Topic description / abstract:
What can environmental history bring to debates about sustainability? The sustainability debate needs to acknowledge the mortgage we have already put on the future by eg. producing Plutonium, by the underground labyrinths of abandoned mines and soils drenched with POPs (including Dioxin in Vietnam). Risky and long-lived products are a defining feature of the Anthropocene, as are world-wide degradation of land and ocean ecosystems which will not easily heal anytime soon. Regulated rivers and hydropower plants cannot be left alone, constant investments into the upkeep of infrastructure are necessary. If the care of legacies is not included into plans for the future, these plans are likely to fail.
By looking into the past to identify and assess hazardous legacies, we can gain a better understanding of the challenges ahead. Examples range from mine-filling and some of the most pertinent nuclear facilities to soil degradation and river course changes. The environmental humanities look at society as a source of these legacies and ask how and why such legacies arose to offer reflection and potential alleviation of such legacies.
Verena Winiwarter was appointed Professor of Environmental History at Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt in 2007, and holds the same position at BOKU since 3/2018, when the Institute of Social Ecology was moved. First trained as a chemical engineer, she holds a PhD in Environmental History from Vienna University and was granted the venia legendi in Human Ecology in 2003 at Vienna University. Since 2016, she is a full member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Chairperson of the
Commission for Interdisciplinary Ecological Studies (OEAW), President of ICEHO, founding member of ESEH and member of the advisory boards of the Centre for Environmental History (University Tallinn), Deutsches Museum (München) and Technisches Museum Wien. Her main research interests comprise the history of landscapes, in particular rivers, images, and the environmental history of soils and legacies. Her 2014 co-authored book “Umwelt hat Geschichte. Sechzig Reisen durch die Zeit” was elected as Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres in Austria and Umweltbuch des Jahres in Germany. In 2013, she was „WissenschaftlerIn des Jahres“ in Austria, elected by the council of science and education journalists.