Dancing with the system

By Maraja Riechers

I am exceptionally bad at navigating. When I come out of a restaurant after dinner I occasionally do not remember where I came from and I even can get lost in my home town (which at one point had more cows than people). What is more, complexity often overwhelms me. Not, that complexity is something negative, and complexity does not need to be complicated. But sometimes it is just a bit, well, a bit too much for me.

Being exposed to all the information, warnings, pitfalls, details, conceptual and theoretical nuances, disciplinary expert knowledge and jargon, I feel immensely incapable of coping with its totality. Rather, I am acutely aware of my own knowledge gaps, shortcomings and limitations. In this chaos I am looking for perspectives that show me patterns, structures, something that helps me acknowledge the messiness, yet giving me tools to handle it (be it just for a while, until the patterns fade and I need to shift to a new perspective).

So, what I am saying is, I would be completely incapable of navigating our metaphorical ship through a sea of complexity. I would not even know where to start. And while navigating complexity was our main topic at the Leverage Conference 2019 today, I felt, that I was not the only one being reluctant.

Petra Kuenkel said that navigating complexity for her is more a collective stewardship that includes a self-organisation of diversity. Collective in a sense that there are shared responsibilities, maybe even shared values or ideas, based on a notion of care, kindness and openness (i.e. a feminist perspective, shout-out to the great talk by Elisa Oteros-Rozas). Enabling self-organisation in the design of a system may give room for diverse voice to be heard, new ideas being brought in, innovation being fostered and new methods co-created. There is power in difference and conflict; contrasting opinions are healthy and valuable, and compassionate critique should be encouraged. I would rather embrace the differences we have, agree to disagree, but also agree to understand and acknowledge and accept.

Donella Meadows spoke about dancing with the systems – we all collectively push and pull the system in our desirable direction, but none of us can see or control where we are actually going. But by fostering diversity, with time, trust and a lot of translation we might be able to avoid false consensus but embrace a fair and mutual dialogue that can guide us into a sustainable future.

When it comes to complexity, it is not about understanding it. I, personally, do not need an ever more complicated model that tries to capture all variables to predict outcomes. Models are useful, but never a depiction of reality. And I, personally, do not need to understand complexity. I will never be able to do that – but the process of trying to understand it, by shifting perspectives to see patterns and structure in the chaos helps me to learn from it. And to overcome my feeling of being overwhelmed so that I regain my ability to act.

For a while now the leverage points perspective gives me lenses to look through, to see and understand patterns. I may focus on deeper, underlying, domains for intervention – those that are often overlooked but somehow drive the chaos in the system. Or I can zoom out a bit and focus on the interactions between shallow, that is material or process based system components and the intention and design of the system. If I need to understand causality, I can use the leverage points perspective to help me acknowledge how we got here (the flows, feedback loops that reinforce our system) – but I can also use it to envision a future in which the intent and design of the system might be based around goals of environmental justice and equity.

In my eyes, transformation and contradiction is at the core of complexity. Let’s navigate the complexity together, self-organised, in a collective stewardship. 1000 eyes and hands and feet all pushing and pulling and dancing with a system. All with a vision of a good life. And while we do not know where we will end up, we value the process along the way.


The great interconnections wall by our amazing graphic facilitation team!


Maraja Riechers

Maraja Riechers is a PostDocs in the leverage points project here at the Leuphana University. My research focusses on human-nature connectedness, relational values, human-wildlife conflicts and landscape change – all with a leverage points perspective.

Your journey to inner transformation

By Zuzana Harmackova

When it comes to transformations towards sustainability, focusing on policies, strategies and actions is not enough. What we need equally importantly are the deep, individual leverage points of transformation– those related to Inner Transformation.

Remember reading all the cool conference blogs? Now imagine you get the chance to write one… and what is more, at a conference on a really exciting topic – the Leverage Points of transformation towards sustainability. There is one problem, though. You are a terrible writer.

The session on Inner Transformation is your number one choice (you feel that this is exactly what you need). You are waiting for the start, in a room packed with people just as curious as you are. While the session chair Stella Veciana does a great job demonstrating that a raised hand means a signal for silence (a skill mastered by all of us later during the plenary), this is actually never needed since the room is totally focused from the first moment…

…for a good reason. Since this session gives you a great opportunity to rethink deeper whatever you (foolishly) believed you have thought through deep enough before. And it lively illustrates that leveraging transformative change can emerge from perspectives you might have disregarded in the hustle of figuring out quick practical solutions.

