal with the problem. It is easy to agree on the promising prospects. Our ILARI project, lead by Anu Tuominen at VTT and performed in collaboration with the CAST project, deals with interaction of land-use and transport policy. Since the climate policy research programme will last up to 2012, we will see later whether the optimism and goodwill will last.

The most striking methodological aspect was that a great majority of the project plans included expert workshops and were aimed at future scenarios. Workshops were considered necessary in order to integrate and negotiate the meaning of the findings of different research fields. Future scenarios were considered useful since scenarios are a typical way of describing interdisciplinary issues but also because policies always have an orientation towards the future. In addition to these atheoretical, explorative methods, a well-thought integrative theoretical background is needed. This way we will avoid interdiciplinarity to become just a buzzword.

Petri Tapio

Petri is senior researcher at Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC)


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Fidea

The FIDEA group conducts crossdisciplinary environmental research from both theoretical and empirical point of view.

We gather specialist knowledge, integrate it, and invite the experts to share their thoughts with people from other fields of environmental expertise. Read more!

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petri.tapio(a)fidea.fi
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