Working Groups

Group work is the heart of ISWI. We offer working groups, each dealing with a certain aspect of the main topic. There are thematic groups and art groups. Within the group sessions, participants will have the possibility to share their experiences and views, discuss in detail and work towards solutions for current problems. 

The weak at the lower end of the economic chain often suffer injustice. These include not only socially or politically disadvantaged people, but also the animals, plants and planet earth as a habitat for all living things. Environmental pollution, the exploitation of resources and living beings, overexploitation, soil degradation and species extinction are links in a great chain of inequalities, imbalances and injustices. Such cinereous are the realities in many places. Thus, natural habitats are cleared, reduced in size, managed with non-native and unadapted crops, native species and ethnic groups are displaced.

At the same time, a new awareness of food cultivation and trade is spreading. The world seems to be at the beginning of a change, not only in terms of climate but also in terms of people’s knowledge of the value of natural resources and the environment.

To what extent are we entitled to our environment? What are our obligations towards our environment and that of our neighbours and fellow human beings worldwide? What kind of global impact does our local action have on animals and plants? What interventions and regulations are possible and sensible to preserve biodiversity, natural habitats and natural wonders and to mitigate climate change?
However, it is also important to consider that certain climate protection measures also have negative effects on the environment. Thus, these means of sustainability sometimes contradict each other in certain points. In this group, the participants have the opportunity to discuss new concepts of environmental protection and to consider where changes are most urgently needed and where climate protection is most important. Humans have a responsibility towards other humans, but also towards animals, plants and our habitat. Creativity can be given free rein. For example, a campaign can be designed that results from questions, discussions and suggestions from the group work.

Travel educates and gives inspiration. The right for recreation, leisure, and holidays is explicitly mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and is frequently exercised, especially by residents of industrial nations. There are many possibilities for holidays, which are usually only limited by a financial situation. Tourism is an important and lucrative source of income for many countries. Ironically, package tours and all-inclusive holidays are usually not affordable for the population of the destination countries.

However, those who are interested in other cultures and want to support the local population do have the opportunity to choose alternative tourism concepts. Through international workcamps, WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and other sustainable alternatives, one can additionally give one’s holiday a charitable purpose and often have intensive experiences by getting to know local people. Are there perhaps other ways to improve the quality of life of the local population through holidays?

But how can you make your holiday sustainable, if you have to get on a plane and thus pollute the environment to get to your desired destination? Is it fair, in the global context, to board an airplane for recreation? What would the world look like if everyone had the same opportunities for this type of recreation? Are people even aware of their human rights to holidays and recreation and are there ways to put this theoretical knowledge into practice worldwide? Even if we consider luxurious accommodations a source of income for local people, what about the energy consumption of these places? Should more money be spent on compensation for the damage caused?

Technological advance is the most important topic for many students and universities. As a practical application of scientific knowledge to solve problems or fulfil specific functions, it is a driving factor of humanity. The extension of our life span, the increasing volume of food production, the ability to communicate with each other across the world, the ability to store and access information via the Internet, and the know-how to explore distant worlds are some of the positive examples of technological achievements.

However, this upturn also has its downsides. The destructive power of technology is demonstrated in countless wars and the development of weapons of mass destruction. Tracts of land are devastated in order to mine resources for the production of technological goods. And additionally, the immense energy consumption of technology is one of the most relevant driving factors of climate change.

Nevertheless, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the “Internet of Things” will shape our future in many ways. The vision of a networked world in which robots replace the physical effort of humans, in which transport is primarily autonomous, in which our biological bodies are optimised by artificial devices, is perhaps only a few years away from realization. But how can we pursue all these developments, looking at the positive and negative sides, without neglecting the protection of our environment? Can they be used to make our life more sustainable and more sparing for our planet, or do they actually play their part in destroying it?

This group has a very diverse set of questions to discuss: What are the limits of technology-based solutions in regards to climate change and environmental conservation? How can we spread the benefits of technology, for example in terms of education and living standards, across the world? Does the use of intelligent devices mean a better or worse quality of life? How can a sensible use of technology be designed and how do we ensure it? How do we prevent potential threats from AI-based technologies such as autonomous weapon systems? And, above all, striving for the question: How do we enable future generations to live under the same – or even better – standards that we can enjoy today?

Education should be seen as one of the critical points to preserve our natural environment. Our society must be educated on the consequences of unsustainable behaviour. Especially the younger generation should be actively involved in the process of finding ideas and solutions. And who says that specialists in their field cannot be inspired by new, unconventional ideas that may at first seem impossible to implement? It is about learning together. Education always moves between taking over current ways to think and questioning them, as well as re-constructing them.

