Workshop 1+2

An important part of the research project were the two half-day workshops with project and research partners coming from different areas such as municipal offices, universities, private companies, NGOs or art and design. The main objective was to exchange views beyond the individually filmed interviews and learn from each other through joint discussions.

In summary it can be said that the workshops were very enriching. Our goal was  to bring experts from different disciplines together, to bridge the gap between theory and practice and despite differences and controversies to come to insights and knowledge through common conversation. This ambition clearly has been met. The fact that art, respectively artistic research launched the debate was considered as outgoing and unfamiliar in a positive sense.

“Grandchildren proof”
In Workshop 1 the (theoretical) basis for sustainability and its (practical) usability were elicited and the need for ecological and future oriented action was clarified. Prior to the workshop  the participants have drafted statements on sustainability. During the workshop, the different approaches have been discussed, partly extremely controversial. While the participants in the municipal offices and universities tended to face the term rather positively because it defines time-horizons and provides orientation, the participants from NGOs and art and design criticized it strongly, because they claim the term is applied top widely and inaccurately: sustainability is to become a taboo word that must hold out for everything. Nevertheless, in the best case it would articulate a non-exploitative approach towards environment and nature. Alternatively philosophers proposed the terminology “green culture”. This seemed interesting because the somewhat abstract and especially scientificly, technically and economically used term sustainability would not only be replaced by a broader and politically established, but because sustainability is explained also as a concern of cultural interest – an issue that coincides with the approach of cultural studies and the transdisciplinary approach of the project.

In the second part of the workshop first visions of the best of all worlds in 40-50 years have been developed. The task was related to the Basel region but could be thought further nationally or globally. The questions – How will we live and work? What do we want to change today already? – were central issues. Inspiring ideas have been collected. They ranged from pragmatic-political solutions like wearing woolen socks or turn off the power regularly for an hour a day to discussions whether a in principle ecologically important statement as “Umwelt c’est moi” (“I’m the environment”) tends to be individualistic and therefore problematic because the intention is to act collectively and socially. Despite the controversy it became clear that there is a need for a “grandchildren proof” way of life.

Future scenarios
The aim of the second workshop was to differentiate the question with regards to the future raised in the first workshop from an energy policy perspective and to think it further. Based on four different scenarios playfully specified by the research team the four groups developed ideas how to live together in 2050. Specifically discussed was the “technocracy” scenario. In 40 years a post-fossil state would be reached in which alternative energy without nuclear power plants and life limitations afforded a high global standard of living. The group counted on the development of democratic and sustainable technologies used in different places what would save a lot of energy. The group imagined that Basel could generate its source of income by selling its “green technology” to energy itensive places. The waste industry could be a lucrative branch as well so that Basel would drop to a global metropolis where waste is transported to. This could be further processed and recycled so that no more waste would be left. Micro and roof gardens were installed for the necessary ‘green’ compensation. However without political constraint for the release of funds such a world would not be possible.

Another scenario was the “2000 Watt Society” which only requires 20-30% of current energy consumption and which replaces fossil fuels with alternative ones. The question whether this would lead to changes in the standard of living respectively what could be gained by this change remained open. Besides the technical solutions for energy reduction, communal living and sustainable mobility using bicycles and public transport have been proposed. This still would be achieved by a widely promoted green lifestyle or further cultural incentives. Also, pressure must be exerted on decision-makers and educational work has to be done, like for example the fact that a single Google search needs as much CO2 as to cook a cup of tea. However also this scenario would require legal regulation and the necessary political support.

The last negosciated scenario was the “oil shock” scenario, a post-fossil condition with massive increase of the energy prices because the maximum oil production would no longer meet the needs and alternative energy would be only insufficiently developed. Some participants saw that nightmare scenario also as a possible chance because only external pressure would lead to rethink and change the current situation. One workshop participant said that the satiety and weariness we live in today could emerge into a longing for simplicity and more community. This should be taken seriously. To the question of how to react to an emergency situation and keep your freedom a great range of pragmatic up to funny ideas came up, such as living close together in winter when it is cold, while when it is hot in summer and you need much space to live in shopping centers and other inhabited places. Also the formation of new rituals and rhythms such as fasting versus riotousness or the increase of pleasure through it’s anticipation could be important. More options for action were seen in (real) living or in giving (empty) time as present, and after all giving and sharing things and skills; also convivial neighbourhoods with its environment to form networks to live relocated in an urban context might emerge enriching forms of coexistence. When asked how to achieve something like this there were seen two possibilities: either distress would cause it or it would start already now by a community of people who would live and practice it .

The second part ended with a philosophic presentation titled ”Sustainable development in the tension of control and exaggeration”. The lecturer pointed out that with the advent of techno sciences new premises have emerged in the area of ecology. Today we were less concerned with the idea of limitations and – emerging out of it – of moderation and control as means of survival like in the 1970ties/80ties but rather with excess and experimentation: sustainability will therefore no longer be considered as a “(well-defined) precondition of action” but as a “result of a learning process”.