First, you dive into a short meditation with Jessica Böhme, guiding you directly to the question what you see as your life contribution. However daring, this question links directly to the key point of her presentation that when we talk about political, societal and ecological transformations, we often forget that they grow from a personal dimension – personal knowledge, beliefs and assumptions – which drive our actions and their far-reaching consequences.
According to: Jessica Böhme

Later on, Chris Ives shares lessons learned from interviews with worlds’ faith leaders, illustrating which leverage points to a systems transformation can be accessed through religion, including changing worldviews, forming institutions and initiating practical actions in the society.
By: Christopher Ives

Finally, a series of three linked presentations by Stella Veciana, Oliver Parodi and Kaidi Tamm shows that while we tend to distinguish between our inner and outer world, they are both inter-related and have an equal influence on the sustainability of the world around us. Therefore, the (commonly overlooked) inner dimensions of transformation needs to receive much more of our attention, since that is where our thoughts, values, needs, wishes, emotions and habits are formed, which then shape the visions, plans and actions we take.

Most importantly, they emphasise that if we want to reach a transformation, we first need to take time to talk to each other, ask the right questions, and try to earn each other’s understanding, respect and trust, which is the only path leading to a long-lasting change in our perspectives, attitudes and actions. For that, what we vitally need is the freedom to experiment and co-create new knowledge through shared experience.
By: Stella Veciana

By that time, the concentration in the room is so intensive that the only thing distracting the collective focus is your frantic typing, trying to catch everyone’s insights. (Remember people taking photos of all the slides? That’s you.)

The discussion afterwards takes uninterrupted forty minutes and lasts well into the coffee break (a trustworthy measure of a session success). Among many interesting points, the need to stop understanding own inner vulnerability as a weakness is raised – what we need instead is to find the courage to put aside pretending, perfection and certainty, and find a way to connect with others and the world we live in.

Later that evening at your blog-draft, it becomes clear that you have not reached an inner transformation to a brilliant writer this time. But still. You have experimented. Experienced new ways of thinking. Exposed own vulnerability (and writer’s block). And most importantly – you know you still have two more days of the Leverage Points 2019 conference to ask more about Inner Transformation.



Zuzana Harmackova

Zuzana is a postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre. Her research focuses on a comparative analysis of resilience indicators across case studies, future participatory scenarios and social-ecological aspects of ecosystem services provision. She has been involved in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), currently working on an assessment of values in future scenarios within the IPBES Assessment on Diverse Conceptualization of Values.

Feeling naked

By Maraja Riechers

It was a more random line that Elena Bennett said in her plenary session this morning: “I feel naked without a pointer and presentation, but I will just go with it”. Feeling naked and exposed, in unusual, uncomfortable, honest and authentic situations. Embracing this feeling struck me as important, because today at the Leverage Points 2019 conferences it was all about exploring the notion of deep and neglected leverage points. By deep leverage points, we mean primarily those that tackle the systems design – such as re-defining the goal of the system, its information flow or self-organisation – and those that tackle the intent of the system – changing mind-sets and transcending paradigms.

But what does that mean for us? Digging deep. Transcending paradigms.

For me, it means we have to strip us barren from paradigms that we hold on to, which comfort us, and keep us in a system that is in need of urgent transformation. It means we have to question ourselves, our goals, our dreams and daily routines. It means questionning others. And for us scientists it means questioning our research.

What looking for deep and neglected leverage points definitively does not mean is using the same old paradigms, the same old research methods (that have long been proven valid and reliable), and putting another label on it. It is the end of the world as we know it, as Ioan Fazey repeatedly stated. We need to sit down a moment, take a breath, open your eyes and mind – and acknowledge, with great humility, the changes happening all around us.

This is what we are facing. This is what is currently happening.

And now we need to act.


What I took with me from the sessions and the plenaries, was a need for a passionate, urgent and transformative research, research which focusses on care, justice, trust and real-world impact (not measureable by an Impact Factor). To also ask and answer the questions: From whom can we learn? Whose voice is missing?

There is no magic bullet, no quick fix – and looking for deep leverage points is not offering that. A leverage points perspectives invites you to look deeper, to ask difficult questions: What are we trying to achieve here? What are the right things to do? How do we govern? What economic paradigm do we want (and how can we replace our old one)? But just having a good lens to be able to concentrate on those changes does not mean that assessing them, or even finding a leverage point for transformation, will be easy. The leverage points perspective can be an analytical tool, a metaphor or a methodological boundary object to capture the complexity of a system and its wicked problems. It will not provide an easy answer, this complexity defies an easy answer (even though it is tempting when faced with all the complexity). Feeling naked is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, exposing, hurtful, shameful – and maybe we have to actively look for exactly those situations that make us feel naked, to gain more reflexivity, new perspectives, and new knowledge.

