HELSUS Brown Bag Lunch

HELSUS Brown Bag Lunch pitkä

HELSUS Brown Bag Lunches are concise lunchtime events where participants bring their own lunch box and gather to a seminar with presentations over topical research themes. The 20-30 minutes talks by the presenter will be followed by an open discussion for about 30-40 minutes. The topics are related to five HELSUS research themes, or other relevant sustainability science topics. No advance registration is needed.

The programme for the spring term 2019 is as follows.

Follow the streamed seminars online: https://connect.funet.fi/brown_bag_lunch/

General information


HELSUS Hub at Porthania (2nd floor)
Yliopistonkatu 3


On Fridays at 11.30-12.30.


HELSUS Members and others

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The effect of urban planning on cities’ breathability – urban climate perspective

Cities act as hotspots for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increased air temperatures and air pollutant concentrations. All these have major effects on global and local climate including human health and well-being. However, with successful urban planning the exchange of GHG, heat and air pollutants between the urban surface and the atmosphere can be optimised thus improving the conditions of life. In Helsinki, the local urban climate including the surface-exchanges of  GHG, heat and air pollutants have been directly measured for several years over different urban land covers (semi-urban and dense city-centre) allowing to examine the spatial and temporal changes of the emissions and the urban activities they are originating. Traffic is the major controller for carbon dioxide and air pollutant emissions and concentrations whereas the built-up land cover fraction is mainly responsible for increased heat emissions and furthermore air temperatures. Following the observations we can track people’s activity and how different interventions can affect the breathability of the city. At the same time with measurements, a wide-range of meteorological modelling capabilities allow to examine the most optimal urban planning choices in order to minimise the unwanted emissions and those hotspots that most affect human well-being. Examples on how we can reduce carbon dioxide and heat emissions and how we can increase ventilation and air quality in street canyons will be given.


Leena Järvi is an Associate professor in Applied urban meteorology at the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR) / Physics and Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science. Her research focuses on urban meteorology and climate and their interaction with local air quality. She leads an urban meteorology research group which uses novel atmospheric observations and modelling to study the interaction between urban surface and the atmosphere such as greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and how they are modified by land use changes and human activities and how urban structures modify wind flow and turbulence in urban areas. Leena Järvi is PI of the ICOS (Integrated Carbon and Observation System infrastructure) associated ecosystem station in Helsinki and board member of the International Association for Urban Climate.

The role of law in adaptive environmental governance?

For a number of years now, the top challenge for environmental governance has been to figure out what kind of policy mix would be best equipped to deal with complex environmental challenges, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and water quality. As Hardin famously illustrated, common pool resources attract short-sighted behavior often leading to a collapse of the resource and ecosystem services provided by it. Moreover, the management of common pool resources is riddled with social-ecological complexities and scientific uncertainties.

Adaptive governance theories have emerged to tackle this challenge. Adaptive governance means “a range of interactions between actors, networks, organizations, and institutions emerging in pursuit of a desired state for social-ecological systems.” (Chaffin, Gosnell & Cosens 2014) One typical feature of adaptive governance is to facilitate institutional designs that support experimentation and learning among public managers and private operators in solving complex environmental problems. This sounds exciting but requires rethinking the role of law in governance. Using EU-Finnish water law as an example, the presentation discusses some of the most pressing failures of current water legislation and engages with some practical applications of the adaptive governance theory as potential solutions to these problems.


Niko Soininen is an Assistant Professor in Sustainability Law. His research focuses on the regulation and governance of social-ecological systems with a particular emphasis on freshwater and marine systems. In his recent work, he has studied law’s fitness for regulating complex phenomena, such as the ecological condition of fresh and marine waters in a political environment geared towards economic growth. He is a subproject PI in Strategic Research Council funded interdisciplinary project entitled BlueAdapt, which studies adaptive governance as a mechanism for reconciling resilience of aquatic ecosystems and sustainable production of energy and food. He is co-editor in chief for the Finnish Environmental Law Review. Outside academia, he has worked as a consultant for HELCOM, the World Bank, and for several ministries responsible for implementing marine environmental law, water law and nature conservation law in Finland.


