Researcher Guide to Writing a Climate Justice Oriented Data Management Plan

The Digital Humanities Climate Coalition, which began as an initiative between the SHL Experimental Ecologies group, and working groups within Edinburgh, Southampton, and the Turing Institute, has just launched the Researcher Guide to Writing a Climate Justice Oriented Data Management Plan.

This should be of interest to anyone who’s considering applying for UKRI funding (or any funding), or who is already running a project. It’s a slinky little two page guide exploring how we can reframe data management within research projects, to put appropriate emphasis on climate justice. It emphasises what can be done now, within existing frameworks. In an appendix, it also explores how the DMP section might transform in the future.

We expect to iterate fairly rapidly, and welcome all feedback and suggestions, as well as potential deeper collaboration. If you’d like to signal boost on Twitter, here’s James’s tweet launching the guide.

The Digital Humanities Climate Coalition

After some wonderfully galvanising encounters in late 2021, Digital Humanities Climate Coalition is now officially a thing. It’s a collaborative and cross-institutional initiative focused on what DH researchers (broadly construed) can do in times of climate crisis and climate transition, especially understanding and improving the environmental impact of DH research. Participants are based at HE institutions and DH Centres across the UK, Ireland, and Northern Europe. There are three working groups doing things over the course of 2022, plus a reading group. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, you can do so here.

Communicating Climate Risk

Save the date: 1 October, 12:30-17:00

Register here.

Communicating Climate Risk workshop

If the goal of climate communication is to compel decision-makers to act, then for too long our methods haven’t worked. Many desperately want to tackle the risks posed by climate change, but are confounded by mountains of complex, technical data. 

So how can academics present climate risk in ways that are meaningful and effective for this audience?  How can they ensure communication is part of their thinking from the outset, not just at the end of a research project? Who exactly are the end-users of climate risk research, and what are their needs? 

This online afternoon workshop will be jointly delivered by UCL’s Climate Action Unit and the Analysis under Uncertainty for Decision-Makers network (AU4DM). We will draw on interdisciplinary expertise to equip participants with the critical skills to communicate on climate risk. 

Speakers will share insights across three broad topics: why risk communication is difficult, what decision-makers want (and need), and how to present climate risk information. A final, fourth session will invite participants to co-design communication tools for the future. 

We need the big stories, the stories that engage and inspire. 

At the same time, we also need tools to present more niche information. 

And throughout, we also need to be always conscious of the politics of climate chance communication: the ways our communications shape whose voices are heard, and whose decisions count.

Speakers and facilitators:

  • Martine Barons (Warwick)
  • Mark Workman (Imperial)
  • Polina Levontin (Imperial)
  • Jo Lindsay Walton (Sussex)
  • Freya Roberts (UCL)
  • Kris de Meyer (UCL)
  • Lucy Hubble Rose (UCL)

This is an open workshop that will be especially relevant to climate and environmental scientists, and others whose work involves communicating or relying on scientific knowledge about climate and the environment. It is part of the COP26 Universities Network’s climate risk conference.

Sustainability and Resilience at Sussex

These are just a few notes from the Sustainability and Resilience at Sussex panel I was fortunate enough to participate in yesterday, part of the Sussex Library Staff Conference.

Chloe Anthony, a doctoral researcher in environmental law at Sussex (researching the impact of Brexit), introduced the work of Brighton Permaculture Trust (including a variety of permaculture courses, plus events like Green Architecture Day). Chloe gave us a crash course in the history and philosophy of permaculture, and the applications of permaculture design both in everyday life and more specifically in academic projects. The three permaculture ethics of “earth care, fair share, and people care” are not one-size-fits-all dogmas, she explained, but rather tools for thinking through particular sustainability puzzles, which bristle with distinctive detail at the local level. Chloe also touched on themes such as working with nature rather than against it; responding imaginatively to change and working where possible with what is available or becomes available in the world around you; eliminating waste; using renewables; creating closed loops of energy and resources; valuing diversity both as an intrinsic good and for the resilience that diversity can bring; and creating beneficial connections among the diverse elements of your system, integrating rather than rigidly segregating and pigeonholing.

Claire Sumners runs the campaign Plastic Free Seaford. She talked us through her own growing awareness of plastics: from having never given much thought to what plastic is made of, or how long it sticks around in our ecosystems, to becoming an environmental activist and educator herself. Getting Seaford certified as a ‘Plastic Free Town’ didn’t mean hitting some kind of literal zero waste target, but but rather unlocking a set of achievements to support ongoing transformative work. For Claire this has involved starting conversations with businesses, schools, politicians, and other stakeholders. One thing sounded out loud and clear: the importance of taking action at many scales, simultaneously. Addressing the environmental emergency means advocating for system change at the global and national level, and being open-minded and imaginative about new ways of doing things at the ‘middle’ scale of sectors, institutions and organisations, and making those many smaller changes in our everyday lives. In fact, as society as a whole transitions to net zero, actions at all these different levels should start to complement each other more and more.

