University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Scientists solve the climate crisis: Look at the clouds, hug a tree, and think of plants' rights in your city

Climate crisis — The world is falling apart at the seams. We have the SDGs, and we have the Paris agreement. But we have the university too. Two associate professors, Mickey Gjerris and Natalie Marie Gulsrud, share their radical ideas about you, me and the climate of the future.

Associate professor of bioethics Mickey Gjerris

It is both stupid and shameless that we only think about the basis of our own lives

It is a fundamental problem that we have reduced nature to being a kind of surrounding environment full of resources that we can just exploit.

Anthropocentrism means that people are put at the centre of everything. This view is deeply embedded in our culture. But we are not able to have unlimited growth in a closed system, no matter how much money we make. It’s impossible – just like inventing a perpetual motion machine.

What are we supposed to do!?

We asked researchers for their wildest ideas on how to solve the climate crisis. This is part of a series.

We should look at the world from an ecocentrist perspective instead, and recognise nature as a part of our community. Humans have grown out of exactly the same evolutionary processes as the rest of the Earth, and we are deeply dependent on the same biospherical factors as the plants and animals.

Behind any slice of bacon, there is a pig, which is a living and sentient creature that was thrown into this world in the same way as we were.

Christianity has helped to create an anthropocentric outlook, because we have interpreted Genesis as a legitimation of the fact that we humans are something special, and that our Lord has given us the whole world to freely exploit.

This stops us from understanding the real depth of the ethical failure which the climate and biodiversity crisis represents. It is not just silly, but also shameless, if we only think of the basis of our own life, and not the basis of the life of countless other species’ living conditions. Right now we only hear our own voice. We have completely forgotten the voice of nature.

Everyone has had an experience with nature that has led to feelings of astonishment and awe. But we have, unfortunately, a tendency to pretend that these experiences do not contain any real comprehension of the world.

Don’t go to a middle aged associate professor, but to the artists

If we are to convince others of the value of nature, then they need to go out and look for themselves. They need to experience and discover nature themselves. I strongly recommend that you go out and look at the clouds or hug a tree. It is not about thinking what you can get out of this experience, but about listening for the narrative that is in progress, which is not just about you.

The artists are the only ones that have the talent to match all the well-educated marketing consultants who constantly tell us that we need to buy something new to be happy.

Mickey Gjerris

Wonder and respect for nature do not come about from reading a book, but by going out and experiencing it. It is like becoming a merciful human being: You can only become that by actually doing it. We need to practice.

Basically, it’s all about giving people new visions on what the good life is. The ideas are embedded in us from the beginning of our lives, so we ought to study how people’s conceptions of nature are formed and how they can be changed.

Philosophers are not very good at telling stories, but art has a huge potential through images, dancing, literature and so on. Art can open us up to the natural world, so that we actually believe it, and so it is not just a middle-aged associate professor exploring some concepts.

The artists are the only ones that have the talent to match all the well-educated marketing consultants who constantly tell us that we need to buy something new to be happy.

Perhaps we can also work with biology teachers on how we can avoid ending up with the impoverished and reductionist conceptions of nature that characterises our culture. Biology classes today are all about how the function of nature and natural cycles. There is no basic natural narrative of our incomparable and astonishing universe, which can inspire us to understand our role in the more-than-human community that is the biosphere.

READ ALSOScientists solve the climate crisis: Move a billion tonnes of Greenland glacier down south. Drop the consultants

Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture Natalie Marie Gulsrud

All city districts should have a local development plan for nature

Cities throughout the world have become aware that they need green infrastructure and more nature to combat the consequences of climate change.

When there are extreme heat waves, cities get so hot that the inhabitants get sick, or risk dying. This is partly due to the fact that asphalt and concrete absorb and retain heat. Trees and green areas can counteract this. Trees also have a chilling effect, which is why many people intuitively shelter under trees during the summer period.

Politicians need to ask their citizens what they would like to have and involve them in campaigns for green areas that are meaningful to them.

Natalie Marie Gulsrud

Trees regulate water and purify the air, and we have strong, personal emotions associated with them. Many childhood memories are associated with trees, like climbing trees, building tree houses and picnics under a tree with the family. So there is an outcry when trees are cut down or forests cleared.

It is the utopia of the technocrats that we can just plant a million trees and absorb all the surplus CO₂. The city of Copenhagen, for example, has decided to plant 100,000 new trees in the city. But when you set out a goal like this, you often get to focus too much on quantity instead of quality.

Research shows that you have to support the local ownership of the trees, so that it is not just the municipality that has to take care of them. This requires that the trees match the local environment, and that the residents take care of them. This requires greater effort and a much larger budget, but it is crucial.

A plan for even the smallest neighbourhood

Politicians need to ask their citizens what they would like to have and involve them in campaigns for green areas that are meaningful to them.

Just like each neighbourhood has to have its own local plan, and a local plan for urban nature. It needs to be broken down into smaller parts and focus on identities in every small neighbourhood. We need to ensure that everyone is heard in the plan, both children, the elderly, non-Danish speakers, and non-human perspectives.

The Søndre Boulevard in Copenhagen has just been replanted after the metro construction. They did not consult the neighbourhood, but just planted some rather indifferent, but nice, deciduous trees. I think it would have been more interesting with edible trees or lower bushes. This makes the maintenance task more complex, of course, and the city has not put money aside for it in the budget. But I think the neighbourhood would love it, and it would support biodiversity.

There is this mainstream discourse that it has become too expensive to live in the city. But we don’t talk about the rights of plants and non-human beings that are under pressure from the sixth great mass extinction.

As the cities grow, the green spaces in between them disappear. But as it is now, we don’t know enough about the green areas in the cities. So we can’t ask our politicians to protect them and our forests.
We need a more in-depth understanding of how much urban nature we have at the global level. Urban forests are not included in current data. We really need to know more because we have to deal with the consequences of climate change every day, and this means we need money for more research.

Translation: Mike Young