The Roar of Catastrophes: animals and humans in the face of (not-so-natural) disasters

By: Verónica Policarpo

Breathing in, take one. Inspiring Svetlana.  

How can we attune ourselves to the suffering of those caught by catastrophes? How much wonder can we find in their unimaginable capabilities for recovery?

These were the questions that inspired me when I first read Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices of Chernobyl, and then all her other books, as it usually happens when I get obsessively caught by an author that speaks to my deepest soul. What is it that triggers a line of restless enquiry that clings to our mind, as much as to our heart, to the point that it seems to have a life of its own? Here, I wish to reflect briefly upon what draws me to the study of catastrophes, and in particular to the experiences and suffering of nonhuman animals caught therein. I depart from Svetlana’s words, which was precisely what triggered my interest in the topic. Her books on human-made catastrophes – nuclear incidents, wars – are mainly about humans. But it strikes me how, in her narratives, she weaves the human accounts of disaster together with the non-human. May it be the forests of Ukraine or Belarus, caught in a radioactive peaceful mortal beauty. Or the innumerable animals caught in between the cruelty of such human excesses. At some point, in the preface of one of her books, she poignantly states (in much more beautiful words than those I can now recollect): one day, someone should make the History of all the animals killed in these disasters.

Like all important ideas, its simplicity hit me as fire. How come we have for so long disregarded what happens to animals in catastrophes? I am not an historian. But I am a social scientist and a human-animal studies scholar. And part of what I do is exactly to explore how to bring the non-human animals into our knowledge of social phenomena, including them as legitimate subjects of research, full co-producers of knowledge, accounting for their perspectives and interests. How could I, then, make a contribution?

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PhD SHIFTHub: how adversities can be a catalyst for change


Being a PhD student during a global pandemic is not easy: from the already personal and academic dreadful isolation to the increasing competition between peers, the lack of funding and deterioration of mental health become ever more prominent.

Hence, some ICS doctoral students decided to break the silence and call for a more supportive model of co-existence in academia.

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Stranger Thesis: Chicken, Uncertainty and Sisyphus

By Mónica Ribau

Henry IV of France (1553-1610) promised that, if God helped him, each peasant would have a chicken on his plate every Sunday. After another thirty years of life, he was able to read “Meditations” (1640) by Descartes, who is considered to be the father of the scientific revolution. Agriculture and livestock rearing would ensure more chicken production and more people alive than was ever possible.

Right now, I write this post calmly, myself a privileged product of science, with a full fridge and singing birds around me – the kind of bird which we do not eat. However, Henry IV’s promise remains unfulfilled. There have never been so many chickens globally, but they were never as concentrated in so few mouths. Eradicating hunger is the second Sustainable Development Goal, and poverty is the first (plus 20’s issues).

After all, the God of Henry IV, who became “Science” in the Scientific Society, is in crisis. Certainty is expected from scientific knowledge, when it has always thriven on scepticism. Neither science nor democracy work like religion, rather taking reality as having shades of grey instead of a reduced black-or-white dichotomy. Complex dynamics, like the Changing Climate or the Coronavirus, enhance perceptions of uncertainty and, with that, the freedom of choice between extremes. Complex dynamics show that science is not about giving just one single number to problems clearly not reducible to such, as that provides a false sense of certainty and security in an entropic world where we cannot control everything.

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A eletrificação da vida

Por: Ana Horta

Para Lenin só seria possível alcançar o comunismo quando a União Soviética estivesse completamente eletrificada. Apenas a eletricidade permitiria desenvolver a produção industrial em grande escala, necessária à concretização do comunismo. Assim, em 1920 foi concebido um plano de recuperação e desenvolvimento económico centrado na eletrificação do país que permitisse essa transição em dez anos. Cem anos depois, a eletrificação também está no centro de outra grande ambição coletiva: a sustentabilidade.

Vejamos o caso de Portugal. Em sintonia com o pacto ecológico da União Europeia, o plano nacional para alcançar a neutralidade carbónica até 2050 baseia-se na “eletrificação da economia”. Pretende-se substituir os combustíveis fósseis por eletricidade em todos os setores da sociedade, enquanto se procura que esta seja cada vez mais produzida através de fontes renováveis (incluindo através do hidrogénio). Simultaneamente este plano também promove uma “transição digital” que permita ganhar eficiência a vários níveis e que contribua para tornar a economia mais competitiva. A digitalização supõe, obviamente, maior recurso a tecnologias de informação e comunicação e consequentemente a eletrificação de mais processos e setores da sociedade. Ambicionam-se redes inteligentes de distribuição de energia, soluções inteligentes para a mobilidade, tecnologias inteligentes, uma administração pública inteligente, edifícios e cidades inteligentes, tudo isto na lógica de um “crescimento inteligente”, como preconizado no Plano de Recuperação e Resiliência.

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Is the Paris Agreement targeting the right emissions?

By: Jiesper Pedersen

Global negotiations and policies for climate mitigation, i.e., reducing GHG emissions, have historically been based on projections of what each country is expected to emit in the future, the emission scenarios compiled by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  However, it is crucial to have a critical outlook on how these scenarios are calculated and reflect historical emissions and socioeconomic trends. Additionally, they may create imbalances between regions and countries in the world. The reality of the global economic changes, and therefore we should regularly reassess the scientific foundations of climate policy to avoid injustices.

