Symposium: Sink or Swim. Searching for a sustainable relationship with water.

Image: Concrete Reef (sketch), Deep Time Agency (Miriam Sentler & Wouter Osterholt), 2022

DateThursday, 30th June 2022
Time13:00 – 17:00 CEST
VenueVrije Universiteit Amsterdam, main building (room 8A-00)
LanguageEnglish
RegistrationFree entry. Please register via the form below

‘Sink or Swim’ is an interdisciplinary symposium establishing an encounter between visual art, history, philosophy, ecology and governance, seeking to provide current insights and creative inspiration for building a sustainable relationship with water.

Industrial processes of mining and extraction contribute to water pollution and climate change, threatening aquatic health and biodiversity. The unprecedented speed of human-induced climate change in turn, causes more extreme weather events. Droughts, heatwaves and heavy rainfall lead to urgent challenges of water scarcity for humans and in nature. To counter this course of events we urgently need to imagine more sustainable ways of interacting with and governing water. This symposium aims to solicit cross-sectoral conversation and inspiration by bringing together visions from the humanities, social sciences and sciences, focusing on examples and case studies from the Netherlands. The pressing questions are:

· How can the humanities help us imagine a different interaction with water based on an ecologically healthy, socially just and economically viable perspective?

· How can we ensure the welfare of existing bodies of water to safeguard the planet’s nature and biodiversity?

· How can we intercept and reuse excess (rain)water without disturbing the natural cycle to counter water scarcity?

Water is essential to our own existence; it flows through our bodies to hydrate and fuel cells, organs and tissue and we shed it as tears. We are inherently connected to and dependent on water. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown us that we are now at a critical moment for ourselves and our planet; it is sink or swim. Therefore, a sustainable relationship with water is crucial. The complexity of the problems at stake asks for a recombination of knowledge from multiple disciplines. This symposium forms a starting point where artists could inspire policy makers towards implementing refreshing solutions, and experts in ecology and governance could help concretise artistic or philosophical ideas. The programme starts with a philosophical framework on questions of ethics and moral responsibility in relation to climate change. Then the first part of the afternoon will focus on water welfare with presentations on the declining biodiversity and quality of aquatic systems by speakers from the fields of ecology and the visuals arts. The second part will focus on water care, where speakers introduce examples of historical and current practices of governing water sustainably.

Programme

13:00 Welcome and Introduction
13:15 – 13:35 “It’s not my fault!” – So what? Ethical considerations for climate change and
sustainability
– Dominik Boll

Water Welfare

13:40 – 14:00 The ecology of human modified delta lakes, a case study on Lake Markermeer,
The Netherlands
– Harm G. van der Geest
14:05 – 14:25Concrete Reef– Deep Time Agency (Miriam Sentler & Wouter Osterholt)
14:25 – 14:45Interval

Water Care

14:45 – 15:05 Science and policy in dark waters: has new European legislation made national
water governance more sustainable?
– Nina Valin
15:10 – 15:30Early modern Amsterdam’s hydrological assemblage: everyday practices of
urban water
– Bob Pierik
15:35 – 15:55Making the city of Amsterdam climate resilient – Daniel Goedbloed
16:00 – 16:45Q&A with all speakers

Abstracts

Dominik Boll, PhD, Department of Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – “It’s not my fault!” – So what? Ethical considerations for climate change and sustainability

Climate change is caused by the actions of billions of citizens, companies and governments on the planet, working either individually or in concert. A successful response hangs on whether enough parties cooperate and reduce their energy consumption, not on whether any individual citizen does their part. This raises the question: why reduce one’s energy consumption when doing so typically seems to be a waste of one’s efforts? Together with colleagues from the Ethics of Cooperation research group at the VU, Boll examines questions of moral responsibility in such cooperative contexts. Who is responsible for environmental problems and – perhaps even more importantly – who can or should take responsibility to solve them? The presentation will focus on which ethical tools and arguments we can utilize to think about these and related questions.

Dr. Harm G. van der Geest, Department of Freshwater and Marine Ecology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam – The ecology of human modified delta lakes, a case study on Lake Markermeer, The Netherlands

Pristine coastal wetland areas in riverine deltas belong to the most productive and diverse systems on earth, due to the dynamic gradients in habitats from freshwater to marine and from land to water. Because of these high natural values, deltas offer a range of ecosystem services and are therefore very suitable places to live for humans. Worldwide, more than a billion people live in low-lying coastal regions. However, to prevent flooding, estuaries have increasingly been dammed, resulting in large compartmentalised delta lakes with artificial shores, where water quality is suffering from human impacts and the loss of the self-purification functions of natural wetlands. These developments have caused a persistent decline in the ecological integrity of these systems, and subsequently a strong reduction in the various services that these ecosystems provide to their human inhabitants: biodiversity as well as food production decreased due to habitat degradation and overexploitation and damming has resulted in a collapse of fish stocks, with dramatic consequences for fisheries. In this presentation we will look at delta lake Markermeer, the Netherlands, to analyse recent developments, including possible options to improve the ecological status of such systems.

