In line with Ulrich Beck’s paradigm of a "reflexive modernity," the environmental damage that has been caused by humans, and its multiple side-effects, have moved beyond human control. Having reached and even exceeded the natural limits posed by our planet’s self-sustaining systems, we are in urgent need of a critical analysis of the transformation processes that have emerged as a consequence of human interactions with what we call the "environment." The changes we are now facing are not limited to what some believe to be narrowly definable ecological problems, with the impact on human societies and cultures equally immense.
As is visible in movements like "Fridays for Future," and in many local initiatives and cultural events, many people believe that in order to create a sustainable future, we must revise the ways we think about humanity's relationship to other species and the environment we live in. This includes a critical awareness of the economic divides and social hierarchies that facilitate, speed up, and increase the vulnerability of the global poor, who call for environmental justice as the responsibility of wealthy nations. These very complex issues are core concerns in both the humanities and social sciences. Analyzing human thought, contributing new perspectives, and inspiring processes of adaptation are among the most important competencies that these presumably "softer" disciplines can offer.
The Environmental Humanities at the Environmental Science Center (WZU) in Augsburg and at the Rachel Carson Center (RCC) at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich are among the most distinguished institutions in Germany, and worldwide, to have shaped these debates. Between them, the WZU and the RCC have contributed important publications as well as teaching concepts to the Environmental Humanities. They are also known for their extraordinarily large and multifaceted network both within and outside of academia. By bringing together these two distinguished research centers under the umbrella of the Elite Network of Bavaria, we hope to create synergies that greatly benefit our PhD students.