Those difficult questions cannot be answered by pure fact-based knowledge alone; we also need to strive for wisdom; To discover a different, deeper kind of truth. And this process may already has great power and great humility. Yet, this process needs extra effort from us because we are working against the current system, and we will experience backlash. We as researcher need to openly confront an academic system (especially in sustainability science) that is hindering us to do impactful transformative research, we need to openly confront an economic paradigm on which our income depends, and we need to openly confront our knowledge system on which our self-identification depends.

Breath in.

Open your mind.

And embrace the feeling.



Maraja Riechers

Maraja Riechers is a PostDocs in the leverage points project here at the Leuphana University. My research focusses on human-nature connectedness, relational values, human-wildlife conflicts and landscape change – all with a leverage points perspective.

Keynote at Leverage Points 2019: Elena Bennett

Ideas for Sustainability

Elena Bennett was our second keynote speaker this morning. Elena spoke of the role of “narrative” in bringing about societal transformation. Narratives should be inspiring and plausible – and they need to help us link tangible actions to ambitious targets.

Science at its best, Elena argued, needed to tell a good story about how the world works. One branch of science, Elena argued, had been particularly useful in this context, namely the branch of “scenario development”. Scenario approaches have been influential in many sustainability contexts by now – Elena mentioned, for instance, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, as well as scenarios developed around the lakes of Wisconsin. Scenarios work on the notion of “what if” … getting people to think about how things might turn out under different circumstances.

Despite scenario work having been prominent and powerful in numerous sustainability contexts, Elena highlighted three possible weaknesses. First, scenarios to date have…

View original post 312 more words

Keynote at Leverage Points 2019: Ioan Fazey

Ideas for Sustainability

“It’s the end of the world as we know it” … with these words, Ioan Fazey began his opening keynote lecture to Leverage Points 2019. With everything changing, faster than ever before — what is our role in this? What does it mean to be a knowledge producer? Either, we will have massive transformations because of “natural” processes; or we will ourselves instigate a more mindful kind of transformation, in order to avoid some of the less desirable outcomes.

IMG_4687 Photo by Ioan Fazey: Playing Giants, Fairies and Wizards in rural communities, Solomon Islands

Ioan moved on to show examples of how climate change, for example, will affect us, focusing on the city of New Orleans. Here, climate change is not a problem of the future, but rather of the present, with some communities already being displaced. A combination of human caused factors, here, leads to “land loss”, and in addition…

View original post 559 more words

Let’s begin: Leverage Points 2019 Conference

The Leverage Points 2019 conference is about to start today (Tuesday 5. Feb. from 19:00-21:00) with an ice-breaker event! You are of course cordially invited! It will take place in the Forum space of the new central building at Leuphana University, where we will provide food drinks (non-alcoholic) and entertainment in the form of the band Brass Riot. This is an opportunity, to relax, meet old friends and make new ones.

We are all very excited about the upcoming events, and we will keep you all posted here on the blog and on twitter. You can follow us on @LevPointsfSus and using the #leverage2019.

Our blog will be filled with great reflections on upcoming sessions and the general themes of the day. We are proud to have an excellent team of bloggers on board:

Zuzana Harmackova is a postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre. Her research focuses on a comparative analysis of resilience indicators across case studies, future participatory scenarios and social-ecological aspects of ecosystem services provision. She has been involved in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), currently working on an assessment of values in future scenarios within the IPBES Assessment on Diverse Conceptualization of Values.

Josie Chambers is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. She is broadly interested in the implications of different approaches to environmental governance, and recently investigated the role of diverse collaborative approaches as a postdoctoral researcher with the Luc Hoffmann Institute. She holds a PhD in Geography and MPhil in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Integrated Resource Management from the University of Edinburgh and a BSc in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois.

Vicky Temperton is a Professor of ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services here at Leuphana university. Some of the core questions, Vicky is tackling, are 1) How can we counter current biodiversity loss, whilst also al­lo­wing for food security and adequate livelihoods and social interactions? And 2) What role can the restoration of biodiversity play in counteracting biodiversity loss, whilst helping to mitigate climate change and providing new forms of social and economic livelihood?

