"Did we Save the World at Stockholm?" Design Activism at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment - Environmental Humanities Lecture

In this talk, professor of design history Dr. Kjetil Fallan, explores design interventions at, and in the wake of, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm 1972. What can design activism tell us about the conference's influence on future political decision-making? Or about the development of environmental thinking and ecologically informed design ideology in Scandinavia?

An illustration of two men in tophat partly hidden by a smokescreen

About the lecture

A poster with a print of two men hiding behind a smokescreen.
Screenprint made by Åke Carlsson titled "Miljövårdskonferens – en rökridå" which tranlsates to "Environmental conference - a smokescreen". Read more about the poster here (page in swedish).

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment organized in Stockholm in June 1972 is widely considered a landmark in both political and popular attention to environmental issues. Nevertheless, the legacy of the UN conference is contested, as the heavily publicized mega-event made it abundantly clear that saving the world by committee would be a protracted undertaking riddled with conflicting interests, power biases and compromises. This became apparent to local activists already during and in the lead-up to the conference, sparking a spate of unsanctioned activities in response to the official program. This talk will explore design interventions at, and in the wake of, the UN Conference on the Human Environment, focusing on the environmental-political activism of design students and the design practices of the broader activist movements and events. Taking a closer look at posters, demonstrations, services, and exhibitions, I will argue that design and designers were absolutely integral to the many acts and artifacts of environmental activism produced in response to the UN conference. Looking beyond the official proceedings and instead focusing on this kind of unsanctioned design activism allows us to see that the conference wielded considerable influence on not only on future political decision-making, but also on the development of environmental thinking and ecologically informed design ideology in Scandinavia.

About the presenterImage may contain: Clothing, Clothing, Forehead, Nose, Cheek.

Kjetil Fallan is Professor of Design History at the University of Oslo, and a Working Group member of the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities. His most recent books are Ecological by Design: A History from Scandinavia (MIT Press, 2022); Nordic Design Cultures in Transformation, 1960-1980: Revolt and Resilience (Routledge, 2022); and The Culture of Nature in the History of Design (Routledge, 2019)

Tags: Environmental Humanities, OSEH, Environment, Climate Change, Climate Crisis, Environmental Artivism, activism, Design History
Published Sep. 13, 2022 10:10 PM - Last modified Oct. 3, 2022 11:33 AM