Talks 2022

Stefan Brackertz & Maurice Kirchner

Military impacts on the environment

April 4, 2022

Based on exemplary cases principal links between war and environmental destruction are established. The specific importance of science in the overall social debate about war and the environment is elaborated with historic examples. After the Talk we invite you to an discussion about the actual meaning of bringing together research for peace and sustainability.

Dorothee Schwieters

Pollution, Racism, and Environmental Justice

Environmental harms, pollution, or natural disasters such as hurricanes are often thought to be nondiscriminatory in that they affect all people equally. Yet in the U.S., poor people and people of color are, e.g., disproportionately more likely to live with excessive air pollution and even suffer higher cancer rates because of that. Their environment makes them sick and poses a threat to their lives – which is described by environmental racism and environmental (in)justice. Taking the example of Houston, TX, continuously praised for the diversity of its population, shows how this plays out in the city in which a small Black community filed the first ever environmental lawsuit based on civil rights violations and that continues to show a legacy of segregation and discrimination that today manifests itself in unequally distributed harms and risks. Houston is the leading state in petroleum refining and chemical production and has never met national ozone standards. Taking a look back at past decades will reveal the connections between pollution, racism, and injustice and explain why some people breathe cleaner air than others.

Mrinalini Shinde

The Role of the Polluter Pays Principle in Contemporary Environmental Law

The ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ (hereinafter referred to as ‘PPP’) under Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 1992 (Rio Declaration), has recently begun to occupy significant standing in both international decision-making and domestic environmental disputes. The principle essentially implies that polluters must bear the costs of restoring the environment of that pollution. In this lecture, we will discuss the journey of how the PPP came to occupy such a strong position in environmental law across the world, and how it finds outlets both in international law such as agreements addressing carbon emissions or plastic pollution. We also discuss the criticisms of the PPP and how private interests have compromised its effectiveness in modern environmental law. Given the lecturer’s previous work as an advocate at the National Green Tribunal in India, we will also look at cases that Ms. Shinde was part of, to understand how the PPP is used in practice in India’s green court, and the major criticisms of the status quo.

Michael Bechtel

Improving Public Support for Climate Action Through Multilateralism

For decades, policymakers have been attempting to negotiate multilateral climate agreements. One of the motivations for securing cooperation among multiple states is the belief that the public will be more supportive of adopting costly climate policies if other countries do so, both because this makes it more likely that important sustainability goals will be reached and because those efforts resonate with widely held fairness norms. However, some recent research suggests that public approval of climate action is independent of the policy choices made by other countries. Here, we present two different experimental studies fielded in multiple countries showing that multilateralism significantly increases public approval of costly climate action. Multilateralism makes climate policy more appealing by improving sustainability beliefs and the policy’s perceived fairness. Pursuing climate action within a multilateral setting does not only promise improved policy impacts, but may also generate higher levels of public support.

Gerda Kuiper

The second-hand clothing trade in the Global South: A way to reduce waste or a source of pollution

The trade in second-hand clothes is a highly contested one, both globally and in more local settings. Whereas the purchasing of used clothes is often promoted as a way to reduce one’s ecological footprint within the Global North, the trade of such clothes from the Global North to the Global South is sometimes considered as waste dumping and a source of pollution. This lecture will start out by introducing both perspectives. It will then focus on experiences in the Global South through an anthropological case study on the second-hand clothing trade in Tanzania. A discussion of viewpoints of local government officials, traders and consumers will show that local concerns do not revolve around the environment but rather around the pollution of individual bodies, for instance through wearing second-hand underwear. The example of the used clothing trade thus highlights the cultural complexity of the concept “pollution”.

Felix Mosner & Johannes Schleef

Global supply chains and their effect on peace

Nowadays the global economic environment is highly interdependent and it seems that no country can operate on its own. The product we buy in a local store has probably made its way around the world with various parties being involved in the making, distributing, and selling. Due to the rise of globalization, what we do on one side of the world, can have a huge impact on the other. With this interweaving on a global scale come complex relationships among all entities involved, such as governments, enterprises, and NGOs. A shift in one dimension could be the first domino of many, that would ultimately lead to a complete collapse of a system. To prevent that from happening, all parties of a supply chain have an interest in keeping the interdependencies as risk-free and stable as possible. While some events can be accounted for, others represent a challenge that needs rethinking on multiple levels. In our talk, we want to give you a short overview of supply chain management in general, how it has changed with globalization, and how it is connected to politics and ultimately affects a peaceful coexistence.

Matthias Dewald & Markus Schiffer & Erik Strub

Release, Decommissioning, Disposal, Transmutation: Where is the radioactive waste going?

Radioactive waste is often considered one of the most known hazardous materials. On the other hand, everything is radioactive – our environment containing radioactivity of primordial or cosmogenic origin. This might lead to the argument that a small amount of radioactivity can be tolerable. So when a nuclear powerplant is decommissioned, be it after an accident like in Fukushima or after regular operation, where might the radioactive waste go? Which amounts might be released? Which have to be disposed? Or might they even be “burned”? The lecture will deal with examples

– how a nuclear power plant is decommissioned, what material is considered conventional waste, radioactive waste or even raw material.

– how might be dealt with the huge amount of contaminated water from the Fukushima, how it might be purified, processed and which amount of release might be tolerable.

– how spent nuclear fuel might be transformed by transmutation into less dangerous waste and whether this has the potential to be significant path of disposal.