How can sustainability science help foreseeing and preventing crises? Learning from the war in Ukraine

HELSUS discussion panel on How can sustainability science help foreseeing and preventing crises? Learning from the war in Ukraine brought together researchers and experts from different scientific backgrounds and other universities.

Ukraine and Russia's long and intertwined history is linked with the ongoing war of Russian aggression. The war is also linked to global sustainability challenges due to which we face new challenges in social and ecological systems, while we at the same time attempt to combat the ongoing climate and biodiversity crises.

Sustainability researchers have many important points to make concerning this crisis and its consequences.This is why on the 3rd of June HELSUS organised a highly distinguished panel to discuss and to “sow seeds” for future scientific activities and science-based decision-making.  

With multidisciplinary expertise and tools, sustainability science can help recognise these kinds of inter-linkages, and can use that knowledge and know-how to help build and ensure global peace and sustainability. Olena Maslyukivska put it well in the panel: ”Sustainability science has to find a way and make sure to tell the truth about the world; environmental truth, historic truth, cultural truth - and be brave in telling it”.

The two hour panel included five panelists, with HELSUS director Susanna Lehvävirta and research coordinator Nina Janasik acting as the chairpersons. The panelists included were Professor Marianna Muravyeva from The Aleksanteri Institute - Finnish Centre for Russian and East European Studies, Associate Professor Olena Maslyukivska from the Department of Environmental Studies of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv and a Visiting Researcher at the University of Vaasa, Journalist and lecturer at the Ukrainian Studies program of the University of Helsinki Nataliya Teramae, Associate professor Hanna Tuomisto from the Department of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Institute Finland, and Professor Juha Helenius from the Department of Agricultural Sciences, and Ruralia, at the University of Helsinki.

The discussion centered around three different topics; "Can sustainability science recognise and thus also foresee escalation of crises like the one in Ukraine now?", "What is the role of globalisation in sustaining global peace? What important aspects of global connectedness, peace, trade and sanctions can sustainability science reveal?", and the topics of "the security of supply, food security and the climate and biodiversity crises."

The multidisciplinary discussion was not only rich in the content and perspectives but also thought-provoking and emotional, as the aggressive war touches our everyday lives. You can read below valuable insights brought forward by the inspiring panelists. 

  • Nataliya Teramae articulated the view that the current situation is the price the world is paying for underestimating the role of Ukraine in world security policy.
  • Olena Maslyukivska pointed to difficult issues of truthfulness and said that sustainability science has to find a way and make sure to tell the truth about the world – environmental truth, historical truth, cultural truth – and also be brave in telling it.
  • Marianna Muravyeva pointed out that the current situation has really revealed those who were committed to building greener economies and those who were just prepared to do it on paper. She called for a new post-Cold War paradigm that would enable us to learn how to take care of the environment, especially since many of the issues in food security are based on exploitation and inequal structures. She also considered sustainability science to have a huge potential in providing for the complex recovery in Ukraine and in the region.
  • Juha Helenius highlighted that one part of sustainability science is co-creation and facilitating a dialogue between scientists and other parts of society. He also noted that this is easy to say in a free European society. 
  •  Finally, Hanna Tuomisto emphasized that sustainability scientists are warning – and have been doing so for a long time – about many crises, including climate change, but that it always seems to take a shock for any action to be taken. The conclusion was that we need to find even better ways to utilize science.

Unfortunately the recording of the event is no longer available, but the full quotes behind the highlights, as well as pictures of the event can be found on the HELSUS Twitter page's thread on the event: