Political ecology: promoting better environmental policy
Enhanced knowledge and understanding of political ecology should help EU governments achieve better, forward-looking and more sustainable management of their environment. An EU-funded network is training the next generation of researchers in this emerging field of social science.
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Political ecology investigates the ways in which power influences how humans and societies deal with environmental challenges. The EU-funded project ENTITLE was established to respond to the growing relevance, interest in, and importance of this emerging area of social science.
“International action on climate change is almost always slow-moving and inefficient. This is because powerful political actors are too often unwilling to take action that could risk weakening their economies or their position in international geopolitics,” says ENTITLE’s project coordinator Giorgos Kallis of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain. “Power plays a role in virtually all situations where decisions affecting the environment are taken.”
Kallis believes that it is crucial for people to have a better understanding of this role if they are to attempt to bring about environmental change themselves to create a more sustainable future.
The ENTITLE project has published 19 action briefs targeting civil society organisations, 11 policy briefs with policy recommendations for decision-makers, and a manual explaining complex political ecology concepts and theories aimed at informing civil society actors.
Spin-off and follow-up activities, including the creation of a political ecology network, blog, journal and collective, aim to ensure continuity of the project’s impact and results, and are testimony to the advances ENTITLE has already made in the field of political ecology.
“The impact of ENTITLE’s research will help transform policy and public perceptions about environmental challenges in ways that will contribute to a common sustainable future for the world,” Kallis says.
One of ENTITLE’s training innovations was to include placements and internships in SMEs, NGOs and public entities in its programmes, giving researchers the chance to engage with relevant non-academic organisations and to apply external and topical ecological reflections and findings to their own ongoing research.
In this way, participants were able to advance their research in the context of current global environmental challenges, opportunities and policies.
ENTITLE also set out to raise awareness of political ecology and to stimulate debate among researchers and the general public. It held intensive training courses and summer schools around the research themes of environmental conflict, justice and democracy.
In parallel, the project held public side-events as a means to raise awareness and public understanding of the influence exerted by power relations upon the environment.
These high-level events encouraged participants to challenge entrenched perceptions about the causes of environmental problems. Ensuing debate and discussion provided the research fellows with additional input in terms of how their research can best impact society and citizens directly.
A writing week for the tutor and researchers was also organised, the result of which was a publication highlighting the project’s contributions to the wider scientific community.
Some 19 researchers graduated from ENTITLE’s PhD and postdoc programmes and are “now able to contribute to the wider field of political ecology both in knowledge and action”, according to Kallis.
The project course material and accompanying guidelines have been shared on the project website to attract more researchers to this emerging field.