Many questions about the causes of global warming are still unexplored. It is necessary that research and the transfer of experience work hand in hand. Different forms of education must always be questioned to increase knowledge together. Especially, institutional education is strongly linked to questions of power, since social structures solidify if they remain unreflected and can be shaken up by questioning. However, this phenomenon begins in the private, family context: If parents want to raise their children as critical thinkers, they must be prepared to let themselves be questioned. This is where teachers and parents are repeatedly faced with significant challenges.

How has education and upbringing changed in different cultures? What changes are we facing, e.g. in the field of technology? Which values and goals are being pursued, and how can education adequately prepare people for a life in a modern world? What is the relationship between theory and practice? What are the roles of different educational structures, e.g. formal and informal learning, state or privately funded education? Should alternative teaching methods such as the Waldorf concept be considered? Are there alternatives for school grades? Is it a fundamental problem that knowledge is mostly only passed from the older generation to the younger ones?

Each of us obtains our information and knowledge from the media but through different channels. Media, often referred to as the fourth estate, is thus a powerful instrument of influence. Our way of dealing with media has changed fundamentally in recent years; whereas 15 years ago there was a relatively manageable number of radio stations, regional and national newspapers, and magazines, today, thanks to the Internet, there is a multitude of platforms and sites through which information can be disseminated. This change has led to a strong decentralization and an entirely new dynamic.

There may be opportunities in this change if diversity allows us to take a wholly new view. But it requires a very reflective and responsible approach to news, especially since there are many things we cannot verify. Due to a large number of sources of information, the truthfulness of the information cannot always be guaranteed. Truths are often subjective. This raises the question of how exactly media can be consciously consumed? How can we protect the diverse views from censorship and preserve freedom of speech and opinion, but at the same time protect ourselves from fake news? How can scientific knowledge be presented in the media without leaving off the complexity and inaccuracy of the models but, at the same time, don’t give climate deniers more material?

Social networks, in particular, have a significant influence on many of us when it comes to obtaining information. There are huge opportunities to learn about different points of view, but also to be overwhelmed by them and to operate only in one’s filter-bubble. To what extent is every single one of us susceptible to radicalizing or polarising due to our use of social networks? How selective is our perception through the social environment we are in? Can we escape the influence of particular interest groups and media professionals? Is it possible to design a pluralistic media landscape in such a way that everyone has an equal opportunity to be represented? How can we ensure freedom of speech but also human rights and prevent discrimination, hate, and encouragement to criminal acts?

The health of our planet is linked intricately to trends in the world economy. The global economy saw a tremendous change since the Industrial Revolution, which substantially boosted the production capacity as well as the use of natural resources, like fossil fuel for production and consumption. You could argue that the current model of the capitalist economy, which seeks to maximize profits, has benefited humanity, but has seldom played a key role in nurturing our environment.

The model of limitless and perpetual growth stimulates both competition and the ruthless exploitation of natural resources and human labor. At the same time, this model has also accelerated consumption, thereby increasing the amount of waste. All this has evidently harmed our earth by disrupting its natural cycles and causing climate change. Therefore, it is high time that current paradigms are questioned. We are witnessing a rising interest in the rethinking of economic policies and the approach to human development in general. Concepts like “degrowth”, which is a form of economy and society that aims at the well-being of all and sustains the natural basis of life, and the model of “shared and circular economy” that aims at promoting recycling rather than disposing and sharing rather than owning, are gaining momentum.

What are the limits of different economical models? What kind of policies and tax regulations can make the economy more sustainable? What immediate reforms in the economy can attempt to curb this crisis? Can we reinvent an economic model that works for both the planet as well as the people? Can the “Green Economy” save us from this crisis? Economics is a complex and multidimensional issue. A change in the economy will call for reforms not only in national but also international rules and policies on a political level. Consequently, a collective effort is required to make this shift possible. In this group, the above-mentioned and many other questions can be discussed and evaluated.

Although, waste is an inevitable part of life, the past couple of decades have seen a tremendous increase in its quantity due to the rise in population as well as the change in lifestyle. The industry-driven ‘use and throw’ mentality of the general population has made things even worse. Products like batteries, plastics, and chemicals, which are toxic not only to the earth but also to all the living things on it, are being overly produced.

We are generating too much waste and we are unable to deal with it in a sustainable way. Non-biodegradable waste materials are dumped in rivers, oceans, and landfills. Some experts predict that by 2050, more plastic might be swimming in the oceans than fish. The unprecedented and unimpeded dumping of waste along with the burning of huge amounts of that on open fields has led to alarmingly high levels of carbon dioxide and methane gas.

The three rules of “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle” are the ideal guidelines for a more sustainable way of living. As this conference is characterized by intercultural dialogue, the participants can discuss the interpretation and implementation of those rules in different parts of the world. Are those rules already known and perhaps implemented in their everyday life? How can we individually contribute to a world with less waste? How can we reduce our global consumption?