Well, and me (Maraja Riechers), I am one of the many PostDocs in the leverage points project here at the Leuphana University. My research focusses on human-nature connectedness, relational values, human-wildlife conflicts and landscape change – all with a leverage points perspective. Check out our new paper in people and nature: A leverage points perspective on sustainability.

Post your comments and thoughts on twitter and subscribe to the blog to get the latest updates on the conference!

See you soon!


Taking a fresh look at sustainability via a “leverage points perspective”

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer & Maraja Riechers

Have you ever wondered why, with all the science, and all the talk of sustainability, the world still seems to be going the wrong way? – One explanation is that we’ve done plenty of things, but … perhaps not the right things. A leverage points perspective is emerging as a new analytical lens to tackle sustainability problems. We summarize what this perspective can do for sustainability in our new paper in People & Nature; and from 6-8 February a leverage points perspective will take centre stage at the inaugural international conference “Leverage Points 2019” at Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany.

lppeopleandnature A leverage points perspective on sustainability.

The idea of leverage points as such is not new to people working on complex systems, such as social-ecological systems. However, the idea of a “leverage points perspective” is more than just recognizing that we…

View original post 745 more words

In search of the magic bullet: Working to find leverage points for sustainability transformation

By Maraja Riechers

I am going to tell you a personal story – the story does not end in a clear moral of the story, and it won’t give you insights into the “how to be a good PostDoc”. It is more a reflection of the joy of challenges.

When I was 15/16 years old, my school ended and we all had to decide which path in life we wanted to take. It was a big celebration with fancy clothes and dinner, and it felt very significant. At the time, I forced myself to decide what I would like to do with my life. There were a few things I did know for sure: I love nature, and learning. Hence, I became one of those: Save the World! Change the system! kind-of kids. And ultimately, I decided that this will be the goal of my life. Saving the world. And as I anyway loved learning, I decided to go to high school to learn more on how I could fulfill my new found destiny.

That was about 15 years ago. And I admit I have not changed too much. The complexity of the system forced me to reconfigure my teenage pride and be more humble. I am now trying to find my small contribution to maybe set in motion a potential change in this world. But generally, the goal is still similar. And I still love learning. For a while now, I have been a PostDoc in a project called “Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation”. As suggested by the title, the project aims to change “the system” by trying to find the best ways to combat the social and environmental crises we are currently in. The narrative of my research and that of my team, gives me the feeling that I am finally in the right place. And that I finally have the right tools at hand. A leverage points perspective gives me a vision of which I can be proud. It forces me to look at deeper causes for change and look above and beyond disciplinary boundaries. Further, we work in transdisciplinary projects – where achievements are not merely measured in papers, but in real-world impact. Maybe through co-production of knowledge, maybe by offering connections at the science-policy interface, maybe by giving the people a vision for a better world: Let’s find ways to change the system, shall we?

Boromors system change

And while I definitively get a high five from my 15-year-old me, I do have one issue. This work is personal. How do you maintain a proper work-life balance, when your work is your source of income, your hobby and ultimately one of the things by which you define yourself? I owe it to my 15-year-old self to use the chances I get, as well as I can. And I still love learning, so new research projects and new ideas intrigue me. The pressure to find a silver bullet solution is on… but yet, one does not simply change the system. One does not even simply understand a system. Neither can I do this on my own, nor together with my amazing colleagues (and we are 25 hardworking souls in the leverage points project). But I still want to change the system. And I do want to find leverage points that foster sustainability. In every project I am leading, in every paper, in all transdisciplinary interactions, I am looking for more meaning, for underlying causes, for actual significant change. And to be honest, this is exhausting. Because it is personal. Because I take it personal.

Being a PostDoc anyway comes with a different set of responsibilities: For example, I have Bachelor and Masters students for which I am primarily responsible. And apart from the usual task to teach them how to be a good scientist, I also want to infect them with my enthusiasm. Research is fun because it is useful! Further, PostDocs are responsible for maintaining good team spirit, integration, being a link between the professorial PIs and the PhD students, responsible for outcome, output and good process. Then a bit of teaching, proposal writing and, well… you know the drill.

This is a balancing act with tough prioritizations. The leverage points project 1) aims to change the system, 2) needs meaningful participatory processes with real-world improvements, 3) while it depends on active and responsible PostDocs, 4) while also being subject to the usual academic drill. And this makes me really, really happy. And really, really exhausted. I try to take failures not too personally (which is hard), and try to leave work at the office (which is even harder, because then I occasionally simply don’t leave the office).