Authoritarian Environmentalism: Propaganda or Reality

Since the early 2000s, authoritarianism has risen as an increasingly powerful global phenomenon. This shift has environmental implications: authoritarian leaders seek to recast the relationship between society and the government in various aspects of public life, including environmental policy. When historians of technology or the environment have investigated the environmental consequences of authoritarian regimes, they have frequently argued that authoritarian regimes have been unable to produce positive environmental results or adjust successfully to global structural change, if they have shown any concern for the environment at all. Put another way, the scholarly consensus holds that authoritarian regimes on both the left and the right generally have demonstrated an anti-environmentalist bias, and when opposed by environmentalist social movements, have succeeded in silencing those voices.

The edited volume “Environmental Politics and Policy under Authoritarian Regimes: Myth and Reality” (co-edited by Stephen Brain and Viktor Pál,  New York: Routledge, 2018) explores the theme of environmental politics and authoritarian regimes on both the right and the left. The authors argue that in instances when environmentalist policies offer the possibility of bolstering a country’s domestic (nationalist) appeal or its international prestige, authoritarian regimes can endorse and have endorsed environmental protective measures. The collection of essays analyzes environmentalist initiatives pursued by authoritarian regimes, and provides explanations for both the successes and failures of such regimes, looking at a range of case studies from a number of countries, including Brazil, China, Poland, and Zimbabwe. The volume contributes to the scholarly debate about the social and political preconditions necessary for effective environmental protection.


Viktor Pál received his PhD at the University of Tampere, Finland. Currently he is an international postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory for Environmental and Technological History at the Higher Schools of Economics in St Petersburg, Russia. His first book Technology and the Environment in State-socialist Hungary: An Economic History was published in 2017.  

Environmental and Sustainability Education in Finnish schools: current situation and some future prospects

Sustainability education has its roots in the tradition of environmental education and environmental awakening of the 1960s. The UN defined goals for the environmental education for the first time in 1975. In 1985, environmental education was included in the Finnish core curriculum as one of the basic aims of education. In the 2004 curriculum, the concept of environmental education was replaced by the aim of ‘responsibility for the environment, well-being and a sustainable future’. The main idea was to include environmental and sustainability education to all school subjects as one of the crosscutting themes, not as a separate entity that would be taught detached from the other contents of the courses. In the current curriculum from 2014, ‘sustainability’ is included in the underlying values of education as well as in the transversal competences, which should be implemented in the aims and contents of all the school subjects. In this presentation, a preliminary analysis of the status of environmental and sustainability approaches in the curriculum will be presented and some of the main challenges of their implementation in teaching will be discussed.


Sirpa Tani is Professor of Geography and Environmental Education who has her academic background in cultural geography and urban studies: her PhD in 1995 dealt with cinematic representations of people-environment relationships in Finnish fiction films. Her research interests include multisensory, embodied and emotional place attachment, the role of public spaces in young people’s lives, and environmental education in urban settings. In the field of geography education, she has investigated the role of powerful disciplinary knowledge and human capabilities in enhancing young people’s well-being. She is also interested in discipline-based integration of teaching and in the possibilities of constructing links between subject-specific teaching, youth work and young people’s geographies.

Urban agriculture boom in Cuba: Towards food sovereignty

Urban agriculture has boomed in Cuba after the collapse of the communist bloc in 1989, which cut Cuba off from food imports, fertilizers and fuel. Urban gardening was a new local and autochthonous response to acute food shortage and malnutrition caused by the severe economic crisis. Currently, urban agriculture is considered fundamental for food sovereignty, which has become a key goal in Cuba's agrarian policy, since it constitutes an alternative to a food system that used to rely on foreign imports of both food and expensive technology. Urban agriculture is considered to be an effective solution to increase the availability of agricultural products to the population. The diversification of crops for family self-sufficiency and the efficient use of soils are priorities for Urban, Suburban and Family Agriculture. Various technological innovations, organic farming methods, and ecological knowledge are being applied in urban agriculture. It is also an important source of employment and income generation.


Dr. Reynaldo Jiménez Guethón is the director of the Latin American School of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Cuba. His research focuses on rural development, cooperativism, urban agriculture, and sustainable production. He has a PhD in educational sciences at the University of Havana. At the FLACSO-Cuba, he is leading the master degree of cooperativism and the master degree of social development.

