The Mistra Environmental Communication Research Programme Component at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism (ICSJ)

Conflict, Environment, and Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Interrogations

Depending on how we view and talk about it -as a territory, a resource, a living space, an ecosystem- environment can be a cause, a target, or a site of conflicts, and is often called the “silent victim” of wars, due to their destructive, disruptive, and degradating environmental impacts that extend far beyond the battlefield, and for long after their duration, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of other conflicts. This intrinsic relationship also positions environment as a potential pathway and site for conflict transformation efforts, by emphasizing the environmental dimensions of conflicts and peacebuilding, and by offering possibilities to re-vision peace and conflict as a focus, and drive, for positive environmental change.

WP5 Unconference: Conflict, Environment, and Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Interrogations

16 May 2022, 14.00 – 16.00 (CET), Online


May-Britt Öhman, Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism, Uppsala University, Sweden

Edwick Madzimure, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Zimbabwe

Anna Kryvenko, Independent Film Maker, Ukraine-Czech Republic

The event, originated in the shade of yet another military conflict deeply troubling the entire world, called for a critical reflection on the often under-represented interconnections between conflict, environment, and sustainability, with a focus on the entanglements between humanitarian and environmental impacts of violent conflict, in its many faces: from military activities and war, to various indirect forms of violence affecting local communities and indigenous populations, where environment itself becomes a site for struggle.

Bringing together academicians, activists, artists, and peace-builders for a transdisciplinary discussion, it questioned how the connections between (violent) conflict, environment, and sustainability are understood, represented, and addressed within and beyond academia, and how media and arts can be studied, and used, to document and communicate these interconnections in a way to bridge conflict transformation and environmental action. With the contributions of the guest speakers, the aim was to give voice, in particular, to the less-heard perspectives of indigenous communities, women organizations, and artists that repeatedly call for a critical shift in our understanding of these interconnections, by questioning what has been taken for granted, and proposing alternative ways to think, talk about, and act upon those, applying de-colonial, de-patriarchical, de-hierarchical and integrationist approaches.

The first speaker of the event, May-Britt Öhman from the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism at Uppsala University talked about the feminist and indigenous perspectives on land rights, environment and climate change, giving examples from the struggles of Sámi community in Sweden, her ongoing work within Sámi associations and the global network of collaboration with indigenous scholars and their communities, including joint publications, collaborative films, and the Sámi Land Free University. In her speech, May-Britt emphasized that climate change is not only about carbondioxide emissions, but about forests, water courses, soil, and about relocations, when an area is no longer suitable for livelihood, which may reinforce genocide and deportation of indigenous peoples. In studying these connections, she pointed at the merits of applying a “supradisciplinary” approach to research, which prioritizes listening to and learning from indigenous experiences and knowledge, and including indigenous peoples in decision-making. In terms of how media can be used to document and communicate these perspectives, May-Britt gave some examples of her film collaborations, including “When the climate apocalypse comes - I'll make it”, “Winds of Destruction”, and "Ungreen windpower", the latter documenting Sámi perspectives on fossil dependent and environmentally destructive designs.

Linking these perspectives with experiences from Africa, Edwick Madzimure, from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Zimbabwe drew attention to the consequences of global militarism, particularly in developing countries, where military expenditures are prioritized over the cost of meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), despite the urgent need for investments in livelihoods, including those for environmental protection and climate action. In her speech, Edwick specifically pointed at the reciprocal linkages between militarism and climate change in Africa, where trillions of dollars are channeled into military investments, which contributed to climate change, while the effects of climate change continued to bring about a scarcity of resources, that in turn, result in further violent conflicts. Pointing at the gendered dimensions of this situation, she added that the climate change had devastating impacts on rural women’s livelihoods, exposing the women of the Global south to challenges such as water scarcity, food insecurity, and financial constrains, which are increasing the cases of gender-based violence. Given these interconnections, Edwick noted that the plans to confront climate change must address militarization, and emphasized the need for long-term solutions to conflicts, such as disarmament, demilitarization, investments in economic and social rights and in environmental protection, in a way to put human security and humanitarian support first, instead of investing in militarization for security.

The third and last speaker of the event was Anna Kryvenko, an independent film maker and fine art photography artist, born in Ukraine and living in Czech Republic. In her speech, Anna talked about her artistic approach to studying and documenting war in and through media, which she associated with a “war of memories”: the colliding memories of the warring sides -individual, collective and historic- and the memories of those who teach and who learn about the past, influenced by the images and narratives of historic events in the media. Noting that her artistic concentration lies in showing the fragility of these memories, using fragmentation and deconstruction of visual images and sound, Anna shared some excerpts from the films she produced, including “Listen to the Horizon” (2015) and “My Unknown Soldier” (2018), that explored the portrayals of war and its consequences through different forms of archives, including her family archives from Ukraine, and her personal history, asking the question: “how does it feel to be in a foreign country while the memories of the eternal search for your own place and territory are starting to chase you?”

Following the speeches, an open discussion was held involving the speakers and the audience, where some methodological questions and insights were shared, with a focus on the ethical aspects of studying and documenting conflicts and war in academia, media and arts, including the researchers’ self-reflection on the internalized dimensions of coloniality and the selection of methods used in artistic outputs. At the closing of the discussion, Vaia Doudaki, Mistra Environmental Communication programme researcher from the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism (ICSJ) at Charles University drew attention to the need for acknowledging and working on the connections between crisis, conflicts, wars and environmental issues, instead of treating them as isolated occurences, which she found structurally problematic. Noting that the anti-war discourses, as well as claims for peace and social justice are instrically connected with environmental struggles and claims, Vaia said there is a need to build and engage in broad societal alliances between academics, artists, media professionals, and activists so that we learn from one another, connect similar as well as broader struggles, and collectively create knowledge on these issues in a way to lead to action and change, which is not easy but necessary.

The event in full can be watched at the link below:

The event is organized by Mistra Environmental Communication team at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism at Charles University, Czech Republic, and supported by Mistra, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, through the aforementioned research programme.

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