There are two small conclusions to my personal story: One, if you want to change the system, try a leverage points lens. It may give you new hope and tools that we actually can change something in this world. You can use it as analytical tool, metaphorical lens and anything in between (and in alternation). And two, when your goal in life and at work become one and the same, it is immensely exhausting at times, but also immensely fulfilling. But we do not have to do this task all by ourselves.

Let’s change the system, shall we?

Lieblingsplätze – poetische Orte in der Natur

By Werner Henkel (with a foreword by Maraja Riechers)

Favourite places – poetic places in nature

The text below is written by the artist Werner Henkel (NaturArte) and connected to the transdisciplinary case study of Oldenburg. It is his conclusion to an inspiring social landart workshop from August 2017 to February 2018. Werner and I had a great collaboration and my scientific conclusion on emotional responses to landscape changes is currently in the making. Enjoy! (only available in German)

Am 26. und 27.8.2017 traf sich eine Gruppe von Anwohnern der Region Oldenburg im Zentrum Prinzhöfte, um sich über ihre Lieblingsplätze in der Wildeshauser Geest auszutauschen und auf eine künstlerische Entdeckungsreise über deren persönliche Bedeutung und Gestaltung zu gehen.

In einem ersten Schritt wurden die Plätze anhand von Fotos vorgestellt und es entstand ein intensiver Austausch. Zur Einstimmung in die künstlerische Arbeit wurden die Farben und Formen der Naturmaterialien erforscht. An ausgesuchten Plätzen wurde die Gestaltung in der Natur exemplarisch erprobt. Das Wochenende ermöglichte den TeilnehmerInnen verschiedene künstlerische Erfahrung als Rüstzeug, um im weiteren Verlauf  an Ihren Lieblingsplätzen individuell gestalterisch aktiv zu werden.

Der Workshop Lieblingsplätze setzte an der persönlichen Verbundenheit mit Natur und Landschaft an. Lieblingsplätze sind Orte, um diese grundlegenden Erfahrungen zu erleben und ihnen nachzuspüren.

Durch das intensiven Einlassen auf die Plätze und deren ästhetischen Erforschung wurde das Einmalige und Besondere der Orte, ihre Qualität und Atmosphäre deutlich. Es kristallisierten sich persönliche Themen und Motive heraus, die zunächst in den Plätzen verborgen sind. Diesen wurde mit ästhetischen Mitteln, wie Objekten, Installationen aber auch Fotografie und Text, ein künstlerischer Ausdruck, eine künstlerische Gestalt gegeben. So verstanden ist Kunst ist immer auch ein Erkenntnisprozess, ein bildnerisches Nachdenken (Die kursiven Textteile sind Zitate der TeilnehmerInnen).

