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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Fishing in the Anthropocene

By: Joana Sá Couto

Humanity’s impact on planet Earth is undeniable. Despite the creation of a Geological Era called Anthropocene still being a controversial subject among scientists, the term has been used to discuss a period of time when human action becomes an inevitable subject to think about the terrestrial system, or even as written by Crutzen: humans as a great force of nature. But make no mistake. The Anthropocene does not mean the end of nature, but rather a possible turning point: more than ever we realize that humans are part of Nature and our life depends on a harmonious relationship between us and the life around us – we can enjoy the Anthropocene to reflect on this relationship and redefine it.

The concept of Anthropocene has, in fact, led to an ever-greater reflection on the question of the sustainability of everything: we humans are part of Nature and we have to preserve it, even though the political economic model in which we live formats us to search for profit and economic growth, which, even though contradictory, continues to be parallel to the sustainability agenda. Thus, depending on the perspectives and reflection of each author, as well as on their focus, others concepts derived from the notion of Anthropocene have arised, such as Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Carbocene, Manthropocene.

One of these others is Plasticene. Plastic is a synthetic material that has become a landmark of the Anthropocene, due to its distribution in marine and terrestrial environments, becoming a distinctive stratal component. The impact of plastics is varied, and has been increasingly analyzed. However, it is in the marine environment that its presence has been given more attention, as it appears on beaches, in the stomachs of fish and in fishing nets.

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O tema das alterações climáticas nos programas de Governo

Por: João Estevens

O ativismo ambiental e os movimentos de protesto transnacionais em defesa da justiça climática que ganharam força no final do século XX estão hoje bem estudados. Os anos de 2018 e de 2019 ficaram marcados por uma ‘nova’ mobilização social face à crise climática, destacando-se a participação de adolescentes e jovens adultos nos protestos. Greta Thunberg, a jovem ativista sueca, acabou por tornar-se num símbolo desta mobilização coletiva e por ser considerada a pessoa do ano pela revista norte-americana Time em 2019. Efetivamente, o tema das alterações climáticas parece ter ganho mais visibilidade no espaço público mediático na segunda metade da década passada. Também em Portugal os movimentos pela justiça climática têm estado muito ativos, lutando por diferentes causas globais e nacionais, exercendo pressão política e contribuindo para uma crescente consciencialização da sociedade portuguesa acerca do tema. Mas terá essa visibilidade transparecido nos objetivos delineados pelo Governo? É esta a pergunta que estrutura este texto, procurando aferir uma eventual alteração na formulação de uma estratégia de atuação governativa em relação ao tema nos programas de Governo de 2015 e de 2019, anos em que ambas as eleições legislativas levaram à tomada de posse de um Governo do Partido Socialista liderado pelo primeiro-ministro António Costa.

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Covid 19: Is sustainability gaining importance despite increasing poverty?

By: Alexandra Bussler

Worldwide, the COVID pandemic has unleashed a new poverty wave affecting millions of people. In Portugal alone, in 2020 more than 900 000 job losses were recorded and 37% more people are searching for employment than in 2019. People with jobs that otherwise secured a reasonable living standard are now unable to make ends meet. The reliance on food aid raised by 15% and food banks are overflown by people. Many that had never imagined to have to resort to food aid are reluctant to admit this new situation of poverty, suggesting that the actual poverty crisis is even more dramatic than what these numbers show.

However, there seems to be a positive development that can be observed during the Covid pandemic. The uncertainty about the future and the loss of control that many are experiencing in these times of crisis can create conditions for change and transformation. In fact, sustainability concerns and community-based initiatives are gaining importance and attention in midst of this hardship. In Portugal, the demand for food baskets and local food providers has been increasing steadily since the onset of the pandemic. These times of uncertainty are also windows of opportunity for new pathways. Therefore, we have to take this situation seriously in order to bring the sustainability transition forward, and to make our food systems healthier, more just, more resilient and more sustainable.

This trend has also been observed in an online survey made to the consumers of the Fruta Feia food cooperative in Lisbon in October 2020. Fruta Feia is a 2013-born initiative aiming to reduce the food waste problem in Portuguese cities in collaboration with about 250 local smallholder farmers, many of them organic farming producers. Today, Fruta Feia brings ‘ugly’ fruits and veggies at social prices to the tables of 6.600 families and already saved 2.760 tons of food from the bins while creating sustainable jobs in their 12 delegations all over Portugal. The establishment of these alternative and sustainable markets even yielded them the 2020 European LIFE prize for the Environment.