Deep Time Agency (Miriam Sentler & Wouter Osterholt) – Concrete Reef

Concrete Reef (2022) is a new work, made in the context of Deep Time Agency (DTA), an interdisciplinary research initiative founded in 2020 by artists Miriam Sentler and Wouter Osterholt. DTA returns archaeological objects to the industrial sites in which they were found, merging different historical time layers. In this presentation, DTA will discuss Concrete Reef, which centres around the ENCI limestone quarry in Maastricht. Like the previous collaborative work Descent into the Future (2020), the project refers to the prehistoric ocean that once existed here and formed the base for many industrial resources. Through workshops, the maritime fossils from the ENCI quarry have been traced back to several museums. These fossils were then replicated, using marl and cement, the local materials. These replicas will finally result in an artificial reef which will be sunken within the artificial ENCI lake. Here, the fossils can play a functional role in the redevelopment of the damaged landscape.

Nina Valin, PhD, Department of Environmental Policy Analysis, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam & NEWAVE – Science and policy in dark waters: has new European legislation made national water governance more sustainable?

Water bodies host fragile aquatic ecosystems and are significantly used for human consumption, irrigation and industries. They have experienced increasing pressures from human activities leading to water pollution and eutrophication, but also water scarcity, biodiversity loss and landscape degradation in most regions of the world. In this context, policymakers and experts have intended to reinvent approaches to sustainable water management. The Water Framework Directive is one example of new legislation set out to transform water management towards an enhanced protection of water quality and quantity in Europe. However, twenty years after its adoption, one can wonder how far have practices improved in member states. In this presentation, we explore how this water transition was jointly imagined by policy-makers and experts, despite very different political interests and hydrological landscapes, and how are these propositions confronted with the reality of implementation. A case-study on the Netherlands will illustrate the challenges of such transition, that requires a strong collaboration between science and policy.

Bob Pierik, PhD, Department of Art & Culture, History, and Antiquity, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – Early modern Amsterdam’s hydrological assemblage: everyday practices of urban water

Historical European cities have had a considerable ‘water plurality,’ where different types of water systems co-existed. Recent research on early modern Amsterdam has nuanced the view that the city was wholly dependent on clean water imports from the Vecht river and only relieved of its water problems with the introduction of piped water in the 19th century. We now know that the period of pre-piped water in Amsterdam was rather characterized by a mixed system of rain water harvesting, water imports, ground water and surface water use. In this presentation, the interplay of everyday practices, technological infrastructures and urban governance is discussed to reconstruct the hydrological assemblage of early modern Amsterdam The everyday realities of the system of rainwater harvesting is the major case study. Using, owning or maintaining parts of water infrastructures are discussed to offer insight in the social-natural agencies that shaped the urban ecology of water access.

Daniel Goedbloed, Rainproof – Making the city of Amsterdam climate resilient

Daniel Goedbloed, program manager of Amsterdam Rainproof, will guide you through the path of building a resilient city. Amsterdam Rainproof is a network that focusses on mainstreaming climate adaptation. We do this within the government, but also with market parties and local initiatives. This presentation will specifically focus on rainwater harvesting and re-use measurements, with inspiring examples from the city.


This symposium is a collaboration between Still Waters Run Deep and the Environmental Humanities Center.

Still Waters Run Deep is an exhibition about the interaction between humans and water curated by Marlies Augustijn, taking place from 26 June until 7 August 2022 at Nieuw Dakota, an exhibition space for contemporary art in Amsterdam-Noord. Water is vital to life on planet Earth. It covers much of the Earth’s surface in oceans, rivers, lakes and seas, and appears as groundwater, glaciers and clouds. It is captured in political and cultural phenomena, such as drinking and wastewater systems, aquariums and swimming pools. Crucially, water also flows through us to hydrate and fuel cells, organs and tissue and we shed it as tears. Still Waters Run Deep explores how the fundamental connection between humanity and nature, water in particular, can take on a more central role in our conceptions and actions. To accompany the exhibition, an interdisciplinary public programme has been compiled in collaboration with presentation partners, establishing a six-week ‘water summit’. The symposium ‘Sink or Swim. Searching for a sustainable relationship with water’ is part of the public programme. More information about Still Waters Run Deep is available on the website of Nieuw Dakota.

Still Waters Run Deep is supported by the Mondriaan Fund, the Prins Bernhard Culture Fund (Lente Fund), the AFK (Amsterdam Fund for the Arts), and BeamSystems.


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