  1. hat einen Buchenbestand gewählt. Sie hat dort ein selbstgenähtes großes und knallrotes Herz niedergelegt. Ein schönes Bild für die lebendige Verbundenheit – so ihr Name für den Platz – zur Natur, die entsteht wenn wir unser Herz öffnen. Sie kennt ihn schon seit seit Jahren, entdeckte ihn zuerst als Abenteuerspielplatz für die Kinder, …, für Sonntagsausflüge. Später dann oft alleine besucht, zur Besinnung, Kontemplation, Muse, einfach ein Ort den ich gerne aufgesucht habe und auch heute noch aufsuche. Strahlt erhabene Ruhe aus durch die alten hohen Buchen, ist gleichzeitig licht und zart durch die Großzügigkeit. Lässt mich ruhig werden, durchatmen, Pause machen! Hier wird deutlich, das Eintauchen in den Naturraum ist ein Teilhaben an den schöpferischen Prozessen des Lebendigen. Was wiederum unsere eigenen schöpferische Kräfte belebt. Die künstlerische Gestaltung des Platzes mit Naturmaterialien oder mit besonderen eigenen Dingen erfüllte mich mit einem Gefühl tiefer Befriedigung, Sinnhaftigkeit und Freude. Sinnhaftigkeit und Freude zu erfahren ist ein Glücks-Moment den wir geschenkt bekommen.
  2. baut ein „goldenen Käfig“ und nannte Ihn home. Zu Ihrem Platz sagt sie: Der Platz hat eine befreiende Weite, Tiere kommen dich besuchen und er ist doch auch versteckt genug, um sich sicher und geborgen zu fühlen. Leider musste ich von diesem Platz und meinem Zuhause wegziehen. Seitdem fehlt mir die Weite, Freiheit und Geborgenheit, die einem bekannte Flächen geben kann. Wenn ich jetzt zu den Flächen zurückkehre, bin ich ihnen fremd und komme daher nur langsam dort zur Ruhe. Freiheit, Weite, Unabhängigkeit einerseits und Geborgenheit, Vertrautheit müssen in Balance sein, damit wir uns zuhause fühlen können im Leben, damit es home wird. Das korrespondiert mit Ihrem Käfig-Werk. Der steht im offenen Raum der Wiesenfläche, und changiert ambivalent zwischen Schutzraum und Eingeschlossen-sein. Was zudem noch anklingt ist Ihre wissenschaftliche Forschungstätigkeit über Natur, in der sie zwar gedanklich in der Natur ist, körperlich, sinnlich jedoch völlig außerhalb. Natur wird zu Gedanken-Käfig, der einen gefangen nimmt, aber vom unmittelbarem sinnliche Kontakt mit der Natur trennt.
  3. spielt mit dem Zeit, dem ständigen zyklischen Wandel. Er fotografierte letzten Sommer, die Bilder zeigen Natur im Grün und voller Blüte. Diese Fotos platziert er im winterlichen Naturraum genau an den Aufnahmeorten. Mitten im tristen und nassen Winter stellte ich ein Bild blühender Tulpen in’s triste graue Tulpenbeet. Dann stellte ich blühende Lungenkräuter in ein Beet in dem unter viel Humus diese Pflanzen schlummerten. So erleben wir durch Fotos und reale Natur zwei Zeitzustände eines Ortes. Das bringt uns den ständigen Wandel zu Bewusstsein. Die Stoffumwandlung ist die Voraussetzung für neues Leben im Folgejahr. Nichtsdestotrotz kann so ein langer Winter auch die Seele trübe machen, da helfen Bilder aus den fröhlicheren Jahreszeiten. Aber wie werden wir reagieren auf Winter-Garten-Bilder mitten im Sommer? Das ist der nächste Schritt: der Schönheit des Sommers den Tod des Winters entgegenzusetzen…Der Sommer überwintert, der Winter keimt im Sommer. So kommen wir in Berührung mit dem Wunder des Bleibenden im ständigen Wandel
  4. setzt sich ganz konkret körperlich und biographisch mit einem Baum in Beziehung. Sieht Risse in der Rinde in Bezug zu ihren Hautfalten, schreibt eine Art Baumtagebuch, legt im Wurzelreich verborgenes frei. Im Sommer, im vollen Laub bildet sich ein fast geschlossener Raum unter ihrem Baum. Nach dem Laubfall wir es ein durchlässiger beschirmter Raum. Sie legt Spiegel ins Erdreich unter den Baum, in dem sich das Himmels-Geäst spiegelt. Mein Schirm mit Wurzeln nennt sie Ihren Platz, an dem ein konkreter Baum zum Spiegel des Lebensbaumes wird. Und es klingt der Weltenbaum der indische Mythologie an, der Kopf steht und so im Himmel, im Geistig wurzelt und dessen Früchte unsere irdisches Leben sind. Ein Bild, dass besagt, das unsere Welt hier ein Spiegel der geistigen Welt ist. Aber auch der nordische Schöpfungsmythos wird hier thematisiert, nach dem die Bäume unsere Ahnen sind. Das erste Menschenpaar wurden vom Geschlecht der Asen aus einer Esche /Ask und einer Ulme/ Embla erschaffen. Der Schirm mit Wurzeln beinhaltet neben dem persönlichen, biographischen das sehr alte Weltenbaum-Bild der Verbindung von Himmel und Erde, unserem Behütet-sein unterm Himmelszelt und dem Verwurzelt-sein im Irdischen.
  5. spricht einen Platz an einem alten Hunte-Arm an. Unter altem, grünendem Baumbestand und im Sommer völlig mit Entengrütze bedeckt, ist es eine Grüne Kraftquelle. Er strahlt eine unheimliche Ruhe aus und man kann hier sehr gut entspannen. Außerdem entdeckt man bei jedem Besuch wieder etwas Neues. Er baut eine Art Zelt, einen geschützten Raum aus grünen Bambusstangen auf, der aber dennoch offen und durchlässig ist. Und in seiner architektonisch formalen Strenge schafft es eine schöne Spannung zu umliegenden üppig-grünen Naturraum. In dem Werk klingen Begriffe wie Mönchsklause und Eremiten-Behausung an. So schafft er einen meditativen Ort der Stille. Natur wird zu einer Kraftquelle, die T. immer wieder aufsucht, um neue Energie zu tanken. Es ist auch einen visuelle Stille, in der man im Alleinsein in der Natur die „Grüne Sprache“ lernt, wie R.Ausländer es so poetisch formuliert. Die Erfahrungen an seinem Platz haben ihm einen neuen Blickwinkel auf das Leben gegeben.
  6. gestaltete ihre Hall of Fame am Hunte-Ufer, indem sie drei gestaltete 3 Stelen mit Texten aufstellte.