The Myth of Privatising Nature

The proposition that nature must be privatised in order to save it was central to the analytical framework of mainstream economics until the rise of the Bloomington School of institutional economics. Led by Elinor Ostrom, its advocates and critics alike claim that it successfully created a scientific revolution by displacing the dominant notion of a ‘tragedy of the commons’, a breakthrough that led to the award of a Nobel Prize in economics. In practice, it is questionable whether Elinor Ostrom fundamentally challenged the conventional wisdom. Instead, she enhanced it, and, hence, her Nobel Prize consummated the Conventional Wisdom. Progressive thinkers have tried to go beyond this stasis, but have only succeeded in creating a ‘Western Consensus’. Analytically problematic, this alternative misunderstands the dynamic relationships between fundamental cause and effect. Its insidious colonial value system makes it ethically bankrupt, while its political strategy is weak because its vision and approach to analysis are fundamentally misaligned. Neither the Conventional Wisdom nor the Western Consensus can provide a framework for sustainability, whether understood as social, economic, or ecological.


Franklin Obeng-Odoom is with the Development Studies Research Group within the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki, where he is Associate Professor of Social Sustainability of Urban Transformations in the Global South. He is also a Member of the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science, where he seeks to question, to understand, and to transcend current political economy of development, cities, and natural resources. Doing so is important to stress the political-economic interests that shape the sustainability crises and their distinctive socio-spatial forms in the Global South.

Sustainability and challenges of intergenerational justice

Sustainability as a long-term issue invites us to think it in terms of justice between generations. Famously concepts, such as sustainable development, have been defined by referring to a notion of intergenerational justice: the needs of the present generation should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Still, the idea of intergenerational justice is contested and philosophically challenged, since it seems to evade some of our core ideas and concepts of justice. For instance, most of our existing concepts of justice require at least a hypothetical kind of reciprocity between the “members” of justice. Typically it is also though that when someone does injustice, she does it to some particular person(s). But in the relation between present and future people there seems be no reciprocity at all. Rather the relation is radically asymmetric one, in which future generations are entirely dependent on the goodwill of the earlier ones. Indeed, the future people are dependent on earlier ones for their sheer existence. The earlier people have also power to affect who particular persons in the future will come to exist. In this presentation, I will give an overview about the challenges of intergenerational justice and suggest a plausible way to address them. My suggestion defends a so-called sufficientarian idea of justice, according to which, the main idea of justice is neither to maximise the aggregate (intergenerational) wellbeing nor to equalise it, but rather to guarantee that people now and in the future have enough what they ought to have for a decent life. Finally it is argued that as far as sustainability invites any concept of intergenerational justice, the sufficientarian one is the most defensible.


Simo Kyllönen is a University Lecturer in Research Ethics and Open Science, at University of Helsinki. He has a broad experience in studying the ethical aspects of environmental policy, including social justice and public participation. His current research builds on  his dissertation that explored critically some of the theoretical suggestions offered in the literature of environmental political philosophy to overcome challenges caused by the globally dispersed and intergenerational nature of the most acute environmental threats and suggests some promising ways forward. He is a HELSUS Member and participates in two research projects: one on Ethical Expertise and the other on Participation in Long-Term Decision Making.

Re-thinking Sustainable Development as a Global Concept

Sustainable development means many different things to different people and this paper focuses on one dimension of this chaotic diversity, namely, whether it is conceptualized as a national concept or a global concept.  Using the analytical framework which I have developed to consider how the idea of poverty went global in the 1970s, I examine the historical trajectory of the concept of sustainable development. The paper argues that sustainable development was originally conceptualized as a global concept but over time, it has been reconceptualised as a national challenge which should be pursued in all countries. The latter perspective now dominates policy thinking. An epistemic shift from thinking sustainable development as a national concept to thinking it as a global concept is an essential element of a transition to a sustainable world. Such a re-thinking sustainable development as a global concept does not have to start from scratch but can be done by recovering the original global conceptualization of sustainable development and re-invigorating it with the new understandings of global physical, economic and social processes which we now have.


