Overline: Workshop
Headline: Imagining Future Nature(s)

It has been suggested that technological interventions are now needed to mitigate the catastrophic consequences our everyday practices have on the environment. Biotechnologies, for example, might play an increasing role in nature preservation. Gene drives could be used to remove invasive species, or “de-extinction” approaches could help reintroduce lost keystone species. It has also been argued that in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change in the future, we have to start developing technologies for active ‘climate engineering’ now. At the same time, (new) technologies are also seen as ways to ensure human health or even survival in a rapidly changing environment. Genome editing, some scientists argue, make it possible to produce crops which are more resilient to changing climates. Gene drives could be employed to eradicate vector borne diseases like malaria. Such interventions, however, might call into question what we mean by “nature” or “natural”, and what kind of environment we want to build or preserve for the future.

Debates about the feasibility of technological interventions, and about the normative issues they might pose, take place within a broader discussion about the changing meaning of the concept of nature and the goals of nature preservation. With the popularization of the notion of the Anthropocene, some researchers have promoted “the end of nature”. They argue that any notion of a realm distinct from human intervention becomes senseless when even remote wilderness areas and climate patterns are impacted by human actions. At the same time, arguments have been made that ‘novel ecosystems’ come into existence within a strongly human-dominated world. Instead of disappearing, here “nature” re-emerges as intended and unintended consequences of human interventions. The argument would then be that “nature” does not disappear, but instead that we have to rethink the feasibility of a distinction between “nature” as a realm outside of human influence, and “culture or technology” as what is human-made.

This one-day workshop aims to bring together researchers from different disciplines across the humanities and the natural sciences to explore together what “nature” means in the context of their work. We will discuss whether conflicting and changing definitions of “nature” impact the scopes and aims of research in our disciplines and whether the conceptual understanding within the contributing disciplines might profit from interdisciplinary exchange. We will also discuss how diverging assumptions about “nature” might influence exchanges with policy-makers and the broader public. Moreover, we want to explore together what “natural” environments could look like in the future and what challenges this might pose for societies (and scientists).

Venue: IASS - Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies e.V., Berliner Str. 130, 14467 Potsdam

Participation by invitation only