Sie ehrt damit drei Menschen, die alle auf ihre Art zu meinem biophilen Zugang zur Natur beigetragen haben. Und sie wirft die Frage auf: Wohin man gerne zurückkehren würde? Das kleine Modell einer Laubhütte steht über dem Satz: Geborgenheit ist nicht Landschaft. Geborgenheit schafft auch das Bewusstsein darüber, dass wir eingebunden sind die die Natur, worauf die Biophilie verweist. Biophilie steht für die Auffassung, dass wir entwicklungsgeschichtlich eine uns innewohnende Verbundenheit zu allem Natürlichen haben, eine Liebe um Lebendigen. Wir sind selbst ein Teil der Biodiversität dieser Erde. R.M. Rilke drückt es sinnlicher aus. „Weltinnenraum“ ist  nicht nur die räumlich um uns liegende Landschaft, sondern ebenso die innerlich gefühlte Bedeutung und Wertschätzung. Diese drückt sich auch in geschichtliche Dimension des Ortes aus: dort, wo mein Platz ist, ist schon vor zehntausenden von Jahren bevölkert gewesen, auch das berührt mich. So erscheint darin auch eine Haltung der angemessenen Bescheidenheit und Demut der Natur gegenüber.

Ein schmaler Trampelpfad auf einem Baum bestandenem kleinen Wall schlängelt sich durch ein verwunschenes Waldstück. Es ist der Pfad des Oberon, wie U. ihren Platz nennt. Nicht nur für sie ist es ein verzauberter Ort, an dem eine Tiefen-Dimension der Natur spürbar wird. Sie stellt dort einen Bogen von geraden Hölzern auf, die gleichsam aus dem Boden wachsen und wieder im Erdreich verschwinden. Es ist dieses Bild des Auftauchens, des in Erscheinung-tretens und wieder Verschwindens einer magisch-mythischen Welt, die den Bogen schlägt zum Elfenkönig Oberon. Ihr Werk wirkt im Wald vergänglich, fragil und unscheinbar. Dieser ephemere Charakter betont die Flüchtigkeit des Zaubers. Im verzauberte Wald in W. Shakespeares Sommernachtstraum treiben die Elfen ein Liebes-Verwirr-Spiel mit den Menschen zur Zeit der Sommersonnenwende. All das verweist auf ein In-Beziehung-sein aller Erscheinungsformen und Dimensionen des Lebens. Und auf die Tiefenökologie, die auf ein neues Bewusstsein in der Mensch-Naturbeziehung zielt.

Im Austausch über den Wert solcher Lieblings-Plätze in der Natur wurde deutlich, solche Orte sind Inseln im stark landwirtschaftlich genutzten Landschaftsraum der Region. Inseln der Selbstbesinnung. Sie sind Momente des Zur-Besinnung-Kommens, des Innehalten und Ausdruck einer lebendigen Verbundenheit mit der Landschaft. Sie zeigen den wertschätzenden Blick, frei vom Nutzen-Aspekt, sind Kraftorte zum Auftanken und oft ist es gerade das Unspektakuläre was diese Qualität erzeugt.

Es ist kein Zufall welchen Plätze uns ansprechen, sondern ein in Resonanz-Gehen der äußeren Natur mit unserer inneren Natur. So sind sie immer auch Spiegel des Biographischen und es zeigt sich hier eine sehr persönliche, intime Ebene der Naturbeziehung. Über solche Plätze entsteht eine emotionale Verwurzelung mit der Landschaft, die über das rein Persönliche hinausgeht, denn sie zeigen exemplarisch, dass die menschliche Existenz nur als Teil des Existenz der Natur erlebt und gedacht werden kann.