A key issue is that country emissions have been calculated based on the total emissions of a country, including, for instance, industrial production, even when most of the production is exported. It is easy to understand how this creates distortions between countries such as the United States, the EU member states, and China – ‘the world’s factory’. In practice, much of the ‘carbon emissions’ have been outsourced to developing countries for decades.

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A neutralidade carbónica em Portugal: uma transição (in)justa?

Por: Vera Ferreira

Em 2016, o Governo Português comprometeu-se a alcançar a neutralidade carbónica no horizonte 2050. No início de 2021 – que inaugura a década que será, segundo o Executivo, a mais decisiva na transição para a neutralidade carbónica –, vivemos o agudizar das dramáticas consequências sanitárias e socioeconómicas da pandemia de Covid-19. Assim, esta transição irá decorrer num contexto de justaposição de crises – pandémica, socioeconómica e climática –, sendo passível de reproduzir e/ou exacerbar desigualdades e exclusões multidimensionais.

Importa, por conseguinte, analisar a política energética adotada pelo Governo, procurando antecipar se estão reunidas as condições para assegurar uma transição socioecológica justa, isto é, em que os benefícios são equitativamente distribuídos pelo conjunto da sociedade, e os custos são suportados pelos setores que mais lucraram com a economia dos combustíveis fósseis.

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Precarious homes: gender, domestic space and film before and during the pandemic

By: Anna Viola Sborgi

In Phyllida Lloyd’s recent drama Herself (2020), domestic abuse survivor Sandra (Clare Dunne) devises her own way out of the Irish housing crisis: after watching some online tutorials on how to self-build an affordable home, she decides to build one to live in with her two little girls and to protect herself from her violent husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson). To her help comes Peggy (Harriet Walter), the wealthy, retired doctor Sandra works for as a cleaner, who offers her land to build the house in the back of her Dublin townhouse. A group of friends and colleagues, overseen by initially reluctant building contractor Aido (Conleth Hill), generously gather to help her in the enterprise.

A compelling portrayal of domestic abuse survival, supported by a moving performance by actress and co-screenwriter Clare Dunne, the film is also a hymn to community and solidarity, especially resonant in pandemic times. Though the overly optimistic house-building narrative sometimes lacks credibility, especially considering class dynamics, the film is tempered by numerous plot twists that make one thing abundantly clear: home is never at easy reach.

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Por: Rosário Oliveira, Olivia Bina, Roberto Falanga and Andy Inch


As múltiplas crises socioeconómicas e ecosistémicas alertam para a necessidade de olhar para uma transformação de paradigma que necessitamos imprimir na sociedade e na economia, de forma a ganharmos consciência de que somos parte integrante da natureza.  Os conceitos e as ideias inspiradoras sobre a integração dos seres humanos na natureza que vingaram nas últimas décadas não foram suficientemente efetivos, continuando a ser necessário um apelo forte à ação de todos. A Comissão Europeia lançou, no final de 2019,  o Pacto Ecológico e o roteiro para a neutralidade carbónica até 2050, exprimindo a ambição de criar uma nova estratégia, levando as cidades e os seus territórios rurais a encontrarem soluções baseadas na ideia de circularidade económica na gestão dos recursos. Esta estratégia, quando associada aos Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (ODS), estabelecidos pelas Nações Unidas, e aos princípios da Nova Agenda Urbana, reforça a urgência das cidades e dos assentamentos humanos se tornarem mais inclusivos, seguros, resilientes e sustentáveis (ver ODS 11).

Cidades em todo o mundo partilham desafios ambientais globais causados por múltiplos e complexos fatores, tais como a fragmentação da paisagem, o rápido crescimento demográfico e a expansão urbana, enquanto processos mal planeados continuam a erradicar áreas verdes e os ecossistemas associados, fundamentais para a saúde humana (física e mental) e para a biodiversidade. Uma abordagem mais ecológica requer um design criativo, quase disruptivo, e um trabalho colaborativo que conte com o envolvimento e compromisso de todos os sectores envolvidos na vida das cidades.

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Film industry and sustainability in the era of Covid-19

By Mariana Liz

One average tentpole film production – a film with a budget of over US$70m – generates 2,840 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent amount absorbed by 3,709 acres of forest in a year.” This is the damaging conclusion that guides the Screen New Deal report, published in September 2020. Although commissioned before the pandemic, the report already hints at new ways of working on set and on location in the era of Covid-19. 2020 has been characterized by massive changes in the film industry, from production to distribution, and particularly, exhibition. The coronavirus pandemic has seen fewer people travel by air, which is very positive in terms of carbon emissions. For instance, there have been accounts of scenes directed through Microsoft Teams and other online platforms. Several pre- and post-production activities can be done remotely, from scouting to casting, editing and special effects, and this should be encouraged as a practice even after the end of travelling restrictions.

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STRINGS: Vendendo os produtos agroalimentares de proveniência rural através de lojas gourmet em espaço urbano

Mónica Truninger, Elisabete Figueiredo e Alexandre Silva

Uma das principais transformações da sociedade portuguesa nos últimos 60 anos está relacionada, por um lado, com as mudanças observadas nas zonas rurais (mais ou menos intensas) e, por outro lado, com a consequente reestruturação das relações rural-urbano. Esta transformação tem vindo a aumentar a vulnerabilidade de muitos territórios rurais, através do declínio das dinâmicas demográficas e socioeconómicas, bem como do reforço das assimetrias entre o interior e o litoral de Portugal.

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