Stefania Barca new Zennström Professor in Climate Change Leadership

2021-02-05

“I am proud to have contributed to the consolidation of environmental history as a research field”.


Stefania Barca is the new Zennström Professor in Climate Change Leadership.

Stefania Barca´s goal is to work towards facilitating new conversations around the Covid-climate and care nexus, and on the ecological relevance of care work. These discussions will materialize in a series of public events engaging academics in conversation of mutual learning with practitioners and activists, and will lead towards an international conference on Just Transition – the first of this kind in Europe – bringing together academics with leaders from trade-union, youth, women’s and climate justice organizations, in the spring of 2022.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

- I am a scholar in Environmental Humanities, with a strong commitment to environmental and climate justice. I develop my research and teaching at the intersection between academia and social movements – particularly those engaged in a Just Transition towards the post-carbon society. I am from Italy originally, but I have spent most of my career abroad, and I see myself as a transnational person, with the privileged position of being white, cis-gender and highly educated, but also striving to contribute towards the overcoming of privilege, supremacy and social inequality in all its forms.

Tell us a little about your background?

- For the first decade of my career, starting in the late-1990s, I have worked as an environmental historian. My research was about the environmental implications of the industrial revolution, and specifically of the energy transition from biomass to waterpower. Environmental history research on the industrial era was then a pioneering field, little recognized academically, but it was instrumental in the emerging of Anthropocene studies – the study of the present geological epoch of anthropogenic earth-system changes. I am proud to have contributed to the consolidation of environmental history as a research field in Europe, and to have served as vice-president of the European society for environmental history.

I left Italy in 2005 to spend three years in the United States, first as visiting scholar at Yale Univeristy and then as Ciriacy Wantrup postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley, to work on a book monograph entitled Enclosing Water. Nature and Political Economy in a Mediterranean valley. The book was published in 2010 and was awarded the Turku book prize.

I came back to Europe in 2009 to work as senior researcher and lecturer at the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, in Portugal; soon afterwards, I achieved the qualification of associate professor, and I began teaching and supervising PhD research in political ecology - also a relatively new area of studies in Europe. For the past 12 years I have been investigating the environmental agency of labor and community organizations in Italy and internationally, taking into account both waged industrial work and unwaged care work. My latest book, Forces of Reproduction. Notes for a counterhegemonic Anthropocene (Cambridge University Press), released in November 2020, reflects the results of this research pathway. The book claims that the roots of the planetary crisis lay in the deep structural inequalities and injustice that govern human societies from local to global scale, producing a systematic degradation of life systems, and the widespread violation of both human and nonhuman rights. Taking an historical approach, it sees the climate crisis as a result of intersecting patterns of colonialism, heteropatriarchy, exploitation of labor and human supremacy over the web of life – all converging towards a master model of modernity, which devalues and depletes reproduction and care. Feminist political ecologists call this “white/m-Anthropocene”. Consequently, my book calls attention towards the labour of caring for both humans and their biophysical environment, and suggests that this labour is what is keeping the world alive – so it is truly vital to recognize and support it.

I have been recently awarded a “Beatriz Galindo” senior position as Distinguished Researcher from the Spanish Ministry of Higher Education, so I am now in the process of shifting jobs from the University of Coimbra to that of Santiago de Compostela.

What does climate change leadership mean to you?

- I see climate leadership as something much broader and deeper than curbing carbon emissions (even though this is of course an essential part), I see it as the collective will to liberate humanity and the earth from the master model of modernity via systemic transformations: a will arising from collective self-awareness, desire for radical change, respect for and valuing diversity, and ability at coalition building.

This is why I am interested in studying and contributing to climate justice – a collective process that has been bringing together the people at once most negatively affected and least responsible for climate and ecological catastrophe: Indigenous, Black and peasant movements, and especially the women and youth in all of them. We have seen these movements standing against the never-ending expansion of extractive projects all over the world– fighting to protect water, keep oil in the soil, gas under the grass, produce healthy foods, etc.

I am convinced the climate justice movement holds enormous potential for leading a new politics of climate change by attracting both more traditional social movements like labour and feminist organizations, and the more recent youth and faith-based movements.

More, the Covid19 pandemic is clearly telling us that climate change leadership today must necessarily include the politics of global health and strive towards the prevention of future epidemics which result from the same root causes that have generated the climate crisis – the systematic undervaluation of reproductive and care work.

What do you want to accomplish as a Professor in Climate change leadership?

- My aim is to actively contribute to the convergence of labour, feminist and climate justice organizations towards a politics of Just Transition. This requires a widespread discussion of climate and environmental justice as a paradigmatic shift in climate change conversations, bringing Indigenous, Black, gender and peasant perspectives front and center in research, teaching, policy-advising and engagement at the civil society level. So, I will work towards facilitating new conversations around the Covid-climate and care nexus, and on the ecological relevance of care work, at the intersection between human and nonhuman environmental health.

These discussions will materialize in a series of public events engaging academics in conversation of mutual learning with practitioners and activists, and will lead towards an international conference on Just Transition – the first of this kind in Europe – bringing together academics with leaders from trade-union, youth, women’s and climate justice organizations, which shall take place in the spring of 2022.

More information:

Latest book: Forces of Reproduction

Latest journal article: The Just Transition and its work of inequality

Latest blog entry: Within and beyond the pandemic. Demanding a care Income and a feminist Green New Deal for Europe

Read more about The Zennström Professors of Climate Change Leadership

News from the Department of Earth Sciences