Und sie sind Inspirationsquellen für eine bewusste und nachhaltige Nutzung der Ressourcen der Natur der Region. Darum ist die persönliche Beziehung in der Diskussion um Nachhaltige Entwicklung so von Bedeutung. Nachhaltiges Handeln entsteht nicht allein aus dem Wissen über … und Faktenkenntnis. Nur die Verknüpfung mit der emotionalen Verbundenheit zur natürlichen Umwelt führt zu einer wertschätzenden Haltung. Die emotionale Beziehung ist Grundlage für Umwelt-Bewusstsein und Verantwortlichkeit im eigenen Handeln. Das Wissen über und die Beziehung zu, Verstand und Herz zusammen setzten den Impuls für nachhaltiges und ressourcenschonendes Handeln. Wir schützen und bewahren nur dass, was wir lieben.

Das künstlerische Vorhaben: Lieblingsplätze ist Teil des Projektes Bio-Diversitätskorridor. Einer Initiative von „artecology_network“, dem Landkreis Oldenburg  und Leuphana Universität Lüneburg. Das Projekt zielt auf eine künstlerische und wissenschaftliche Auseinandersetzung mit Landnutzung und Naturschutz im Landkreis Oldenburg und  initiiert neue Denkanstöße für Nachhaltigkeit.

The invisible change-makers

By Cristina Apetrei

I recently came across a video about a man who planted 100 acorns a day in a desolate landscape, slowly but surely restoring it over several decades. I remembered that I had previously read this story in “The Global Citizen”, a book which collects columns with the same name written by Donella Meadows. No wonder she liked the story, I thought, as it is not only about the extraordinary determination of one man, but it is also about systems, about leverage points, about vision, hope, and change. By doing a simple, but meaningful, high-impact gesture, day in, day out, Elzéard Bouffier reforested the barren mountains, and that in turn brought life, community, and affluence back to the region.

In sustainability science, we often talk about the need of doing more research on transformative knowledge. We know enough about how the world works and about what we want, we say. Instead, we must increase our understanding about the “how to”, about which actions must be taken in order to achieve the desired outcomes. We endlessly theorize about types of processes, enabling factors and barriers, actors that ought (or not) be involved, absence or presence of facilitators etc., and we try to see how these elements will weave into various outcomes. I won’t discuss here the usefulness of such analyses, some of which I also carry out myself. Instead, I ask: what if realizing “The Sustainability Transformation” is not so much about having sophisticated cognitive insights, as it is about allowing ourselves to be driven by a more personal, more visceral and heart-rooted involvement with the world around?

In my fieldwork, I am often humbled to meet amazing characters. They are the silent, invisible change-makers that you will never hear any story about, who will never get any prize, or recognition, not even an acknowledgement in a paper condemned to eternal rest on a dusty bookshelf in a library.

I see the road to sustainability being paved by the wonderful librarian lady from a forgotten village in Transylvania who, despite better prospects in the nearby cities, felt it was her duty to serve in her little community, even if she now often feels alone and helpless in her plans. With determination and hard work, her village may once rank highest in the region in education and civil engagement, and – just like with Bouffier’s forest – officials will think this success happened on “its own accord”.

Similarly, the road to sustainability was opened by the foreign traveller who taught a community how to make felt slippers as a way to supplement their earnings. With sustained effort, that idea gradually turned into a fully operational women’s association which today, not only creates additional income for its members, but also runs community-wide projects in health and education.

Finally, the road to sustainability is the collective labour of the many farmers, teachers, neighbours, healers, tenders, activists and community leaders who plant their carefully chosen seeds one after another, diligently and devotedly, with the assuredness that the star that guides them shines from beyond their own interest.

Of course, not all stubbornness in action is necessarily beneficial to society, nor even to oneself. Also, not all well intended actions will be useful or have positive rippling effects. In dealing with global change in an interconnected world, sharpness of mind and ethical integrity go hand in hand with clarity of collective purpose. Finding the right lever is as important as knowing what is an end and what is a means. But for me as a scientist, the takeaway of this story is a reminder that, no matter how important, or how transdisciplinary, or how close to the ground our work may seem to us, our intellectual musings alone will bear no rivers to dry lands, no energy to cold houses, no solace to the suffering. We need to carefully look around to see how we, as individuals in our private lives, can also have an impact beyond our formal working hours. What problem in your close environment really moves you? Which chord of your heart could make the most beautiful music if you applied to it the precise bow of your mind?

I urge you all to watch the video, be inspired and go into the world to plant away your acorns! May we be gifted with the “passionate determination and the unfailing generosity of spirit” required for the complicated tasks ahead of us.