At the end of the day it's the impact that counts! – an interview with Future Earth Townhall guest speaker Heinz Gutscher

Future Earth Finland has the pleasure to welcome professor Emeritus Heinz Gutscher from Future Earth Science Committee to present the ambitious new global change research initiative to our local global change community. Read professor Gutscher’s thoughts on global change research and come and learn more at Future Earth Townhall Meeting on 26 May 2015 in Helsinki!

How does Future Earth differ from earlier global environmental change research programs?

The main difference I expect from this initiative is it’s focus on impact. Despite of more than 20 years of global change research, the transformational impact of research has been rather meager. Tons of high level publications are just not enough.

What does Future Earth need to succeed?

There are two “new” buzzwords within Future Earth: “co-design” and “transdisciplinarity”. Co-design implies participation of relevant stakeholders, politicians etc. in all phases of a research process. Stakeholders are invited to co-define research questions and to support research processes. Through co-design, stakeholders are engaged to learn from the research results, implement them and turn the results into action. Transdisciplinarity means "more than science" in the sense that the scientist's job is not done when results are published in high impact science journals. I expect from this kind of a "new" science that scientific work – if ever possible and feasible – goes beyond its standard objectives and reaches out to society. These are new and difficult challenges to scientific enterprise and they imply learning on all sides.

Future Earth is a global research initiative. How do see the role of local scientific and stakeholder communities in Future Earth? How could local events such as Future Earth Townhalls contribute to the initiative?

At the end of the day, it's the impact that counts in every field of global change research: water, food or energy security, poverty, decarbonization, biodiversity protection etc. This impact can only be achieved when local, national or regional cultures successfully connect and adopt both traditional and science based knowledge and use these new meanings to change the impacts of human life. And the role of constructing new meanings, propagating new norms and narratives of a good life, of supporting national sustainable political ideas, this role belongs primarily to local initiatives and not to the big worldwide conferences.

You are a professor Emeritus of social psychology and you have studied social psychological aspects of sustainability issues. What are the key challenges in global change from the point of view of social psychology?

As a social psychologist I stress that it is important to acknowledge the crucial role social sciences and humanities have in this big endeavor. The main challenge lies in identifying, understanding and helping to overcome existing barriers which hinder the necessary transformations we should make in our behavior. We have already available know-how on transformational knowledge and this know-how has not been used adequately.

Thank you!

by Iina Koskinen