The group can have a critical look at existing products and can also think about new ways to design sustainable goods, which can be recycled or reused and ultimately result in less waste. The participants can also discuss different recycling systems. Are those systems energy efficient? How can recycled materials be used? Nature has set an important example where everything is recycled and reused. What can we learn from nature, so as to recycle and reuse waste? Can we implement those into our existing technologies and if yes, how effectively and to what extent?

“Politicians must do more to tackle climate change!” – “I am a self-determined person. I want to consume exactly as I see fit!”

There are some contradictory opinions on the question of whether politicians should do more to protect the climate. Politically driven targets have the potential to reach many people at once and bring about changes in their actions. But wouldn’t it be better if the population were to change their way of life out of their own conviction rather than having something imposed from above? Of course, an intrinsic motivation would be preferable, but maybe it simply takes too long for such a complete rethinking to take place and political regulations could help accelerate the processes. But what possibilities are there for politicians to make a goal-oriented climate policy?

Increasing taxes on crude oil would make airplane tickets more expensive and would force people to think more about whether they really want to fly to their destination. Higher fuel prices would also perhaps keep some people away from cars. But only implementing a tax hike would be quite short-sighted of the government, because the mobility of the population must still be guaranteed. If you want people not to drive their own cars everywhere, an increase in fuel prices will only help to a limited extent, if no alternatives are created in the form of an expansion of public transport. Political decisions cannot be made quickly, precisely because many people are affected by these decisions and large sums of money are at stake. The participants will think about the extremely interesting issue of possibilities of political influence on environmental protection and, even though it will not be possible to see through all the interrelationships in detail, it will open their view for broader connections.

The destruction of our environment has far-reaching consequences for all of humanity. In our society, however, not every individual is treated equally, which is why some of us feel the effects more than others.

Floods, droughts and hurricanes, known as the blatant outcomes of climate change, are sadly threatening the life of many people every year. In general, women suffer more from a lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and poverty. On the other hand, the role of women, regarding climate change, is crucial since their knowledge and leadership in many different fields, like sustainable resource management and leading sustainable, practises at the household and community level, is proved, as it is mentioned by UNFCCC and UNESCO. But in our societies, there are still a lot of forces made by gender inequality.

The LGBTIQ community is also not exempted from the impacts of climate change. They form a large number of homeless and are criminalized in many countries around the world, therefore they are a very vulnerable community when it comes to the effects of climate change. However, they have already done many activities for climate justice. The point is that climate change is a global issue and we will not be able to save our planet unless every capability is used appropriately, and all people treated equally.

But how can gender equality and the LGBTIQ community be included in the climate and environmental discussion? Can the research field of gender studies integrate the aspects of environment and climate? To what extend can we improve our cooperation to fight against climate change considering that gender inequality still exists around the world? Can universities contribute to eliminating inequalities through equal educational opportunities? The participants from all over the world can exchange in this group how these topics are being tackled in their universities and develop future-oriented ideas together.

Both climate change and war can be considered some of the imminent existential threats to humankind and are related in a multitude of ways. On the one hand, conflicts emerge over limited resources like water. On the other hand, war pollutes our planet and hinders sustainable development. Facing the challenges and mitigating the impact brought forth requires international cooperation and commitment. However, efforts for collective action are undermined by existing conflicts and outbreaks of war.

While trillions of dollars are spent on modernising weapons and fuelling the war machinery, funds required to transition towards a more sustainable economic model are somehow always lacking. How can we divert our resources towards building a peaceful and sustainable society instead of expanding our war arsenal? How can we redefine the notions for security by highlighting the significance of a global community? Several nations of the world have ministries that deal with war. Then why do we not have ministries of peace? Are intergovernmental organisations like the UN effective enough in bringing about these changes? What role do grassroots movements and engagement of the public play towards the realisation of a peace-loving planet?

Peacebuilding in the broader sense may extend far beyond the absence of armed conflict. Violence at a personal, communal, and national level is still rife even in this age and time. How can we enhance harmony and mutual understanding at different levels? Can we extend our efforts for peacebuilding in the context of climate change? Moreover, how can we actively engage in peacebuilding?

While trillions of dollars are spent on modernising weapons and fuelling the war machinery, funds required to transition towards a more sustainable economic model are somehow always lacking. How can we divert our resources towards building a peaceful and sustainable society instead of expanding our war arsenal? How can we redefine the notions for security by highlighting the significance of a global community? Several nations of the world have ministries that deal with war. Then why do we not have ministries of peace? Are intergovernmental organisations like the UN effective enough in bringing about these changes? What role do grassroots movements and engagement of the public play towards the realisation of a peace-loving planet?

Peacebuilding in the broader sense may extend far beyond the absence of armed conflict. Violence at a personal, communal, and national level is still rife even in this age and time. How can we enhance harmony and mutual understanding at different levels? Can we extend our efforts for peacebuilding in the context of climate change? Moreover, how can we actively engage in peacebuilding?