Michael Nichols


Seebad Enge

Since 1996, Michael Nichols has worked for National Geographic magazine. A collaboration that allowed him to travel to the most remote corners of the world – tracking and paying tribute to the animals on our planet in a unique way. WILD is a tribute to life on land. From the beginning, he pursued a single goal: to bring wild, untouched landscapes into the light, and with them the creatures that inhabit them. He immersed himself completely in his work and spent several months at a time getting as close to the animals as possible and getting to know their way of life and their territories.

Michael Nichols has worked with renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and crossed Africa from east to west with environmental activist Mike Fay. His work has always been focused on the preservation of natural habitats. His extensive body of work fuses photography with journalism, but also with science and technology.

Very early in his career, Michael Nichols had become so known that French Photo magazine characterised him with the label “The Indiana Jones of Photography”. Four times he was awarded the first prize for nature and environmental photography at the World Press Photo awards. Numerous other awards followed, including the Overseas Press Club of America awarding him “above and beyond the call of duty”. His photo Surfing Hippo was named “one of the most influential images of all time” by TIME magazine.

Many fellow photographers believe that without Michael Nichols, wildlife photography would not be what it is today. Most, however, simply consider him the best photographer in his field.

Curated by Lois Lammerhuber / Printed by CEWE

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15: LIFE ON LAND

Discover here contributions of ETH Zurich to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15:

Strategic games for sustainable palm oil

Jaboury Ghazoul

Born in Iraq in the late 1960s, Professor Jaboury Ghazoul moved to the UK to study evolutionary ecology, and is now a professor with expertise in ecosystem management. One defining feature of his work in ecology and the environment across the tropics, as well as in Europe, is its transdisciplinary set-​up: Jaboury makes a point of bringing together academic and practice partners in research projects. For more than seven years, he has worked with a large team of partners from Cameroon, Colombia and Indonesia to implement a complex project on how oil palm cultivation can be adapted to become more sustainable.

Exploring palm oil production scenarios

The expansion of oil palm plantations is one of the main driving forces behind deforestation and changes in land use in the tropics. This expansion brings in significant earnings for the countries, corporations and smallholders that produce palm oil – but this comes with environmental and social costs beyond the areas where oil palm is grown.

Through the Oil Palm Adaptive Landscape project, Jaboury’s team has developed alternative scenarios for oil palm expansion. Alongside the scientific work, and aiming to inform policy and land use development​,​ they engaged interested parties who are in a position to influence policy across tropical Asia, Africa and Latin America. These stakeholders, together with farmers, were able to explore different scenarios of how oil palm cultivation could develop through strategic games built on the team’s integrated models, which bring together social, economic, and ecological factors that shape the oil palm business.

Advice based on science and practice

Jaboury and his research partners are convinced that to make change happen, decision makers need to devise and adopt policies that put oil-​palm producing countries on a path to ‘green’ development. This requires that they balance development and conservation goals, while operating in an environment of uncertainty.

To communicate their message to a variety of audiences, Jaboury and his partners have produced easily accessible videos, blogs and other publications such as policy briefs. The insights they draw from working with multiple partners, and from transformations of the natural landscape, can pave the way to a more inclusive and sustainable future.

“With oil palm production a lot of focus is on environmental impacts, rather than on the social and economic opportunities. And that is something we need to redress.”

Prof. Dr. Jaboury Ghazoul, Professor for Ecosystem Management at ETH Zurich

Managing forests for future generations

Verena Griess

Professor Verena Griess has always loved the forest. Fascinated by the many goods and benefits forested areas provide she studied forestry with a focus on forest management planning.

Her research centers around the questions of how to make the most of those goods and benefits today and in the future. She develops new ways of approaching the inventorying of forest resources, develops decision support systems to manage forests at risk, and tools to communicate research to anyone with an interest in forests.

Managing forests sustainably touches many SDGs

Forests provide many benefits including clean drinking water, protection from natural hazards, wood and timber, as well as habitat for wildlife. But despite their incredibly high value, they are often managed in ways not suited to their long lifespans. This means that how forest resources around the world are managed today undermines their benefits for future generations. Verena is convinced that if we become better at managing forests, we can not only maintain those benefits but also expand them. She believes forests offer solutions to many of today’s social challenges.

Finding new ways to manage forests at risk sustainably directly supports multiple SDGs. For one, forests can help reduce poverty, for example by providing jobs, particularly to marginalised groups such as women in rural areas (SDGs 1 and 8). They can contribute to food security, by providing shelter for animals and plants as well as foods that grow in forested areas (SDG 2). The presence of forests in urban areas has proven positive impacts on human health – both mentally and physically (SDG 3). Forests help to provide clean water (SDG 6), their wood can be used as a source of renewable energy (SDG 7), and their capacity to absorb carbon plays a major role in our attempts to tackle climate change (SDG 13). In Switzerland alone, forests are home to over 26,000 species, about half of which are considered species of national priority for protection of life on land (SDG 15).

A wildcard in the battle against climate change

Verena plans to use her research to better understand and quantify the multiple risks that forests face, and to use this knowledge to forecast the consequences if forested areas are not managed sustainably.

“A sustainable future will require us to reduce the negative impact human society has on natural systems. We need to better understand ecological processes and start to benefit from the many solutions nature is already offering. A huge step will be to rethink our transportation systems, energy production and use, as well as the construction and building industry.”

Prof. Dr. Verena Griess, Chair of Forest Resources Management at ETH Zurich

Making the most of healthy grasslands

Nina Buchmann

Professor Nina Buchmann’s interest in ecosystem ecology expanded over many years to encompass a growing list of disciplines, from soil science to plant ecophysiology and ecosystem ecology. Today, she is a distinguished expert on grasslands, with a strong interest in functional biodiversity and greenhouse gas exchange between the biosphere and the atmosphere.

What kind of questions does a grassland scientist ask?

Nina believes in the value of creating scientific knowledge about how grasslands, but also croplands and forests, function, and how they are affected by land use, climate change and biodiversity loss. Driven by a sense of urgency of the current problems, her work produces insights into these ecosystems, for example, providing evidence on the trade-​offs between food production and carbon storage – and how they can be tackled.

Nina’s research group studies how ecosystems like grasslands, croplands, and forests take up or emit greenhouse gases. Their research quantifies how these ecosystems are affected by climate extremes or management, while seeking solutions – asking, for example, how to increase the carbon sink or decrease greenhouse gas emissions. A current focus for the group is research on nitrous oxide lost from croplands and grasslands. Another area of research is the study of functional plant diversity and the ecosystem services that grasslands provide.

With her group, Nina is looking for answers to a number of questions​.​ When are forests carbon sinks and can we increase these sinks? How do Swiss ecosystems react to climate change and how can we reduce any negative impact? Why do croplands emit so many greenhouse gases and how can we avoid this? Why does the plant diversity in grasslands have so many benefits​,​ and how can we use them in farming?

Actions have consequences

To make sustainable agriculture or forestry a reality, Nina is convinced of the need to think in terms of systems where processes, functions, and impacts are closely related. More importantly – she says – we need to think about the consequences of our actions. When biomass is harvested to feed ourselves or our animals, for example, this is an action that also impacts the soil and the atmosphere. Harvesting biomass can be done in different ways, some more environmentally friendly than others. Sustainability is about finding win-​win solutions that balance different objectives, and which can then be adopted and implemented. If we work together, we can succeed in transforming our society towards sustainability.

“We need to think in systems to address the big challenges we currently face.”

Prof. Dr. Nina Buchmann, Professor of Grassland Sciences at ETH Zurich

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