I also detected in Claire’s talk a real subtext (maybe it was more than a subtext!) of meeting people where they are, and then giving them the support and encouragement to take a couple steps in a new direction. A not insignificant part of the work of coping with the climate emergency is affective labour: the work of listening, empathisizing, the work of storytelling and worldmaking.

In my bit (slides here) I introduced SHL and our recent Sussex Humanities Lab’s 2020 Environmental Strategy. SHL’s plans for 2021 include a more fine-grained scoping review of the sustainability work and priorities of DH centres (and adjacent) across the sector, so watch this space! I also elaborated on one or two points from the Strategy document. For example:

  • Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) and geoengineering play an important role in climate modelling and policy in every future scenario seriously considered by the IPCC. Yet it seems like they’re not really talked about outside of this ‘big picture’ context, for example, when we think about our sustainability plans as individuals, institutions, and local communities. So I think it’s important we cultivate a rich critical awareness of climate technologies, and become literate in the issues and uncertainties, so we can make robust decisions and protect ourselves the risks of Net Zero on paper only.
  • Obviously there are many different routes to Net Zero, and it’s also important we don’t elide their political differences in the drive to get there speedily and efficiently. In other words, it’s not just about “us” getting to Net Zero as fast as “we” can (although obviously it’s time to get a move on). It’s also about recognising that resources and responsibilities are unequally spread, and that different decarbonisation strategies spread the costs and the benefits in different ways. This is just the kind of critical thinking, I suggest, which humanities academics can often bring to the table … although of course it’s also something we all can and should be thinking about!

Samantha Waugh, Sussex’s Sustainability Manager, then gave a very useful overview of where the university is at and where we might be heading. A new Sussex-wide strategy is in the works (publication in the spring), structured around four themes, mapped to the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. There was a lot of great detail (albeit some of it necessarily a bit provisional): here’s my (probably slightly unreliable!) summary …

Sam kicked off with strategic drivers: how is the environmental crisis is manifesting at the institutional level? This includes of course the global context: all the ways that our understanding of the environmental crisis is expressed and contested across scientific research, grassroots activism, and national and transnational policy contexts. Another significant piece of the global context is the pandemic itself, the risks and opportunities it has created, what it has accelerated or put on hold, what it has made more visible or less visible. Some relevant drivers have a more specifically Sussexy flavour: we are lucky in that our staff and student communities generally already have a deep personal commitment to social and ecological justice, and passion and impatience to make the necessary changes. NSS scores are one window into those student priorities. We also have really world-leading expertise in Development Studies, with all the opportunities and obligations that implies. More generally, we need to ensure our sustainability policy and practices are fully alligned with our Sussex 2025 vision.

With that in mind, the four threads are:

  1. Interdisciplinary Development. Sustainability will be embedded throughout the curriculum, in particular via a flagship first year module in each school. It will also be embedded in our employability strategy. Interdisciplinarity also means recognising that sustainability is also about environmental justice, so this theme is also likely to be where a large chunk of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work sits. There are tremendous opportunities here for collaborating with our passionate and brilliant student body to drive transformation, creating spaces, solidarity, and support to test out more radical ideas.
  2. Decarbonisation. Our decarbonisation strategy is also in the works, and will include SMART targets for achieving Net Zero by a particular date. Will it be 2035? Maybe earlier? Some modelling has been commissioned which should give us a clearer idea early next year. There are questions of course around how decarbonisation will be incentivised and monitored across the sector and the UK economy more generally, and the potential for Sussex to show pre-emptive regulatory alignment. But there’s also the potential for leadership: this could be another area for creative exploration, innovation and social and commercial entrepreneurship. Sam hopes to put in place prizes for green innovation, support for spin-offs from research, and so on. Other priority areas to look at are buildings, facilities and construction, and flexible and remote work policies. Sam reinforced the point that the carbon implications of flexible and remote working may be more complex and mixed than they at first seem, and the importance of taking an open-minded and holistic view as we steer through these transformations.
  3. The Civic Leaders and Partners theme is about our engagement, outreach, and collaborations, including charity partnerships. So this relates to the UN Sustainable Development Goals of good health and wellbeing; sustainable cities and communities; peace, justice, and strong institutions; and that final goal which is to pursue all the others through partnerships and collaborations. For Sussex this means, among other things, a sustainable and active travel action plan, and a sustainable procurement policy and practice. Sussex must use our influence with suppliers and other strategic partners to normalise a society of ecological sustainability and personal and collective wellbeing, including ensuring partners have their own appropriate Net Zero commitments and plans in place, that they pay a living wage, and so on.
  4. Environmental Champions. The fourth thread of our strategy maps to the UN Sustainable Development Goals of clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production, life below water and life on land. There will very shortly be published (probably already out) an initial benchmarking exercise, ahead of a sustainable food and waste action plan and biodiversity policy and action plan. The initial targets will be to be in the top quintile of performers.