Charles Gore is a Visiting Scholar in Development Studies in the University of Helsinki from January to June 2019. Between 1999 and 2008, he was team leader and principal author of UNCTAD's Least Developed Countries Report, and from 2008 to 2012 he was Special Coordinator for Cross-Sectoral Issues in UNCTAD, directing research on Africa and on least developed countries. In that role he led the team writing Structural Transformation and Sustainable Development in Africa (UNCTAD Economic Development in Africa Report 2012). He is currently an Honorary Professor in Economics at the University of Glasgow, a Research Associate in Global Studies at the University of Sussex, a Non-Resident Senior Research Fellow at UNU-WIDER, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK).  His research focuses on the nature of the explanations, normative judgements and discursive narratives which underpin international development practice. Whilst in Helsinki he is writing the first draft of a book about how the idea of poverty went global in the 1970s, which is part of a broader examination of the concept of global goals and a broader history of development.

Presentation title tbc

In this seminar we will have two presentations instead of one.

Taylor Davis, Purdue University: Normative Motivation and Sustainable Behavior

According to dual-inheritance theories of cultural evolution, norms play a crucial role in motivating cooperation in humans, especially in the specific form necessary for creating and sustaining large-scale societies: prosocial cooperation among anonymous strangers. Within this general framework, a distinctive feature of norm psychology is particularly important: what I call normative motivation. At the same time, one of the most pressing problems of sustainability is that of actually motivating to people to pay the personal costs involved in behaving in sustainable ways. Normative motivations are particularly well suited to this task, I argue, because their evolved function is precisely that of causing individuals to act without respect for their own self-interest. Accordingly, harnessing normative motivations is an especially promising general strategy for promoting sustainability.

C. Tyler DesRoches, School of Sustainability, School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies Arizona State University: No One Can Preserve Natural Capital

The concept of natural capital denotes a rich variety of active, modifiable, and economically valuable production processes that are afforded to human agents, gratis. Parts of nature, such as ecosystems, not only affords human agents with passive materials and raw resources to be improved by labor, but endows them with production processes that generate economically valuable goods and services in a manner that is detached from intentional human agency.

For decades, ecological economists have insisted that parts of nature denoted by the concept of natural capital ought to be preserved or conserved for posterity. However, no ecological economist has questioned the possibility of this project. Environmental philosophers, on the other hand, have long tradition of scrutinizing this question. The ‘preservation paradox’ expresses a general skepticism towards the possibility of preserving parts of nature: (1) nature is that realm of phenomena that is independent of intentional human agency; (2) the activities of preserving, conserving, and restoring nature require intentional human agency; (3) therefore, no one can preserve, conserve, or restore nature.

Several environmental philosophers have argued that the preservation paradox is false. For example, Richard Sylvan (1998) simply dismisses the possibility that the mere preservation of nature makes it more artificial. John O’Neill et al. (2008) have argued that there is at least one way to restore nature without turning it into an artifact: when non-human agency alone performs the restoration.

Against these views, this article argues that the preservation paradox holds up under scrutiny. To make my case, I present three conditions to distinguish artifacts from natural objects – including the items denoted by the concept of natural capital – and then argue that preserved, conserved, and restored ecosystems share all of these features, thus making them artifacts. Unlike natural objects, artifacts are: (1) designed or planned; (2) they possess a function attributed to them by an intentional agent or group of agents; and, (3) they have been modified by an intentional agent.

While it is straightforward to see that preserving natural ecosystems satisfies conditions (1) and (2), it is less obvious that this activity satisfies condition (3). After all, natural ecosystems are, by definition, objects that are detached from human agency. How could any such object be intentionally modified while maintaining their status as natural objects? This article argues that when a natural ecosystem’s continued natural expression is counterfactually dependent on some agent (or group of agent’s) intentionally omitting their actions from the ecosystem, this intentional omission counts as causing the natural ecosystem’s natural expression. In all such cases, merely preserving natural ecosystems for some intended effect – the continued natural expression of the ecosystem – satisfies condition (3). Therefore, the preservation paradox is warranted: no one can preserve the parts of nature denoted by the concept of natural capital without making those objects more artificial. Be that as it may, this article concludes by arguing that the first premise of the preservation paradox is problematic, thus opening the door to the possibility of preserving natural capital.