Humankind and the climate – a social scientist explores the interactions

Humankind and the climate_Goncalves-Gresse
Dr Eduardo Gonçalves Gresse asks: Which climate futures are possible and plausible?

If asked about the recurrent theme in his career, Eduardo Gonçalves Gresse mentions one word time and again: “nexus”. This is what really drives him, says the 34-year-old. Identifying the nexus – that is, the connections – between science and politics, theory and practice, the natural and social sciences, or indeed between Europe, Latin America and other continents. As he explains, “it means a lot to me” to have been part of a large interdisciplinary research programme at Universität Hamburg since the summer of 2020, which allows him to investigate all of these interconnections.

Gonçalves Gresse grew up in São Paulo, a megacity of 12 million inhabitants. He first trained as a logistics manager and then studied international relations. In 2010, the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus programme gave him the opportunity to spend one semester in Göttingen. “Initially it was not easy to study in German”, he recalls. However, he really enjoyed student life at the University of Göttingen, which was founded in 1737. Back in Brazil, he decided to do his master’s in Göttingen, too. At first he had to use his savings to fund his studies, but he was soon awarded another scholarship in Germany, this time from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, which also supports international students. 

Working conditions to dream of

After obtaining his master’s in political science, Gonçalves Gresse first went back to Brazil to decide where the best place would be for his next step: a PhD. He was certainly tempted by the programmes in the USA, but the cost of living in big American cities is exorbitantly high. In Germany, on the other hand, he could take advantage of the institutional support offered to doctoral students by the university – and he knew that student halls of residence are good and inexpensive. “We can only dream of such conditions in Brazil.” He returned to Germany with his wife in 2015.

Over the next few years he wrote his dissertation in the social sciences at the Center for Sustainable Society Research at Universität Hamburg. Gonçalves Gresse’s research topic related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations: How will the global “Agenda 2030” be implemented by non-state actors at the local level in Brazil? With how much effort and with what motivation? Gonçalves Gresse spent several months conducting field research in his home country – an experience that made a considerable impression on him, he says: “I first had to go to Germany in order to get to know my own country better.”

Impact on politics and society

Gonçalves Gresse completed his PhD in the spring of 2020 and applied at the same time for a postdoc position. Since June he has been working at the “Climate, Climatic Change, And Society (CLICCS)“ Cluster of Excellence, which is also based at Universität Hamburg and involves more than 200 scientists. The central focus of the multi-year research programme is the question of how the climate is changing “and with it society, which in turn has an impact on the climate”. The interactions between humans and the environment are explored from a sociological, economic, physical, meteorological and oceanographic perspective. Together, the researchers want to establish which climate futures are possible and which are plausible.

Eduardo Gonçalves Gresse is a member of the CLICCS Synthesis Team, which not only conducts its own research but is also responsible for interlinking further results in terms of their content and methodologies. Together with two colleagues, he presents the work done by the cluster in the annual “Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook“ report. “In it, we analyse both the social and physical dynamics and their implications for climate change.” The first volume has yet to be published, but Gonçalves Gresse is optimistic that it will attract a wide readership: “I hope we will be able to make statements with an impact that goes beyond science and influences politics and society.” This would truly be an important connection to achieve.