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Salvatore Paolo De Rosa explores the interactions of climate movements with science and law

XR demonstration in Malmö on February 29, 2020, photo
XR demonstration in Malmö on February 29, 2020, photo credit: @knastergast

Meet LUCSUS new postdoctoral researcher Salvatore Paolo De Rosa. Salvatore's research focuses on connecting social and climate movements, civil society organisations and NGOs in Sweden and Europe to better understand their relation with the knowledge generated by climate science and their engagement with legal frameworks.

What do you do at LUCSUS? 

I am postdoc researcher in the project GAMES – Global Attribution Models, Mediation and Mobilisations in Sweden and Spain, an interdisciplinary research effort based on a collaboration between social scientists at LUCSUS, law scholars at Copenhagen University (DK) and climate scientists at Oxford University (UK). The general aim of the project is to clarify how recent advancements in climate science – particularly the attribution of impacts of extreme weather events to climate change and to specific emitters – influence legal frameworks and governance, and create constraints and opportunities for social mobilisations and for transformational change.

My role is to connect with social and climate movements, civil society organisations and NGOs in Sweden and Europe to better understand their relation with the knowledge generated by climate science and their engagement with legal frameworks, focusing on the synergies that science, law and mobilisations can develop to advance socially just and environmentally sustainable transformations, for example through climate lawsuits connected to grassroots campaigns.

Furthermore, I plan to work on enhancing mutual learning and collaboration between experts and activists through workshops and dissemination of results.

What sustainability challenge do you find most interesting? 

In my view, a major sustainability challenge concerns the need to redress the social inequalities and injustices at the root not just of many environmental problems, but also of the negative impacts of proposed solutions to these problems. This is linked to the challenge of ensuring an effective democratisation of decisions on means and ends of sustainability processes and an equal dialogue between dominant rationales and methods of sustainability and underrepresented voices, including alternative worldviews.

My early interest in environmental issues developed through activism in place-based environmental conflicts around waste management and disposal. During those conflicts I witnessed the misuse of the concept of sustainability when it is disjointed from an acknowledgement of unequal power relations, i.e. when it fails to ask “sustainable for who?” and thus casts into invisibility different experiences of the world and different ideas of problems and solutions. Therefore, I am convinced that achieving sustainable transformations is inseparable from a politicisation of current social relations. In this sense, I do not see conflict as a necessarily negative outcome, on the contrary: very often the emergence of conflict has the merit of highlighting unsustainable processes and conditions, and to point to alternatives more in line with the desires and needs of disenfranchised communities.

How does your research contribute to address these issues? 

My previous work sought to debunk hegemonic narratives of socio-environmental changes and solutions through in-depth analysis of the relations between political economic, social and ecological processes, particularly regarding waste management. I applied and developed further critical approaches to environmental problems that show how sustainable transitions are often prevented by powerful interests and lack of democratic involvement, focusing on how alternative imaginaries and practices of socioecological relations developed by social movements and local communities can become politically transformative.

In my research, I advance conceptual dialogues between grassroots environmental knowledges and scientific approaches, connecting the groundwork of activists to broader political and theoretical trajectories. In relation to this, my current work focuses on such interactions as they manifest in the arena of climate politics, seeking to inform scientific research of societal significance and to expand the potential venues for climate action by civil society and climate justice movements.

What have you done before you came here? 

I got my PhD from Human Geography at Lund University, so in a sense to be back at Lund is like coming home! Previous to this position, I was a postdoctoral researcher at the Environmental Humanities Laboratory of KTH, in Stockholm, where I worked for two years in the project Occupy Climate Change! We looked at grassroots climate mobilisations and innovations in five cities (Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Naples, New York and Malmö), investigating civil society’s interactions with municipal administrators and the relation between social mobilisations and climate-related loss & damages in urban contexts. My case study was Malmö, where I engaged the very lively local landscape of social and climate movements to better understand how the strategies and tactics deployed by activists confront and contest the consensus around controversial solutions (like fossil gas as transition fuel). I also looked into the potential of recomposition between different grassroots political projects through transformative adaptation in this city. Throughout all my research path, I have strived to turn research outcomes into popular stories and narratives, and plan to continue to do so in my current project.

What do you look forward to the most in your new position?

I am very excited to be in a project located at the cutting edge of climate sciences and in tune with the call by global society for meaningful climate action. I look forward to learn more about the complexities of attribution science and legal frameworks, including their relations with social change. I am also excited to continue my engagement with activists, NGOs and civil society organizations, especially in learning with them, and in helping them developing, effective synergies between science, law and mobilisations that can break the deadlock preventing truly just and transformative climate solutions.

What has it been like to start a new position, at a new university, when you can’t physically be here due to the pandemic?

It is recently exactly one year since I started working from home. Moving from my previous position to the new one has been frictionless but it also felt unreal. Or maybe virtual is the right word, since all interactions are still happening via online platforms and I did not meet physically with any of my colleagues. This situation is having an increasing toll on my mood and feelings. It is hard to maintain motivation and momentum when we lack the interactions that make academia an exciting and learning space: live seminars, face-to-face talks, causal encounters in the corridors, social events… These after all make research something more than an intellectual exercise and help grounding in reality a lot of the conceptual wanderings we do. I terribly miss something as ineffable and ethereal, and yet very physical, as the feeling of being in a room with other people thinking together. And I do not even want to start complaining about the prospects for fieldwork…

profile image of Salvatore Paolo De Rosa. Photo.

About Salvatore Paolo De Rosa

Salvatore Paolo De Rosa is a Political Ecologist with a background in Human Geography and Anthropology. His main research objective is to provide a better understanding of how collective action drives socio-environmental transformations towards sustainability and justice. His current research focus is on the interactions and synergies between climate movements, legal frameworks and advancements in climate science.

Salvatore Paolo De Rosa's webpage