Sam also shared a provisional timeline with a number of milestones, including sustainability committee subgroups to launch in December 2020, a net zero commitment to be announced in spring 2021, and sustainability to be integrated into the curriculum in time for the 2022 intake.

There followed one of those lovely rich Q&A sessions which you know could have gone on much, much longer, but which you also don’t mind ending, because you know these conversations will still be flourishing long after the Zoom window winks shut.


Life, but not as we know it

A guest post by Peter Newell, Professor of International Relations in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. This article originally appeared as part of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme Forum on the Pandemic and Sustainability, convened by Dr Andreas Antoniades.

Amid the fear, uncertainty and personal loss that surround the current Covid-19 pandemic, people are starting to think about what form a ‘just recovery’ to the crisis might take. But what if sustainability was also one of the guiding principles of efforts to re-build economies, communities and societies?

Here I highlight three key dimensions. Firstly, behaviour change. People have shown themselves to be remarkably able to adapt to constraints and adopt new norms of living, accepting limits on their behaviour requested by the state in order to address this threat to our collective well-being. No one will welcome further or permanent restrictions on their freedom, of course. But there may be scope to further encourage positive behaviours around re-localisation and resilience: from supporting local businesses and sourcing local food and reducing food waste to enabling more people to work from home and making virtual conferencing the norm to avoid unnecessary flights.

Historical evidence suggests that once behaviours shift, even if induced by crisis, they can become the new normal. One example, would be the shift towards a four day working week that was introduced as a temporary cost-cutting measure and became so popular that it remained in place.

Secondly, fighting roll-back. Just as the crisis has provided an opportunity to avoid aspects of business as usual that are clearly unsustainable, so too the rush to kick-start the economy, combined with the losses they have suffered, is emboldening airline industries and fossil fuel firms to claim bail-outs and state support of around $2 trillion in the case of the US alone. This is in addition to the $10 million a minute that the world already spends on fossil fuel subsidies according to the IMF. They have already had some success with commitments to suspend the enforcement of environmental laws in the US, for example, and pressure for further de-regulation of hard-fought environmental protections.

Ensuring these basic safeguards are not eroded is vital to our ability to deliver the SDGs. Beyond providing compensation and re-training opportunities for workers, this is not the moment to resuscitate industries whose business models are incompatible with delivering the Paris agreement when there are so many other sectors deserving of state support. Rapid transitions out of these sectors were required before the crisis; the coronavirus has served to precipitate their decline and provides an opportunity for an economy wide re-think.

Thirdly, re-set around the aims and priorities of economic life. We have seen widespread support for prioritising welfare and prosperity over growth at all costs. This has implied strengthening the resilience of our life support systems: health services and the environment which sustains us all.

The industrial conversions we have seen in recent weeks could be extended to a broader re-purposing of the economy through new investments in jobs and infrastructure along the lines of the proposed Green New Deal to ensure the economy we build from the crisis is built on stronger foundations of sustainability. The basis for this could have to be secure and decently paid work as part of a just transition; a deliberate move away from casualisation and precarious contracts for the poorest in society.

Alongside this, there is renewed interest in cooperatives, social enterprise, B-Corps and non-traditional business models that put welfare above short-term profit maximisation.

This is a key moment to change the economy by design and not just in the mode of crisis management. The goals of strengthening resilience, enhancing well-being and guaranteeing social justice need to guide our efforts.

Things won’t ever be the same again, but nor should they be. If normal was the problem, pushing us beyond planetary boundaries, getting back to normal spells disaster. Is it possible that we might make something positive come from this most devastating of crises? For the sake of future generations, we have to make sure the answer is yes.

Peter Newell is Professor of International Relations in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. Peter is a specialist in the politics and political economy of environment and development.

Find out more about his Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) project on ‘Climate Resilient Agricultural Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa‘.