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Published: 2020-11-20

Sustainability and transformation require an interdisciplinary approach

PROFILE Jon Moen is a professor at the Department of Ecology and Environment Sciences (EMG) and his interest in sustainability issues and transformation led to his involvement in UTRI, Umeå Transformation Research Initiative.

Text: Kristina Lindblom
Image: Mattias Pettersson

Jon studied to be a biologist in Umeå, and more or less became a doctoral student by chance. From the beginning, he worked with herbivores and the effects on alpine vegetation, but over time there were more and more questions about land use.

Can you tell us about your research and how it connects to UTRI? 

- I have worked with reindeer husbandry, forestry, conservation biology, mining, and tourism to name a few types of land use. My research on conflicts in land use has later evolved to an interest in issues of sustainability and transformation. Currently, it is a primary focus in my research and in my teaching.

What is sustainable transition according to you and what challenges can you see in getting there? 
- Transformation for me is partly about understanding the boundaries that exist, a kind of awareness of crisis, and partly about changing our behaviours and habits. But I also see a problem in that much of the discussion is about our individual choices when it is basically a system problem. This applies to both driving forces in society but also matters such as the development of infrastructure.

You will talk about what transformation is and why it is complicated to drive change. Tell us more about what we will learn.

- I will talk about complexity of the challenges we are facing, and how they are connected. This makes the question of transformation somewhat difficult (one must be able to keep more than one problem in mind at the same time), but on the other hand it may paradoxically make it easier to resolve the situation.

- We should discuss whether and how, for example, we could change our land use (agriculture, forestry) so that we can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the loss of biodiversity, reduce soil impoverishment, increase food security, and reduce poverty and hunger. We do not have time to solve the problems one by one.

Interdisciplinarity requires arenas that encourages meetings across boundaries. I hope that UTRI can contribute to this!

How did you decide to become involved in UTRI? 

- Sustainability and transition issues require an interdisciplinary approach. There is no discipline, focus or perspective that can tackle these complex issues in a creative, critical and reflective way. Interdisciplinarity requires arenas that encourages meetings across boundaries. I hope that UTRI can contribute to this.

Finally, why do you think people should take part in the kick-off?

- UTRI is a grassroots initiative from researchers across all faculties. UTRI will be what we all make it out to be. My hope is that as many as possible can participate in the kick-off and then contribute in one way or another to the ongoing work operations. Our ambition is that UTRI will become a node for sustainable transition research at Umeå University, partly for us to be more successful, but above all, for us to be able to contribute to the challenges facing society.


Umeå Transformation Research Initiative (UTRI)

Umeå University is investing in sustainability research. The new Umeå Transformation Research Initiative (UTRI) supports collaborations promoting sustainable transition at Umeå University, but also welcomes collaborations with other universities and stakeholders in the field.

UTRI held a kick-off on Monday 30 November and Tuesday 1 December 2020 in the form of an online webinar. Keynote speeches from honorary doctors at Umeå University was: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Nancy Langton, Professor at Michigan Technological University, the US, John Anderson, Professor at Loughborough University, the UK, and Michael Hall, Professor at the University of Canterbury, New Zeeland.

The moderator was Ola Nordebo.

Read more on the UTRI website.

Contact information

Jon Moen
Professor, other position