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A walk on the wild side: Rewilding Britain’s landscapes with large herbivores

By: Filipa Soares

Conservation is at a crossroads. Despite increasing efforts worldwide aimed at halting or preventing the extinction of animal and plant species, many reports and scientific studies paint alarming pictures of rocketing extinction rates, dwindling population sizes and habitat loss. The era of the sixth mass extinction is under way, the first for which humankind is deemed responsible. In response to these ‘doom and gloom’ scenarios, a growing number of ecologists and conservationists has emphasised the need for innovative, proactive and experimental approaches to nature conservation. Rewilding, which was the focus of my PhD thesis in environmental geography, is one such approach.

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O Papel da Sociologia no Nosso Futuro Comum

Por: Susana Fonseca

Existimos num planeta como não há outro (que seja do nosso conhecimento), que nos proporciona condições extraordinárias para sermos quem somos e podermos explorar todo o nosso potencial. Contudo, a relação que estabelecemos com a base que permite a nossa existência é tudo menos a que deveria ser. Usamos e abusamos da generosidade inerente ao planeta em que vivemos, sem respeitarmos os limites que nos surgem de forma cada vez mais evidente. Arrogantemente avançamos numa lógica de conquista e exploração, perseguindo objetivos de acumulação numa visão muito estreita de crescimento económico, pouco inclusivo e tendente à acumulação em determinadas franjas da sociedade.

Não haverá sociedades, nem economia, se não existirem os recursos naturais e os serviços ambientais generosamente fornecidos pelo único planeta conhecido em todo o universo como tendo condições para albergar vida. Nenhum de nós pode existir se não houver ar para respirar, água para beber, solo para cultivar os alimentos, entre muitos outros “recursos” de que dependemos totalmente. É importante não esquecer que o Planeta Terra vive bem sem a espécie humana, mas já o contrário…

É tempo de questionar a necessidade, a pertinência, a sustentabilidade das nossas opções e não apenas se elas são mais eficientes. Estamos perante uma mudança civilizacional, uma nova era. Mas como é que podemos dar passos firmes rumo a essa nova era, como podemos impulsionar a mudança necessária e construir uma sociedade do bem-estar, dentro dos limites do planeta?

Recentemente fui desafiada a pensar sobre a forma com a Sociologia e a Ecologia se interligam e podem ser aliadas na construção do caminho identificado no parágrafo anterior. Muito embora há muitos anos me divida entre a Sociologia e o ambientalismo, sempre procurei diferenciar estas duas áreas, distanciando-as na procura de evitar “contaminações”, em particular da última para a primeira.

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From Fixing to Healing: A Traditional Medicine approach to Climate Change

By: Fronika de Witt

“A daunting task lies ahead for scientists and engineers to guide society towards environmentally sustainable management during the era of the Anthropocene. This will require appropriate human behaviour at all scales, and may well involve internationally accepted, large-scale geo-engineering projects, for instance to “optimize ” climate.”

Paul Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind”, 2002

“Being an Onanya is not only about healing: it is about treating well our territory, love for our family, for the forest, plants and biodiversity.”

First Shipibo Konibo, Xetebo’ Traditional Medicine Convention, 2018

The citations above highlight tensions in dealing with current planetary challenges, such as climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. The first epigraph comes from a highly cited article in the scientific journal Nature by the Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen, who coined the term ‘the Anthropocene’: our current geological epoch with significant human impact on the environment.

The second epigraph are words from a Shipibo shaman, an indigenous people that lives alongside the Ucayali river in the Peruvian Amazon. In 2018, I spent three months in the Peruvian department of Ucayali to conduct fieldwork for my doctoral research on Amazon climate governance and indigenous knowledge. In general, my fieldwork was a very enriching experience, but the “cherry on the pie”, in terms of indigenous perspectives on climate change, was an invitation for the first “‘Shipibo Konibo, Xetebo’ Traditional Medicine Convention”, where I heard the above words.

In this post, I depict some of the Convention’s main insights. However, first I elaborate more on the tension between the two epigraphs, or, as the Colombian-American anthropologist Arturo Escobar puts it: the tension between modernist and ontological politics.

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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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E, de súbito, o mundo mudou? Avanços da Covid-19, retrocessos da sustentabilidade

Por João Guerra

Pouco depois do coronavírus ter emergido no panorama mundial e ocupado um lugar imperativo na imprensa, nos fora de decisão política e na vida quotidiana, as anteriores preocupações sociais perderam fôlego, tal a proeminência alcançada pela nova ameaça. Para isso contou a descomunal extensão das suas consequências, de que não há memória recente quer na saúde pública, quer na economia, quer nas comunidades. Cada vez mais pronunciados, os efeitos múltiplos e multiplicadores da pandemia fazem adivinhar, já a curto e médio prazos, convulsões sociais e crises políticas não menos inquietantes.

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