Reply To: 4. 10 Mars Integrated History Of People on Earth

Author Replies
Sanna Karlsson # Posted on December 3, 2015 at 12:19

I did not attend the seminar, but am now writing a two page reflection instead. However, I read that on the seminar my fellow students got the assignment to present an idea that would be suitable for the Dahlman workshop and received feedback from the others in the group, and then presented it later in the reflection. I am almost done writing my thesis. My reflection will therefore include how well my current thesis could fit into a Dahlman workshop, and if any changes would be needed.

In the last half of the twentieth century, specialization in the academic world has increased tremendously. The effect of this has been a separation between disciplines and therefore some valuable information has been lost, which another discipline might inhabit, making research not as fruitful than would it be if the disciplines interact and work together. After all, we work and do research in and on a world that is transdisciplinary. Whatever we study, it includes different disciplines, such as ecology, chemistry and sociology.
The Dahlman workshop started in Germany in 1971. Its aim is:
”… to promote an international, interdisciplinary exchange of scientific information and ideas, to stimulate international cooperation in research, and to develop and test new models conducive to more effective communication between scientists.”

My thesis is about perservatives in wood when one million houses and appartments were built in the 1950-1960s in Sweden. The perservatives have proven now to not last as it was thought, but microorganisms interact with the perservative, creating a new substance which easily is vaporized. This substance smell just like mold, but is not. Often owners of these accomodations misinterpret the odor for being mold and even get negative health symptoms due to the belief, even though the truth is that the odor is harmless. This has not been attended to in Sweden at all, until recently when my assistent supervisor wrote a scientific article on the subject. In addition to this main focus does my thesis include a background in artificial chemical substances and toxicity on a larger, worldwide scale.

Information in the Integrated History Of People on Earth (IHOPE) is divided into four groups: millennial-scale dynamics, centennial-scale dynamics, decadal-scale dynamics, and anticipating the future. I will consequently go through each one and reflect on how well my thesis fit into these sections.
When it comes to millennial-scale dynamics, they emanated from underlying causes of mutual interactions: ”what were the contributing conditions or circumstances leading to effective or ineffective responses to climatic change?” When it comes to my thesis, some causes as to increased toxicity is mentioned. How we all play a part in it, but especially chemists making the substances and companies using them in their products. My suggestion to address the issue is also across disciplines: chemists, toxicologists, consumers working for the goal of reducing the toxic load. One more aspect which I could mention is also biologists role in seeing the negative effect on wildlife and nature concerning this. However when it comes to the wood perservative, I have not added a transdisciplinary approach in how to solve the problem. This could for example include research in nocebo (expecting a negative outcome of something neutral or positive, and receive it). This is something I could keep in mind as I continue with my thesis.
Centennial-scale dynamics has to do with our relationship to nature and how we have impacted nature tracing 1000 years back. My thesis is mostly centered around present time, at the most tracing back to the use of chemistry for good and bad back in the 1400s. This is merely in my background section though. When it comes to chemistry and its effect on nature, I am not sure of how much we know 1000 years back. What we do know is that it was not until the recent app. hundred years that artificial chemicals have been synthezised, which the world has never seen before. Since it is foreign to nature, there is no doubt that it will have somewhat negative effects on it, because it is not made for it basically. The only thing I believe we can learn 1000 years back is that some harmful elements may have killed people (e.g. arsenic), wildlife and also brought its harm to nature. However, this is not in my thesis. If it was going to be in the Dahlman workshop, this would be a good aspect to investigate further.
The decadal-scale dynamics addresses the rapidly changing relationship that humans have to nature due to the very fast increasing industrialization, transportation and globalization. This relationship is also measuarable in research much easier than before because of technology. I believe my thesis is perfectly suited for this group. I describe how quickly toxic substances and its use has increased over the last century. Suprisingly quickly, and our relationship to nature in this regard has especially changed in that we toss toxic waste pretty much everywhere. When it comes to wood perservatives, even here it is somewhat conveyed. If perserved wood becomes waste the degradating products might do harm to nature. I have not yet not investigated this, but it will more or less be part of the end product.
In the group, ”Anticipating the future”, there is talk about resilience and how to best help a society to take on catastrophies of different kinds and get back on track again before or even after a collapse. Information on our relationship to nature from transdisciplines and how they affect resilience helps here. I must admit I have somewhat a hard time fitting my thesis topic into this category. It seems wood perservatives are not significant as it comes to this. Toxicity might not etiher be of much help, unless a society is highly polluted and a type of purification is needed. Perhaps my thesis could help then. But it had to be broaden to include human-environmental relationships and its effect on developing societies in relation to toxicity.